The Sunday Post (Newcastle)

Gardening angels start the fight against climate change to save world’s oldest plants and trees from extinction

- By Agnes Stevenson

When a massive weather system moved over Argyll in October, a month’s worth of rain fell in a day and the devastatio­n left one of Scotland’s showpiece gardens in ruins.

Crarae Garden on the banks of Loch Fyne suffered critical damage as water rushed through its narrow gorge, dislodging boulders and sweeping away access routes.

The damage was so severe that there is no word yet on when the garden will reopen, but Crarae, which was establishe­d 100 years ago and which is filled with plants from Chile and Tasmania, as well as magnolias and rhododendr­ons from the Himalayas, is just the latest in a growing list of Scotland’s cherished spaces to be affected in this way.

Tim Keyworth, Gardens and Designed Landscapes Manager for the National Trust for Scotland, which owns Crarae, said: “With more storms and extreme weather events on the horizon due to climate change, the sad reality is much of our natural heritage is under threat.” This autumn the country is experienci­ng its busiest storm season in more than a decade, with four named events since Storm Agnes swept in on September 27 bringing 70mph winds and leaving a trail of flooding and fallen trees in its wake.

Sadly, this is becoming an alltoo-familiar pattern. In 2018, Storm Ali, which brought 100mph winds, caused significan­t damage at all four properties owned by the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RGBE). The same storm caused £30,000worth of damage at Threave near Castle Douglas. In December 2021, Storm Barra struck the south-west coast, flattening some of the rare plants that grow at Logan Botanic Garden, including a Brazilian pine.

When Storms Malik and Corrie arrived in quick succession in January this year, rhododendr­ons planted at Inverewe Gardens 130 years ago by Osgood Mackenzie, who establishe­d the garden, were torn from the ground.

But most devastatin­g of all the most recent weather events was Storm Arwen, a powerful extratropi­cal cyclone that struck Scotland in November 2021. It barrelled in from the North Sea and by the time it had blown itself out, the National Trust for Scotland had lost one million trees in the north-east alone.

The damage was felt at all the great castle gardens, including Crathes and Brodie, whose trees had become adapted to a westerly-wind pattern and had little resistance against a force from the east. But the west coast did not escape unscathed. At Arduaine, which sits on the edge of the Sound of Jura, work was under way to remove more than 900 trees from its shelter belt when Arwen hit, and of those trees which had been designated for saving, few survived the storm.

Ironically, the trees that were being removed were also casualties of climate change. They were suffering from Phytophtho­ra ramorum, one of the many plant diseases that have spread rapidly since the earth has started to warm up.

The memory of that night is still vivid for Wendy Mattingley from Cluny House Garden at Aberfeldy, Perthshire. Here, too, the shelter belt toppled, allowing gusts of 110mph to penetrate deep into the woodland, taking down, among other things, eight huge Sitkas which destroyed a massive number of other plants as they fell.

“It felt catastroph­ic and I must have cried every day for weeks,” said Wendy, whose parents Bobby and Betty Masterton began developing Cluny House into one of Scotland’s finest woodland gardens when they arrived there in 1950.

It took four months,

the help of countless volunteers and a GoFundMe rescue appeal, which raised £20,000, before Cluny House Garden was able to welcome visitors again.

At Attadale Gardens in Strathcarr­on, work will soon begin to thin out trees planted to replace the 1,000 that were lost when a localised “twister” hit the garden in 1987.

Owner Joanna MacPherson said: “These trees are now almost 40 years old and if we don’t take some of them down then the remainder will be weaker and more likely to fall.”

Since 2010, Joanna has been studying the weather patterns closely and she believes it is the combinatio­n of drought, followed by torrential rain, that is making many trees vulnerable to storms.

“When I first started making records, we were guaranteed to have three inches of rain in May,” she said. “This year we had just one inch during a very hot spell.”

Conifers in particular are shallowroo­ted and when these roots dry out, they lose their grip on the soil.

Dougal Philip of Discover Scottish Gardens, which is a network of more than 100 gardens that are open to the public, said: “Many garden owners are continuing the work started by previous generation­s. They have grown up with these trees and know them well, so there is a real sense of loss when they are gone.

“We know our members work tirelessly to maintain these collection­s, recognisin­g they are an important part of our national heritage and need to be preserved, both as habitats for wildlife and as beautiful spaces for people to enjoy in the future.”

So what can be done to save these great gardens?

Ann Steele, Head of Gardens and Designed Landscapes for the National Trust for Scotland, said: “These events are becoming more frequent and we have to look at ways of making our gardens and designed landscapes more resistant to them.

“At Crarae we will not be rushing to patch up the problem; we’ll be looking instead at longer-term measures that will be able to withstand the sort of weather we are likely to see more of in the future.”

Yet there are going to be noticeable changes.

“In places such as Angus and the east coast, for example, we may not be able to sustain the great avenues of beech trees that are such a familiar sight in some parts of that landscape, but instead we will soon have to start raising alternativ­e trees that will perform the same role as the beeches when they are gone.”

At Benmore in Argyll, one of the RBGE gardens, drastic measures have already been used to save the avenue of giant redwoods which form the entrance to the gardens.

Air was injected deep into the roots and the redwoods are recovering and putting out fresh growth.

This expensive procedure cannot be repeated for every tree under threat and so for David Knott, Curator of Living Collection­s at RBGE, mitigation to reduce the risks to our gardens cannot start early enough. “We’ve got to think about every way we can to reduce our impact on the planet, and in the garden that means ditching peat, plastic and pesticides,” he said.

“At RBGE we work with plant and conservati­on bodies around the world to look for solutions and to work out what trees are likely to survive the weather conditions that will exist 50 years from now.”

And it’s not just this country facing these changes. “Last year’s wildfires in Australia saw flames licking the edge of the canyon where the world’s oldest tree, the Wollemi Pine, was found growing after being thought to be extinct for two million years,” he continued.

“It is in order to save such important trees from the threat of climate change that we now have Wollemi Pines growing at Logan Botanic Garden.”

Sharing collection­s, expertise and plant material may be the best hope we have of holding on to what’s special about Scotland’s gardens and landscapes in today’s rapidly shifting world.

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 ?? ?? Above: A Douglas fir felled by a storm at Benmore Botanic Garden and, below, Ann Steele, head of gardens at the NTS.
Above: A Douglas fir felled by a storm at Benmore Botanic Garden and, below, Ann Steele, head of gardens at the NTS.
 ?? ?? David Knott of RBGE.
David Knott of RBGE.
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 ?? ?? From top: Storm damage at Crarae Garden, Argyll and Bute; Newhailes Gardens, Musselburg­h; flooding at Crarae. Inset: Attadale Gardens in Strathcarr­on owner Joanna MacPherson.
From top: Storm damage at Crarae Garden, Argyll and Bute; Newhailes Gardens, Musselburg­h; flooding at Crarae. Inset: Attadale Gardens in Strathcarr­on owner Joanna MacPherson.

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