The quintessential English garden and law is under threat, warned Climate Change and Environment Minister, Ian Pearson, today.
Speaking during a press briefing at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Mr Pearson warned that the struggles faced by gardeners over the ongoing 18-month drought and July's heatwave would become common in the future.
Ten of the warmest years on record have taken place since 1990, and July was the hottest month since record began. The last two winters have been the driest in over 80 years in parts of southern England.
Mr Pearson said the situation was likely to become worse. "If the majority of scientific opinion is right, and I think it is, these conditions will become commonplace in the future. They will put gardeners in the front line of climate change."
The time lag between when carbon is released into the atmosphere and when the effects are felt is around 30-40 years. So we are already locked into a certain amount of climate change.
Detailed research, some part-funded by Defra, points to some very profound changes in the way our plant life, both in the natural environment and in gardens, is already changing.
"Our gardeners will continue to be among the first to feel the effects of climate change. The growing season for plants is a month longer than it was 100 years ago. And we are experiencing changes in dates of leaf emergence, flowering, and appearance of many species of butterflies in Spring.
"With higher emission scenarios, the chilling requirement for budbreak in fruit trees may not be met in mild winters, leading to lower yields, while the annual moisture content of soils is likely to decrease by 10-20 per cent across the UK by the 2080's, and even as much as 50 per cent in the summer.
"The severity of pests and disease attacks in general is predicted to increase, as will the spread of many organisms as the changing climate makes the UK more hospitable for them," he added.
Mr Pearson said preparing for such changes now would make it easier for gardeners to cope in tomorrow's hotter, drier conditions.
Supporting the recent Waterwise campaign, Mr Pearson said there were many ways to have a beautiful garden which used very little water.
"Watering your garden with a watering can or using a drip irrigation system in areas without a hosepipe ban is the most efficient method.
A hosepipe can use up to 18 litres per minute, so using if for just 30 minutes is the same as a household uses in one day."
Gardeners could become more water efficient by:
* Using water butts and watering cans, or consider water saving
crystals which hold water in the soil
* Try not to cut lawns too short
* Check outdoor taps, pipes and plumbing fixtures for leaks
* Water the roots and soil around plants rather than spraying leaves
* Use mulch on garden from a compost heap.
Welcoming the announcement that, next year, Kew is to open a new Mediterranean garden, Mr Pearson said gardeners should look at the
type of plants and trees they grow in their gardens, expanding the number of plants that thrive across Southern Europe. Latest research suggests that the UK will see hotter, drier summers with summer rainfall declining by up to 50 per cent by 2080.
"Gardeners need to think about choosing drought resistant bedding and perennial plants like marigolds, petunias or geraniums. They should also think about trees that will thrive in Britain's future climate.
Silver maple and black cherry trees thrive in warmth. Sycamore, yew and magnolia are resistant to storm damage.
"I welcome the announcement by Kew today of its first climate change policy paper and would encourage people to come to visit and view the
wonderful work being carried out here," he added.
1 Copies of the speech made by Mr Pearson at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, will be available on the Defra website later today.
2 The Government consulted on its Adaptation Framework last year. The Framework will come into force in 2008.
3 More detailed advice for what gardeners can do to adapt to climate change is available in the "Gardening in the Global Greenhouse" report, part-funded by Defra. It is available on the UK Climate Impacts Programme website at www.ukcip.org/resources/publications/search_results.asp?search=gardening
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