The 'View To A Future' Garden - 2003 Chelsea Flower Show

THE SCIENCE BIT

A recent report commissioned by the RHS and the National Trust shows that the climate of the British Isles is likely to change substantially during this century, particularly in the south, where average summer temperatures could rise by up to 3°C within the next fifty years.

The report, “Gardening in the Global Greenhouse” by the UK Climate Impacts Programme, shows that particularly in southern Britain we are likely to see reduced frosts, earlier springs, higher average temperatures all year round, increased winter rainfall leading to flooding, and hotter, drier summers increasing the risk of drought. Climate developments are expected to bring about changes in the geographical range of current crops and plants; there are likely to be introductions of new species, and plants previously grown under glass may in future be happy outside. As the authors of the report put it, “Tresco has spread to Tunbridge Wells and is on its way to Teeside.”

The implications can be seen as exciting, but there are also downsides. Many garden pests and diseases are likely to become more prolific, and new ones introduced. Some traditional British plants and trees won’t do well in the new conditions – for example, in some areas we may find apple trees replaced by cherries, peaches or olives. Heritage gardens may find it increasingly difficult to ensure historical authenticity in their planting. And of concern to millions of gardeners across the country, the great British lawn will become increasingly difficult and expensive to maintain.

Historical records are of immense importance in the discussion of climate change. Astronomically speaking, Spring is defined by the position of the sun over the equator. However, many events which indicate the start of Spring in nature, show that increasingly it is beginning earlier. The data, both historical and contemporary, is based on events such as flowering dates, butterfly sightings, and frog spawning times. Analysis shows that many of these events were considerably earlier in the 1990’s than at any time since 1736 when records began. This information is being collated and carried forward by the UK Phenology Network. Phenology is the study of the timing of natural events in relation to climate. The Network aims to raise the awareness of the way nature is responding to climate change, and its web-site currently has over twenty thousand people nation-wide registered for monitoring and recording such events. According to Met Office records for Central England, five out of six of the warmest years on record have occurred since 1990; globally that figure rises to nine out of ten. Director of UKCIP Chris West says, “Some climate change is now inevitable, and although we can still influence the extent of this for the latter part of the century, the die is already cast for the next 50 years”.

The issues raised by climate change are huge and far-reaching, and they will extend to areas of life well beyond the garden. Perhaps though, getting to grips with the imminent changes for our own backyards will help us to become more aware of the wider implications – not just for the British Isles, but for our planet as a whole.

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