Seasonal shift: What climate change means for our gardens
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It’s almost March, but all isn’t as it should be outdoors. Columnist Debbie McMorran considers the steps we can take to protect our outside space.
As I sit to write this, the rain is coming down on the conservatory roof above me. The sound is rhythmic and soothing. We are nearing the end of February, but as I look out of the window next to me, I can see that the garden doesn't know what time of year it should be.
Amidst the lime whites and bruised pinks of the hellebore flowers, are swathes of snowdrops - still just about hanging on - and flashes of yellow narcissi everywhere. I would expect there to be a few daffodils to be out in time for St David's Day, but these have been out for a while now.
If you look a little closer, you can see shocks of deep purple, as the irises punctuate every now and again. I wouldn't normally expect to be seeing this for at least a few weeks. It is always cheerful, of course, to see colour returning to the garden, but it concerns me that it is happening at the wrong time. Another sign that our weather and ecosystems are getting confused and disrupted.
Probably the starkest sign of this is the tree peony in our front garden. Although we only moved here a couple of years ago, I have known this garden since childhood, and the stunning blousy peony comes into flower around late May - looking at it now, it is already covered in fat flower buds.
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Of course, it won't come into flower yet, and depending on the weather that we have in the coming weeks, the buds may be damaged by a cold snap, and never come into bloom at all. But it's certainly not something that I would expect to see at this stage in the gardening year.
So, we might ask ourselves what we can do. The answers on a grander scale are obvious of course - we can all do our bit in reducing our environmental impact, as I have discussed in this column many times before.
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Not only are there lots of ways we can do this in our gardens (peat-free compost, using water butts to collect and use rainwater… the list goes on) but also within our homes. In the meantime, we will need to start considering how to adapt our gardening around the seasonal changes.
Of course it is difficult to plan ahead in terms of what the weather will do next year, and for many people the planting that you have been doing for many years in your gardens cannot all be altered - but you can start to track when different plants come out this year, so that you can perhaps plant bulbs in slightly different places for next year.
For example - if you have spring bulbs all overplanted to come out in sequence, and you find that they are all coming out at a similar time this year, then you might want to divide and move some in readiness for next year, so that they are slightly less crowded.
The news is constantly full of the horrendous flooding that has been devastating so many parts of the country in recent months. Although we have been lucky to escape a similar fate here in Hertfordshire thus far, some of you will have almost certainly been experiencing localised flooding within parts of your own gardens and plots.
If this has been the case for you, then you might want to start considering a different planting scheme - either for plants which are hardier to withstanding wet conditions, or perhaps to move around your garden so that any expensive or particularly valued plants are in a less vulnerable position.
For many people, the floods will have destroyed and damaged much-loved gardens, as well as their homes and possessions, and our thoughts are with them all.
It is impossible to tell whether we will be able to turn back the tide of global warming, but we can at least all try to do our bit in the hopes that things won't continue to get worse. The alternative is unthinkable.
Things to do in the garden this month
It hardly seems possible that we're already looking at jobs to do in March. Before we know it, Easter will be upon us, and the gardens will be exploding into full bloom.
There are plenty of jobs that can be done now - some of which are best kept for any drier days…
*You can get your early potatoes planted - and start to look forward to those first delicious early crops! Nothing finer than home-grown spuds!
*If we get some drier weather, then you can look to mowing the lawns again. Of course it's always better to do a slightly higher setting on the mower than you might have been using at the end of last year - you can always mow slightly tighter next time, but after the wet winter, it's better not to go too tight to start with and churn the lawn into a mud-pit!
*As the daffodils start to go over, they can be deadheaded. This will help the goodness to go back into the bulb for next year.
* If you have paths which have got grubby and moss-covered over the winter, now is the time to give them a spruce up before the flower beds start to grow out. If you have a pressure washer, you might want to use that, or just a flat ended spade and tough broom with some good old fashioned elbow grease!
*Similarly, if you have plants which will likely need supporting later in the summer, it's a good idea to get the plant supports in now. This will give the plants the chance to grow through them and cover them slightly - it's far more difficult to get them in once full growth has started.
Whatever jobs you choose to do in your gardens, make the most of the longer daylight, which is increasing beautiful every day - and just enjoy being outdoors!