Melanie Dool’s gardening column in association with Orchardstown Garden Centre
BOB Dylan brought out the song “The Times They are-a Changin’” in 1964 and we might refer this to the climate change that is unfolding before us. You might not think it but up to recently we would have been considered to experience one of the best climates in which to grow a huge range of hardy plants. We generally do not get much frost and then it is usually a few degrees hovering around the freezing point and, as for snow, that is a novelty when it happens and we are happy to see it disappear a few days later.
Soft refreshing rain
It is obvious that rain plays a big part in our lives and it has a part to play in gardening but as for most of the population it is the typical subject to talk about, especially to strangers. As it happens, the normal rainfall suits most of our hardy plants and they thrive in it, resulting in luxurious growth followed by copious flowers and perhaps fruit in some species. Now the one thing that is bothering many people is the climate change that appears to be getting worse and while it affects us and our lives, it also does not suit many of our plants.
Plants and animals, including ourselves, have evolved relatively slowly over a long period of time and the changes are hardly noticed unless you take large chunks of time, speed them up and look at the results, something like they do with some nature programmes. What is happening now is that our weather has and is becoming more extreme and that goes for temperatures, rainfall and wind. We do not like this as it destroys many of the things we cherish when it floods, becomes too hot or cold or high gusty winds damage our property.
In case we need reminding, plants are living things too but they are relatively static and cannot respond quickly to changes to their environment and as a consequence of a period of extreme weather they will suffer, weaken and perhaps even die out. After any of the recent extreme conditions in the last decade, plants have certainly suffered and a significant proportion of them have weakened so much that they do not recover and it is common enough for people to ask why, only to be reminded that the cause was likely to be the unusual weather conditions some years previously.
We have changed our landscape beyond the original state that our ancestors would have encountered. We did this to suit our food and material needs and later, when we had organised farming of plants and animals instead of foraging in the wild, we found we had more time on our hands and began to put energy into leisurely pursuits and that included gardening in its more primitive form. At this point it is interesting to know that the vast majority of plants in our gardens, estates and parks have only been introduced within the last two hundred years.
Where we are
We are fortunate to still be able to grow such a vast range of exotic plants from all parts of the world but I have seen far too many plants start to suffer and that includes all sectors of plant life from trees down to the smallest alpine plant. Plants that suffer will have a lower immune system and not be able to withstand diseases and other vectors that attack them and this whole thing is similar to what we can experience as humans too. Therefore, you will understand that part of the solution is to build up the plants’ strength so it can withstand those attacks and this is achieved by keeping the plants weed free, mulching with compost or manure around the plants and finally pruning or shaping them so they can withstand strong winds and storms. For all new plants that you expect to live for years, do prepare the planting hole well, incorporating compost if the soil is poor and do not plant too deep.
Tip of the Week
After a few fine days we all want to plant out bedding, patio and vegetable plants but then a cold chilly wind comes along just to give us a taste of reality. By all means collect, buy and sow what you need and keep them in a warmish sheltered and well lit area until after next week and then, if conditions are right, start some of your planting and sowing outside.
Of all the fruit, strawberries are one of the most delicious and also the easiest to grow and they produce fruit in the shortest time, with a light crop a few months after planting. There are early, mid-season and late cropping varieties so for a longer harvesting time choose a mixture of all three types.