There is no doubt that over the last 30 years we have been increasingly gardening in a changing climate. It is of course the climate at a given time that denotes how plants are going to behave, whether it’s from breaking dormancy or just a trigger for when they should be flowering. The climate is different from the weather and as Mark Twain once said ‘Climate is what we expect, weather is what we get’, although the two are related it’s the overall general change that is important. I say that but as March this year showed us, a little inclement weather can have a dramatic and detrimental effect.
I recently attended a talk held jointly by the Met. Office and the RHS that was based around this very subject, and what the RHS are doing to help gardeners mitigate the effects of conditions such as excess rain and more erratic albeit warmer weather.
One of the initiatives that they put in place was the Greening Grey Britain (GGB) campaign where they were promoting people to turn much of the grey non porous surfaces and blank walls that we have into growing green spaces. This was focussed a lot on peoples front gardens where still people are opting for brick and paved areas devoid of any plants, increasing the risk of flooding and having a negative effect on our health.
There are wider environmental issues that center around the horticultural world though as although we as a species are affecting the overall state of the climate, we as gardeners are having a more specific effect on our world. The three main issues that spring to mind are water usage, plastic usage and the erosion of peat bogs from the use of compost, luckily these are all things that are relatively easy to rectify.
If you have any space to keep a water butt then do, storing your own water to use is simply the best way to cut down your usage. You should find that there is enough in a 200lt water butt to keep you stocked up most of the time. One of the studies that the RHS are conducting as part of GGB is to look at plants that can thrive in drier conditions so that we can cut down water usage simply by having plants that need less.
Always use peat free compost where you can, this isn’t available at all outlets and so sometimes you have to use peat but this is becoming increasingly available as more people are requiring it. The RHS have done a study on the use of different growing mediums and have found that there is little difference to the health of the plant using peat based and non-peat based compost. The cost is a little more but at our current rate one day there will be no peat at all.
And lastly the use of plastic. This is a hot topic at the moment and one that the horticultural industry is tackling, however from a consumers point of view it’s hard to see where you can make a difference. Reuse plant pots or buy your plants from somewhere that you can return the pots to and return them, I recently picked up over 2000 9cm pots from a local authority that had no option but to dispose of them if they couldn’t be sold, and that was only done due to one enterprising employee who now has some more cash in the tea and biscuit fund. If you propagate try to avoid single use plastic trays and opt for something that will last year after year, and ultimately be able to be recycled back into new ones.