Gardening brings many of us into our closest contact with nature. Whether it be tending flower borders, growing vegetables and herbs, or enjoying the visiting birds and butterflies, we experience our own little piece of the wild. When, therefore, people say that climate change is not important to them, that it will not make much difference to their lives, ask them if they tend a garden. If they answer ‘yes’ you can point out that they may soon change their opinions.
The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has published a major report examining the impacts of climate change on our gardens. In the West Midlands we lie between a warmer and wetter north of England and a warmer and dryer south. Rather like the canary in the mine, the very tangible effects outlined in the report are a warning of much greater problems in the wider world. The RHS says that we will need to adapt our methods to allow for a warmer climate, with more, and heavier, rainfall in places, and increasing drought in others. We will need to plant different species, perhaps give up on pristine lawns, and deal with new pests and diseases, On the other hand, we will enjoy longer growing seasons, and be able to cultivate less hardy fruit and other plants which previously would not thrive here.
The point is that although nature is resilient, and will naturally adapt to changing conditions, the bits of nature we enjoy may radically change. As the natural world underpins all human activities we must not be lulled into a false state of security because we like some of what is happening. Alongside the ability to more easily grow peaches and olives, we may see plant diseases, and pests like slugs, increase. Pathogens dangerous to us may appear too, and heatwaves and torrential rainstorms seem already to be increasing.
As at least some of the climate change seems to be directly linked to the way we live, we should all take action to mitigate the changes. Our gardens can be barometers indicating how well we are, or are not, doing. We ignore the evidence at not just our own peril, but that of our children and grandchildren as well. As the report says ‘Climate change is likely to be one of the defining challenges of the 21st century and how we respond will determine our future prosperity, health and well–being ’.