Garden Planting Whatever The Weather

All the extremes of weather we've been seeing this past year have fueled the debate about whether our climate is changing for the worse or whether we're just having a decade or so of seasonal adjustment. I don't have the science but I have spoken to a number of gardeners both professional and amateur about the last ten years and what they've seen change. It makes for interesting listening.

The general consensus is that winters are getting wetter, summers are getting wetter with the occasional dry patch and generally it's a lot milder, but again with the odd extreme cold patch. Certainly we've seen this over the past two years with a very cold 2011 winter, a baking summer last year and the wettest spring and summer in living memory. The most noticeable thing in my garden is that semi-evergreens are nearly always evergreen now and nearly every plant flowers either a month ahead or behind what the books tell you and depending on the year.

Plants that require fertile, moisture retentive soils will not enjoy the drier summers. We all seem to have stopped growing Lupins and Delphiniums because of the extra effort involved. I've lost every Lupine in my garden and they'll get replaced with plants that prefer drier conditions such as Lavender, Sages, Phlomis. But some of these that are planted last winter have drowned this spring. Indeed the plants that can survive dry summers can often not survive the wetter winters.

Traditional spring bulb displays may be a thing of the past because bulbs will rot off. Tulips are especially susceptible. I've also noticed an increase in the popularity of more exotic fruits and sub-tropical plants such as Canna lilies and lemon trees. These are great but will find it difficult to cope with the wet winters. Interestingly the report suggests that fruit such as grapevines, pomegranates, figs and peaches will become easier to grow and cope both with the wet and dry seasons and that the increased concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere will also mean that plants can grow faster and stronger.

Stronger plants should help in the battle against the new pests and diseases that will come along. We've already got ideal conditions for insects such as rosemary beetle, red spider mite and vine weevils and fungal diseases are thriving in the wet weather. It's also expected that Camellia petal blight will be more widespread next Spring.

But its not all doom and gloom. You can plant for the future now with drought tolerant plants and trees that can cope with cold winters. We design gardens in Russia where it goes down to minus 30 and there you'll be surprised that hardy shrubs like Spiraea and Viburnum do well in both hot summers and cold winters. Just remember to prepare soil to maximise both drainage and moisture retention depending on the conditions you have. Water butts can store up water for droughts and wildlife gardens will help animals and insects survive long hot summers and cold winters.

We need to change with the weather and means we need to choose plants carefully for whatever the rain or sun throws at our gardens. Prepare the soil well, choose plants with care and give them great aftercare for a successful planting design.


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