This is the new weather

Country Life Every Week - - Letters To The Editor - Fol­low @agromenes on Twit­ter

THE sun has cer­tainly had his hat on this past month and it’s cheered us all enor­mously. Sun­day lunch out of doors; pic­nics in the park; chilled rosé, Pimms and Prosecco; bar­be­cues, cold meats and sal­ads—if only we didn’t have to work.

The peo­ple we’ve re­ally felt sorry for are the Brits who booked sun-seek­ing hol­i­days abroad and had to go! To pay good money to miss out on long, hot days in an English sum­mer is in­deed tragic. It’s been sim­ply idyl­lic, es­pe­cially in the early morn­ing and as dusk be­gins to fall—where else could you pos­si­bly want to be?

How­ever, in the gar­den, the grass has started to get de­cid­edly brown and the dust more per­va­sive; wa­ter­ing is be­com­ing a real chore and the let­tuce has bolted, all re­minders that this is in­deed the new weather—not only an oc­ca­sional treat, but more fre­quent, par­tic­u­larly in the East and South of Eng­land.

What the RHS warned last year seems to have been borne out. They were right: we gar­den­ers need to brace our­selves for real change as the grow­ing sea­son starts ear­lier and the dry weather con­tin­ues un­in­ter­rupted. East Anglia is des­ig­nated a semi-arid re­gion and five out of the seven hottest years ever recorded in the world have oc­curred since 2010.

All this is re­ally go­ing to make a dif­fer­ence to the way we gar­den. The tra­di­tional English lay­out may well be­come a thing of the past. It’s not only that lawns will be too dif­fi­cult to main­tain, it’s that some of our favourite flow­ers will find these new con­di­tions too stress­ful. Del­phini­ums, lupins and quite a lot of cy­cla­men will not eas­ily adapt; al­monds and olives, grapevines and even pomegranates will grow more eas­ily as frost be­comes a rar­ity. Seed pack­ets that sug­gest we only plant out when ‘dan­ger of frost is past’ will seem rather old fash­ioned.

Of course, there will be the odd year when we’ll be caught out, but, in gen­eral, the is­sue for the South and East will be drought, not frost. In the North, it’ll be wet­ter and wilder. The ex­perts are pretty gloomy about the need for gar­den­ers to pre­pare for more flood­ing and for down­pours rather than show­ers, al­though the north­ern weather will be no­tice­ably warmer. Over in the West, the ex­tra rain and longer grow­ing sea­son will pro­long mow­ing so that many peo­ple will give up on lawns and plant shrubs and trees in­stead.

As we bask in the sun­shine, we should, there­fore, spare a mo­ment to con­sider how best to cope with the changes that are al­ready upon us and that will only grow in in­ten­sity. The need to con­serve wa­ter is a pri­or­ity in a band from Nor­folk to Kent; a ma­jor pre­oc­cu­pa­tion of the RHS’S Es­sex gar­den, Hyde Hall, is find­ing ways to use wa­ter more spar­ingly. It’s dif­fi­cult to see how these coun­ties are go­ing to avoid more strin­gent li­cens­ing and hosepipe bans and, as the soil tran­spires less and less and the rain­fall di­min­ishes, arid­ity and soil ero­sion will be­come se­ri­ous chal­lenges.

Ev­ery gar­dener in the UK will face pro­found un­der­ly­ing change at the same time as cop­ing with the con­tin­u­ing va­garies of the English weather. It’s not that we’re mov­ing from one fixed state to an­other, but more that, de­pend­ing where we live, the va­ri­ety of weather with which we have al­ways lived will be hot­ter and drier, more stormy and much more prone to floods. We’d bet­ter get on with it be­cause there’s nowhere else to go!

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