The future of gardening
Gardens are becoming more important than ever for people and wildlife, a vital link in a living, breathing grid of green space across the country. They are quite simply crucial in our efforts to cope with the effects of climate change, from soaking up water and carbon and offering shade, to providing areas where we can grow our own food and offer shelter and food to wildlife.
A change in climate will be felt strongly by the nation’s gardeners, who will witness first hand the impact of extreme weather like drought and flood on plants, food crops and garden wildlife. It is time to start gardening with climate change in mind. In a two pronged approach, we can take steps to both mitigate against and adapt to climate change.
Why cities need gardens
Canyons of concrete and oceans of pavement heat up quicker than a field or forest, and they keep cities warmer at night by releasing heat stored up during the day. By the middle of the century our capital city may be sweltering in heat waves in two out of every three summers, according to the London Mayor’s climate change report. Average summer temperatures are predicted to rise by two and a half to three degrees Celsius by 2050.
High proportions of concrete and other hard surfaces make flooding more likely too, and with the increased intensity of rainfall making the risk of flooding ever greater, our gardens have never been more important. They soak up water like sponges and then allow it to evaporate slowly, steadily helping to cool the atmosphere. Gardens and green space like allotments let our cities breathe, and that’s why it’s so important that we preserve and protect them.
Campaigning for the capital’s gardens
In response, London Wildlife Trust is taking a stand on climate change and campaigning to get garden conservation taken seriously. They are encouraging people to stop adding hard surfaces like patios and concrete parking spaces to their gardens. If green space must be covered, porous surfaces can be used and additional areas of green space or habitat can be developed elsewhere on the property. This could be by installing green roofs on sheds, garages or flat roofs.
London Wildlife Trust’s Director of Biodiversity Conservation, Emily Brennan explains that “managing your garden with climate change in mind can be beneficial for people as well as wildlife. A high proportion of living, porous surfaces can reduce the likelihood of flooding, and also make your garden a more pleasant space during heat waves. Choose plants which provide shelter and food for wildlife, and which don’t need a lot of watering to thrive.”
Gardening for wildlife
Urban gardens can be rich in wildlife, supporting rare and common species, from stag beetle and hedgehog to sparrow, bumblebees and old native trees. Gardens could also help wildlife adapt to rising temperatures. As the UK heats up wildlife will need to move to new areas of suitable habitat along climate corridors, up and down the country. London’s gardens and allotments are one vital part of a UK network of open spaces including river corridors and parks that wildlife can use to move. Such a network is an essential part of the ‘Living Landscape’ approach to conservation championed by The Wildlife Trusts.
Think global, act local
The importance of growing food shouldn’t be under estimated. Reports suggest that processed foods use ten calories of fossil energy for every calorie of food produced, not to mention the impact of air miles, refrigeration and packaging. Growing and eating local reduces our climate calorie intake.
Author and expert grower Charles Dowding explains why an element of self sufficiency is important. “The more food you can grow, the more independent you become and that is vital in a fast changing world where weather, market supplies and international trade look more uncertain from day to day.”
Advice for gardeners
So how do we create the gardens of the future? How can you do your bit to fight climate change and also adapt your garden to cope with its effects?
Charles Dowding advises that “it makes sense to garden organically, in a way that eventually relies little on inputs from outside. Making and using sufficient compost is the key here.
“To cope with increased risk of drought and flood increasing the organic matter content of soils will make the biggest difference. More moisture can be conserved because the humus in organic matter is like a sponge, holding on to more rain, so you need to water less in dry weather. Adding organic matter also encourages soil life such as worms, whose vertical tunnels act as superb drainage channels in heavy rain.
“Vegetables can be far more productive than is often realised, as long as the right ones are sown at the right time, soil is in good heart and slugs are dealt with correctly (see top tips for sustainable gardening for advice). I hope that the allotments and kitchen gardens of the future will be more productive, as people re-learn the art of growing good vegetables.”
Last year London Wildlife Trust developed an award winning ‘Wildlife Garden in a Skip’, which travelled around the capital highlighting the importance of urban gardens. Building on that success, this year they are taking the sustainable gardening message to Hampton Court Flower Show, July 8th – 13th. London Wildlife Trust’s Future Garden will explore how gardeners can adapt to our changing climate by planting water saving plants, and using sustainable and reused features. It will also highlight what could be the common garden species of the future. Why not come along to the show and visit the garden?
Visit www.wildlondon.org.uk for fascinating facts about the capital’s wildlife and indispensable mini guides to wildlife gardening.
Charles Dowding is author of ‘Organic Gardening the Natural, No Dig Way’ and ‘Salad Leaves For All Seasons’, both published by Green Books at £10.95. You can find out more at www.charlesdowding.com.
© Helen Babbs / The Wildlife Trusts
First published in Kitchen Garden magazine June 2008
 Taken from ‘How we’ve all grown’ by Allan Jenkins, The Observer, 11th November 2007 – Lucy Siegle writes in ‘The Ethical Audit’: “Processed food uses 10 calories of fossil energy for every calorie of food produced. Then there’s the air miles, the chilling, the refrigeration and the packaging” – see http://lifeandhealth.guardian.co.uk/gardens/story/0,,2206775,00.html