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in the Met Of­fice’s cen­tral Eng­land tem­per­a­ture dataset, which stretches back to 1659. Shoe­smith no­tices how pol­li­nat­ing in­sects, such as soli­tary bees, of­ten emerge dur­ing th­ese mild mid­win­ters. If there are no flow­ers, and no nec­tar, they will per­ish. “Cli­mate change is a big is­sue and as gar­den­ers we can all do our bit to help by plant­ing the gar­den so it’s flow­er­ing through­out the year,” he says. “We all want that any­way.”

Al­lot­ment hold­ers are also adapt­ing to the in­creas­ingly capri­cious cli­mate. Mandy Bar­ber has turned to grow­ing peren­nial pro­duce on her plot in Ash­bur­ton, Devon. “An­nual veg­eta­bles needed a lot more wa­ter­ing and it was touch and go whether they would make it last sum­mer, but peren­nial veg­eta­bles have a lot more re­silience to tem­per­a­ture changes,” she says. Bar­ber is ex­per­i­ment­ing with crops in­clud­ing Taun­ton Deane kale; poireau per­pétuel, a peren­nial leek; and Hablitzia tam­noides , or Cau­casian spinach, which is grown in Scan­di­navia and can sur­vive -25C. “The Hablitzia tam­noides plants go on for decades, they are like a ram­pant trif­fid, but you get a crop be­tween Fe­bru­ary and June ev­ery year and the leaves are a bit like baby spinach,” says Bar­ber.

Ev­ery gar­dener I speak to agrees that milder win­ters are en­abling more pests to sur­vive and en­cour­ag­ing new pest species. Al­lan Trigg has been grow­ing veg­eta­bles for more than 40 years and has an al­lot­ment in Chelms­ford, Es­sex. “This is my lit­tle patch of Eng­land,” he smiles. Fewer frosts means his fel­low al­lot­ment hold­ers plant out run­ner beans, sweet­corn and pota­toes ear­lier. With an ex­tended grow­ing sea­son, Trigg can grow more, and se­cond crops, although last year he grew less be­cause he was spend­ing so much time wa­ter­ing his veg­eta­bles. The dry weather pro­duced lower yields of crops such as pota­toes. Af­ter 2017, his pota­toes lasted him and his wife through to Fe­bru­ary; this win­ter, they were eaten by Novem­ber. And al­lium leaf miner and leek moth are a grow­ing prob­lem. “I used to grow loads of leeks but now I don’t bother,” he says. He pulls one up to show the dam­age be­low ground. “We never used to have this trou­ble years ago.”

In Wal­sall the New­tons are ac­cept­ing of their grow­ing losses to pests such as the lily bee­tle and the lace bug. “It went ab­so­lutely berserk af­ter the hot sum­mer,” says Tony. “I thought it was go­ing to kill all the plants in the gar­den.” Bar­ber is be­set by voles (which sur­vive the milder win­ters), while in Corn­wall, Shoe­smith has no­ticed the spread of fuch­sia gall mite along the hedges. “It had the op­por­tu­nity to come to Bri­tain for decades, but only ar­rived this cen­tury be­cause of the milder win­ters,” he says. “We don’t have the same amount of frosts now and so we get many more fun­gal prob­lems.”

Th­ese ob­ser­va­tions pre­cisely match the more sci­en­tific lan­guage of Gar­den­ing in a Chang­ing Cli­mate, a 2017 RHS re­port that out­lines the chal­lenges – milder win­ters, more un­pre­dictable extremes and more pests – posed by cli­mate change. But the RHS also asks how gar­den­ers might help save the planet. The way we gar­den is still some­times part of the prob­lem – us­ing pre­cious wa­ter in pur­suit of a per­fect lawn dur­ing a drought springs to mind – but it can be part of the so­lu­tion. Gar­den­ers can re­duce car­bon diox­ide emis­sions, mit­i­gate pol­lu­tion and flood­ing, and help in­crease their neigh­bour­hood’s re­silience.

“Wa­ter use in gar­dens is go­ing to be a ma­jor is­sue in the fu­ture,” says Alis­tair Grif­fith, di­rec­tor of sci­ence at the RHS. Lon­don is fore­cast to re­quire 100m litres a day more than it can sup­ply in 2020, with this deficit ris­ing to 400m litres a day by 2040. The use of en­ergy-in­ten­sive mains wa­ter on gar­dens is still so­cially ac­cept­able and Bri­tain lags be­hind more wa­ter­stressed coun­tries where grey­wa­ter re­cy­cling is com­mon­place. But hosepipe bans could be­come per­pet­ual for some re­gions in com­ing decades.

Apart from us­ing only rain­wa­ter – even a small bal­cony can catch and store rain­wa­ter with a minireser­voir – Grif­fith rec­om­mends gar­den­ers pro­vide “as much green­ery as pos­si­ble”. He sug­gests plant­ing hedges in­stead of fenc­ing and plant­ing trees. Trees not only dis­pel pol­lu­tion but can al­le­vi­ate flash flood­ing and pro­vide shade for a home dur­ing heat­waves. Per­haps the most over­looked way gar­den­ing can ben­e­fit the cli­mate is via the soil: ad­ding or­ganic mat­ter (mulch from home-com­post­ing, not peat) can cre­ate a soil that stores more car­bon and re­tains more wa­ter, also mak­ing gar­dens more re­silient in flood and droughts.

Grif­fith’s fi­nal prac­ti­cal sug­ges­tion for cli­mate-friendly gar­den­ing is to make ev­ery­thing per­me­able. Un­for­tu­nately, paving gar­dens for park­ing con­tin­ues (in 2015, the RHS found that the num­ber of paved, plant-free front gar­dens had tripled in 10 years from 1.5m to 4.6m). Even car park gar­dens can be per­me­able and planted with trees and shrubs around the edge. But, ac­cord­ing to Grif­fith, peo­ple re­sist, cit­ing a lack of time and a ner­vous­ness about fail­ing at gar­den­ing. “Gar­den­ing is al­ways trial and er­ror,” he says. “Give it a go.”

Gar­den­ing won’t stop cli­mate change, but it could make our lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties more re­silient when faced with ex­treme floods, heat

– and mild weather. In trou­bled times, it is also a fun­da­men­tally op­ti­mistic ges­ture.

Spring-flow­er­ing helle­bore Part of Truro’s en­try for Bri­tain in Bloom; peren­nial veg may be bet­ter than an­nu­als

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