The Impact of Changing Weather Patterns on Landscapes and Gardens
Why are Weather Patterns Changing?
The Earth’s climate is changing at an unnatural rate because of human activity increasing the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere (Vijaya Venkata Ramana, Iniyan, & Goic, 2012). Global climate change will lead to changes in the weather patterns that characterise the regions of the world, and we must plan for it (Vijaya Venkata Ramana, Iniyan, & Goic, 2012). Although the science is irrefutable, the specific impacts of this change are still not 100% known, although scientists can do their best to predict them. The regional impacts of climate change will vary widely depending on existing population vulnerability. (Patz, Engelberg, & Last, 2000). This article will explore the impacts that changing weather patterns may have on garden and landscape design in the UK and beyond.
In the last century the Earth warmed by approximately 0.5°C. The mid-range estimates of future temperature change and sea level rise are 2.0 degrees centigrade and 49cm, respectively, by 2100 (Patz, Engelberg, & Last, 2000). Three of the main consequences of climate change will be temperature rise, sea level rise, and extremes in the hydrologic cycle (Patz, Engelberg, & Last, 2000). Research shows that small increases in weather and climate extremes have the potential to bring large impacts in many aspects of life.
The impacts are already apparent, just this week we saw floods and fallen trees due to extreme weather interrupting travel to the COP26 summit on Climate Change in Glasgow (Greenfield, Weston, & Wolfe-Robinson, 2021). But let’s delve into them a little deeper in this article.
Impact on Landscapes and Gardens
Higher temperature and changing weather patterns will have wide ranging effects on landscapes and gardens, and some gardeners may view them as favourable in some respects, while others will disagree (BBC, 2014). What is beyond doubt is that with heavy rainfall over winter and periods of drought in summer will have an impact on what we plant and how we maintain our gardens and landscapes (BBC, 2014).
Shorter winters can be expected, followed by earlier spring bulb displays, as well as trees coming into leaf sooner. We may also see a higher survival of traditionally frost-sensitive plants (BBC, 2014). This may present the opportunity to grow sub-tropical plants and exotic fruit trees, such as citrus, says Dr Andrew Colquhoun, director general of the Royal Horticultural Society. However, he also added that increased winter rainfall will be difficult for species which dislike waterlogging, such as Mediterranean species (BBC, 2014).
In addition, warmer temperatures may bring new pests and diseases to landscapes (BBC, 2014). This is because many diseases are influenced by weather conditions or display seasonality (Patz, Engelberg, & Last, 2000). Fungal diseases thrive with wet winter conditions, for instance Phytophthora has been affecting historic yew hedges. Additionally, the changing climate creates ideal conditions for the spread of insects such as beetles, sawflies, mites, and weevils (BBC, 2014).
Shifting weather patterns and extreme weather conditions becoming more variable may increase the risk of infrastructure failure (Auld & Maclver, 2006). Increased flooding is another expected impact of climate change. Floods affect social security and have landscape level environmental impacts (Kimambo, Chikoore, & Gumbo, 2018).
Plants that require fertile, moisture-retentive soil and will not thrive in the drier summers that may come with the changing climate. Also, traditional spring displays of bulbs and tuberous plants will be susceptible to problems with wet winters. The type of plants that will thrive in different regions of the UK may change, for instance Alpine plants will also be harder to grow in the south-east but may be able to be grown more earlier in the North, leading to different decisions being made in garden design (BBC, 2014).
We may find fruit from warmer climes will grow more easily, such as grapevines, pomegranates, citrus, and figs. In addition, since carbon dioxide is essential to photosynthesis, increased concentrations in the atmosphere might mean that plants grow faster and stronger, which could make plants more robust and able to battle diseases and pests with more success (BBC, 2014).
What Can We Do?
The key in dealing with the impacts of climate change on landscapes and gardens is to consider the issue broadly and think about the future of landscapes and how to respond with landscape design and garden design. Changes in climate will require changes to landscape and garden designs as well as larger societal changes (Auld & Maclver, 2006).
It is important to plant for the future, for example, using trees, shrubs and hedges that are drought tolerant. It may also be prudent to plant windbreaks to protect the garden from the stormier weather that may become more frequent. In a world with more flooding, preparing soil to maximise drainage by adding gravel, grit, or organic matter will be important. It will also be key to design gardens and landscape so that there is no long-term planting in flood prone areas. To combat droughts, it is important that landscape or garden are designed with water butts or reserves so there is a natural supply during warmer weather.
Overall, the key piece of advice from Guy Barter, head of RHS Advisory Services is to choose plants carefully and make informed decisions in your landscape and garden design. Work with the environment, for example, by choosing plants suited to the conditions in your garden (BBC, 2014).
Auld, H., & Maclver, D. (2006). Changing Weather Patterns, Uncertainty and Infrastructure Risks: Emerging Adaptation Requirements. 2006 IEEE EIC Climate Change Conference (pp. 1-10). IEEE EIC.
BBC. (2014). Climate Warming. Retrieved from Gardening guides: https://www.bbc.co.uk/gardening/basics/weather_climatewarming.shtml
Greenfield, P., Weston, P., & Wolfe-Robinson, M. (2021, October 31). The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2021/oct/31/bad-weather-causes-delays-on-train-route-to-glasgow-cop26-talks
Kimambo, O., Chikoore, H., & Gumbo, J. R. (2018). Understanding the Effects of Changing Weather: A Case of Flash Flood in Morogoro on January 11, 2018. Advances in Meteorology, 11.
Patz, J. A., Engelberg, D., & Last, J. (2000). The Effects of Changing Weather on Public Health. Annual Review of Public Health, 271-307.