With the thermometer breaking historical records of more than 40 degrees and a particularly dry month of July in the south and east of England—where the lowest rate of rainfall has been recorded since the rainfall record was set in 1836—, the British The orchards are showing the inevitable effects of the climate crisis a nation given to plant cultivation.
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For Guy Barter, chief horticulturist at Britain’s oldest institution, the Royal Horticultural Society, this is the most difficult moment in his 40-year career. “In Great Britain we have a drought every four or five years and we have accumulated a lot of knowledge, but it is obviously one of the most severe at the level of 1921 and 1976. The plants are going to be destroyed, but it It is a good opportunity for people to rethink their garden and think about what they are going to plant as global warming alters our climate.
The first casualty is the star of Parks and Gardens. Grass lawns have changed their usual lush green to the ocher and brown tones more typical of Mediterranean climates, on private plots and in public parks and botanical gardens. “The British tradition of watering the lawn in the evening after coming home from work and having dinner is not sustainable in many areas at this time,” says the gardener. What’s more, in the counties of Kent, Sussex, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, water companies have already banned the use of hoses to water a garden, wash a car or fill a pool.
As climate change progresses and a new heat pattern emerges, it will be very difficult to grow many of the favorite plants
Guy Barter, Chief Horticulturalist of the Royal Horticultural Society
The problem is not the heat, but the drought, although they are very difficult to separate. Barter says that in the “average summer” most plants growing in British gardens are left without water. Conversely, without water, dahlias and hydrangeas quickly wither and lose their leaves, azaleas or camellias do not bloom in high summer, and water through the leaves of common Japanese maples in home gardens much faster than usual. loses. Roots take time. to find it.
“As climate change progresses and a new heating pattern sets in, it will be very difficult to grow many of the favorite plants, especially in the south-east of England,” predicts Barter. “But it’s not the end of the world, most plants don’t last that long. In gardens, it’s usually a good idea to repot every four or five years”, he clarifies without getting into drama. , he recalls with a smile, warm-climate plants were introduced to British gardens centuries ago.
However, planning a future garden is not without its difficulties. It requires plants resistant to hot summers and humid winters. Therefore, it is necessary to combine good selection of plants with suitable cultivation methods.
need for customization
The Kew Royal Botanic Gardens have suffered no significant damage to the outdoor collection apart from a few burnt leaves on the most heat-sensitive plants, which are now monitored to see if new leaves are sprouting or the plant’s decline is irreversible. .
However, they are aware of the need to adapt new gardens to the dry season without losing the attractiveness of the space, as Garden Director Richard Barley explains: “We have to be more careful with the plants we grow. choose to do. Free, but we want to develop a better understanding of soil moisture through technology. Humidity to get a more detailed idea of what we are doing when we water plants in the future Would like to use the sensor.
Experts emphasize that a garden that is more resilient to climate change does not have to be less attractive. Following gardeners’ instructions, it will be dotted with roses, lavender, rosemary or salvia in the sunniest areas, perhaps planted in window boxes when the ground is too wet in winter, and deep-rooted trees and hedges, For the summer are supplemented with bulbs. , in shaded areas. In short, the way a garden is resistant to drought retains its ornamental richness, one should not resign oneself to consider it “a dwarf shrub,” as Barter explains.
It is a question of balance. There’s no need to get rid of the lawn, says Barter, just replace the grass with clover. It requires very little water, grows little, and attracts endangered bees, which in turn help pollinate the garden.
“It is important to have an abundance of plants in cities, including lawns, to keep cities cool. Even when gravel or paving is the only option, we have to integrate lots of plants in order for the soil to breathe. The pavement shaded by trees greatly reduces the adverse effects of the emissions of heat absorbed during the day. ,
wake up conscience
Gardening is a national pastime with over 27 million citizens, almost half the population in the UK, who claim to be fond of it. Persuading all these individuals to take care of the ecosystem of which they are a part with small tasks – recycling water, reducing gasoline consumption, ending the use of plastics or composting their own – climate emergency can make a significant contribution to combating
There should be abundance of plants in cities. Pavement shaded by trees greatly reduces the adverse effects of absorbed heat emissions during the day
Richard Barley, garden director at Kew Gardens, London;
The Royal Horticultural Society knows very well the power of gardening. During World War II he participated in the Digging for Victory outreach campaign (dig to win) who taught the population to cultivate gardens to cope with the lack of food.
Gardens are not only a practical tool in the fight against global warming, it can also be a window to raise awareness. 80% of Great Britain’s population lives in cities and for many people, Barter says, “gardens or parks are their reference to nature. They may not be familiar with the effects of climate change on agriculture or forestry, but if they If there are dry grass and dried delphiniums in your park, the danger becomes more real.
The change the British are seeing at their doorstep is a warning about a more worrying crisis, the loss of biodiversity. Barter explains this clearly: “Gardens are artificial creations and therefore they adapt. Instead, native fauna and flora are likely to suffer. ,
And he gives the example: “Beech are more susceptible to climate change and will suffer, while oaks are more resistant and will multiply. But flowering time will change with the seasons, and we don’t know the life cycles of insects and birds in those.” will adjust to the plants on which they depend. Nor do we know whether the trees we plant now will live for a hundred years or that the animals will be able to adapt to the scale of climate change and the changes required in our time, Which is quite dangerous.
From Kew Gardens in London, Richard Barley says that nothing in nature works in isolation. “The disappearance of a species affects the entire ecosystem, in addition to medicinal potential, the secrets inherent in any species that are lost with it. The extinction of a species has a raging impact with repercussions beyond it.” Does matter. ”
OK, a specimen from a collection of palm trees, ravenia mouri Or Inazi in Grande Comor Island’s indigenous language, may be at that point of no return. Barley and his team have discovered that he may be the last of his kind in the entire world. Already in the 1990s, when these plants were found in the archipelago between Mozambique and Madagascar, they were considered threatened by agricultural practices. If any sample is left then only field work will confirm.
This is the role of the botanical garden to study and preserve the flora for the future of mankind. But on some occasions, as barley shows, ornamental gardens also contribute to the protection of the plants. “Some species that have become extinct in their natural habitats often grow in gardens, such as angel’s trumpet. Although it sounds strange, it has been preserved because it is an attractive plant that people want to grow.
Perhaps this summer will mark a before and after in the appearance of British gardens, but it will not diminish its power to mitigate the effects of the climate emergency it is forcing to change.