It was like a punch into the face. The RHS Chelsea flower show was blatantly showcasing the impacts of climate change. You might not have noticed, however. The majority of people who attended the show or watching the BBC show were focused to the ever-more naturalistic design of the gardens and the fewer big show gardens, and the stunning Lupins.
But the warming temperatures our world is experiencing are catching the gardeners. Although the changes might be minimal in our backyards but when you observe them reduced and condensed, like I experienced at the world’s most famous flowers show realization that they are actually happening is quite shocking.
One of the first things I noticed when getting into the show was the heat. It was enjoyable to wander around the gardens on such a gorgeous sunny day, however in my head was the realization that the temperature was a result of a long-lasting drought in the southeast as well as the UK in general suffered. In talking with the designers and gardeners I heard a lot of exclamations that read “I can’t wait for it to rain”. After a warm dry winter in 2016 and this winter, the driest for over 20 years, I was wondering what if these weather storms are the kind of weather we ought to expect in the coming years?
‘I wanted to clamber into it and botanise between the columns of limestone’: James Basson’s Chelsea garden for M&G. Photograph: Jim Powell/The Guardian
It was the very first garden that I was enthralled by and rammed the point home more. James Basson’s M&G garden was a complete success for me. It brought me straight to the quarries of lime stones that lie in the Mediterranean and was a perfect fit with the sun’s warmth. I was eager to get into it and saunter through the limestone columns. I could see the plant life of one of my favorites from the area white Henbane (Hyoscyamus albus) looking to me from its black eyes out of the rocks, and the prickly goldenfleece (Urospermum picroides) shining down at me in a mirror reflection of the sun’s yellow glow over the horizon.
As I sat and admired this exquisite and delicate plants I could not help but feel that this is what the southeast region of the UK could be able to count as normal in the future. We might be required to accept a few species of the Mediterranean species as newcomers to replace the hedgerow plants and garden weeds we are so comfortable with.
The next place of visit took place with my good close friend Charlotte Harris on her Royal Bank of Canada garden A stunning representation of the boreal forest of Canada. While there isn’t much room to debate the exactness of the species that were used in the garden, there were plants in the garden that captured my curiosity. A sweet Fern ( Comptonia peregrina) jumped out at me from the corner of the garden and Labrador tea ( Ledum groenlandicum) had a presence that was only apparent once you realized it was there.
The two gardens seemed like opposites however the plants in these two gardens are so closely tied to the changing climate that they have a common. Boreal forests in Canada in particular are predicted to heat to a higher degree than the average global temperature and the species in these forests will not be able to keep pace with. The coniferous forests are burning more often than their eco-system can handle and, if they do not burn and pushing north, they will be pushed due to the effects of drought and pressure from more robust deciduous species that will replace them. What is the longest time that comptonia will remain on the earth it been a part of over 60 million years?
The two gardens I visited drew my attention to the impact on the natural landscape however, the second one, Manoj Malde‘s Inland Homes garden, Beneath a Mexican Sky was a great way to consider the effect that a changing climate is having on the gardens of Britain. When asked if it was my opinion that plants like aloes and agaves could be able to survive in the context of a British landscape, my response after a brief gap, was an unambiguous “yes”.
Coming to a British garden near you … an agave plant. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo
I’d seen a few plant species that were Dracaena the draco and the dragon tree that was growing outside the day before in the Chelsea Physic Garden in the same month. A few months before, I visited the garden of Kent where the classic plant species of the rockery were destroyed by agaves as well as other succulents as well as Mediterranean plants from over the globe. The first time I saw it, perhaps due to the sun’s shining shades of Malde’s garden appeared just like a British sky.
One colour that I am afraid may be headed for an autumnal hue in the gardens of our tiny island is the bright blue hue of Himalayan flowering poppies (Meconopsis). Chris Beardshaw had planted them alongside similarly cool-loving huge Himalayan Lilies ( Cardiocrinum giganteum) in his Morgan Stanley garden. They were within the Great Pavillion too, most especially on the display of the most beautiful of Scottish garden centers, Kevock. I fear that, as the warmer, dryer regions move to the towards the north, Scotland, and maybe some of the cooler regions within the Lake District will become the last sanctuary for this much-loved part of our garden flora.
For me I felt that I think the South Africans dominated the great pavilion yet again. The tall grasses like restios were a contrast to agapanthus, proteas, Kniphofias as well as the vibrantly coloured southern heaths. Pelargoniums, a further part of South Africa’s endless gardeners, were displayed in all their splendour also; both the intriguing species and the plethora of cultivars. I frequently find red pelargoniums in a window box that is not tended to and flourishing after a warm winter. My own Pelargonium cordifoliumv. rubrotinctum is planted in a shaded place all year long. I am wondering that in the near future, will this become the norm instead of being the one-off exception? Sure, South Africa will have more to provide British gardening enthusiasts as the time goes by.
It is true that the Chelsea floral show is still a leader in terms of gardening trends, but I believe the style that we should all be watching as we look to the future of the British gardens will be influenced by the changes in our climate. It is essential to be bold in our gardens, particularly considering the improbability of the problem at the present. This is a door I feel is begging to be pushed and I’m going to be in the beginning of this fight.