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Climate change gardening

Climate -change -gardeningClimate change used to be a bit controversial but I think it’s safe to say it’s pretty much accepted as scientific fact now - given that we keep hearing about the warmest winter on record we asked Jamie Blake, Bressingham Gardens Head Gardener, how climate change affects his work.

How has climate change affected the way you garden?

I’ve been gardening here at Bressingham for 27 years now so I’ve had a reasonable chance to gauge if there’s been a steady climate change - I would say there definitely has been.

We seem to have much wetter winters which has made things more difficult overall, especially in cutting down and cleaning away.

Conversely we also seem to have longer periods with no rain - usually around April time it stops raining and then it just goes dry.  This means we end up having to water more in the summer.

Interestingly, having kept records of rainfall for nearly 30 years, over the course of that time our rainfall actually varies very little from year to year - it’s always about 600mm give or take 3 to 10mm.

It’s just the time of year it’s falling that has changed - it’s more in the autumn and winter months than early spring and much less in the summer.

It’s had an impact on the work I do - Because all the plant material is wet some of the work in the winter has got heavier which is enough to put anyone off gardening!

The other thing, particularly this year, is that the period of plant growth has been extended as well.  If summer the days are longer, as a gardener you must work longer.

Are there any advantages of having a changing climate?

Probably not from the point of view of the gardener, it just seems to mean more work - however, if I think about it from the point of view of the plants;

The weather, particularly for the plants I grow here at Bressingham Gardens (herbaceous perennials) it’s actually pretty good for them because the growing season carries on longer - it’s not shortened by frosts and bad weather.

I would say there are still more negatives even though the growing season is longer.  The pest problem can be longer as well!

For example this year has been terrible for slugs and snails, green fly ar active for much longer too - I suppose this is better for birds further up the food chain - they have more food for longer.

One of the other things I noticed about 15 years ago we started getting a lot of plants producing seed which had never produced seed before.

We grow plants from all over the world here and climatically it doesn’t always suit seed setting so now we have to be far more vigilant about deadheading so we don’t get seedlings all over the place.

What is your biggest concern about the changing climate?

If it goes beyond where things are now (and there’s no reason it won’t) it’ll be an exaggeration of the current situation I suppose.

Whilst we’re currently seeing a boost in plant growth if they stay waterlogged for too long plant growth will suffer.  Plants need water to drain out of the soil because roots need air as well.

With the increasing number of seedlings appearing I have to try to make sure a plant called Agapanthus Bressingham Blue, for instance, doesn’t get seedlings falling in amongst it otherwise it will become more than one colour blue (due to seed variability).

The other issue I face is even though I do an awful lot to keep water in the soil in terms of mulching and adding organic matter during the course of the summer - we often get a short period when the temperature rises to 30 or just over - this can cause the plants to look as though they’ve had a flamethrower on them!

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By Alastair Baker at 5 Jan 2017, 00:00 AM