Last week ‘London was Calling’ as I was invited by the RHS to a science lecture;
called ‘gardening with a mission’ it was all about Gardening in a Changing Climate.
**This is a family blog as some things were really difficult for me to understand, so my Mum & Dad have helped me write it**
When in London…..
We hopped off the tube a few stops early at Green Park and strolled past Buckingham Palace into St James’s Park. I love how London is this built up, busy city, yet has some fantastic green spaces. After being on the train from Manchester and then a stuffy tube, it was great to get some fresh air and take in the sites, before heading over to the lecture.
Even though I’ve got really strong opinions on climate change, I did some research at home with my Mum & Dad, to make sure I understood some of the things mentioned in the RHS Gardening in a changing climate report. The report looks at how climate change affects our gardens; extreme weather events, rainfall, temperature and wind & storms. I put this video together using all the important messages.
I was really interested in the forecast for a northern England garden in 2100; I’ll be 95 by then and I’m sure I’ll have seen lots of changes in the garden; they predict there will be:
- more plants being grown in containers
- gardening under protection in greenhouses, polythene tunnels and conservatories
- raised beds with free draining soil
- drains to divert water away from buildings during heavy rain
- for shelter from storms, fruit and veg will be grown by walls and along sheltered paths & alleyways
RHS Director of Science
The RHS Director of Science, Alistair Griffiths invited me to the conference. I’ve met him a few times, the first was at the YoungHort conference in 2014. I remember him saying how botany had took him all over the world – something I aspire and dream about!
I also met his science team on a visit to the laboratory at RHS Wisley in October 2016.
I asked Alistair about the rosemary beetle – I thought that is was really beautiful to look at, but obviously they scoff all the rosemary!
Introduction to the lecture
Sue Biggs the RHS Director General welcomed everyone to the event and introduced Professor David Wolfe as this year’s ‘John MacLeod’ guest speaker – she said how important gardening science was, to the future of horticulture
Professor David Wolfe started off his talk by saying that since earth began, CO2 levels have steadily gone up and down. But in the past 100 years (around the start of the industrial revolution) it’s gone up rapidly and in the news this week it was announced that CO2 levels have started to rise again after being steady for the last few years.
The living world is affected by this; sea levels are rising, there are more extreme weather events, the earth is warming up, polar ice cap/ glaciers are melting therefore, wildlife, such as polar bears are losing their habitat. David said:
“Climate change will forever alter the fabric of our gardens, farms and natural landscapes with implications for our eco-systems”
David gave an example of early blossom appearing on apple trees in New York, where the harvest later failed. My example of this, is this year, it was quite nice for a few weeks in spring, then we had really cold strong winds in April, which burnt the leaves on the acer, mahonia and buddleia. They all recovered in the end, but the problem for fruit trees, if it destroys blossom, it destroys the harvest.
He talked about how certain species react uniquely to climate change. Some plants are pollinated by certain insects, at different flowering times, so a change in weather makes the ecosystem go out of sync. I recently wrote about the ‘plight of solitary and bumblebees’ in my Wild About Gardens blog . Pests can also increase due to warmer weather and the things that prey on the pests can also be affected too.
Whilst lots of plants need the cold of winter (winter chilling) to grow again in summer, milder winters may bring new opportunities to experiment with new varieties and species, increasing the growing season and yielding a better harvest. For example, there are plants we haven’t been able to grow up North before and plants that you would traditionally grow in a greenhouse, you might be able to grow outside, but you would still have to be aware of sudden frosts.
BUT warmer weather will also bring increased weeds, disease and insect pressure, and challenges for water management. It’s gonna’ rain a lot more in spells, a lot faster, for longer periods of time. Blimey, how we gonna manage that amount of water?
The issues of heavy rainfall is that it washes nutrients out of the soil and it becomes water logged, so therefore, good soil management is important, for example, you could use lots of manure to enrich the soil, which is beneficial in wet weather, but also helps to lock moisture in, in drier spells.
David suggested, ‘Do less, to do more’ that you don’t need to dig, ‘cos the worms do it for you. He used a Charles Darwin quote about earthworms…
“The plough is one of the most ancient and most valuable of man’s inventions; but long before he existed the land was in fact regularly ploughed, and still continues to be thus ploughed by earth-worms.”
What can we do?
- Plant trees and other perennials in the garden as they lock up carbon from the atmosphere. Planting native and non-native plants, which attract wide ranging insects
- Install green roofs and walls
- Grow, eat and buy local foods, in season
- Conservation programmes that provide a safety net for endangered species worldwide
- Theres lots of research on the effects of climate change carried out by the RHS
and me, what I can do is raise awareness by sharing at my school, presenting at other schools, writing blogs, TV work if I’m given the opportunity and my work with local community group, Operation Farm
We can all take action in the garden – as hot and dry spells are predicted to increase, we need to:
- capture and store rainwater water in containers. We have nearly finished installing a new water butt at home
- compost green & brown waste – compost provides nutrients for the garden and reduces landfill and production of methane
- plant lots of pollinator friendly flowers – especially those that are later flowering, such as mahonia and ivy (which provides protection, pollination and food). Here’s the RHS’s Perfect for Pollinators List
- follow the simple messages of reducing and reusing – my Dad is really resourceful in the garden
- recycling – garden waste, plastic, glass and metals
- reduce the use of fertilisers and never use pesticides and herbicides
Professor David Wolfe ended his presentation by saying……
Share your fascination, passion, love and concern for gardens and our natural world!!
……it’s something we all should do
My hand shot up when it was question time; I said
“I’m in my second year of secondary school and this hasn’t been taught in schools. This will affect my generation and I want to know how the message is getting to kids like me, younger and older”
Professor Wolfe is American and teaches at a University, so he replied, that his under-graduates are expected to cover these areas and teach others. I asked the same question to my Dad’s friend, Sue, who is a head teacher and she said it is briefly touched on in Y9, but that I was right, it should be covered sooner and in lots more detail.
Other questions were about :
- * Peat compost – as peat bogs store considerable amounts of carbon and support wildlife
- * Donald Trump – (the audience laughed) even though the US President thinks climate change is nonsense, David is talking to congress and senate, as they are seeing first hand the problems with climate change e.g. how the recent storm Irma, battered certain areas in America
Just before the lecture ended, there was an award ceremony. Donald Fraser won the Marsh Horticultural Award for his work with UV-B treatments for potted herbs
Once the presentation was over we had a chance to have a chat. It was great to meet up with my RHS Campaign for School Gardening buddy, Alana and her colleague Fuchsia
I also met Chris, he’s a level 4 student at RHS Garden Wisley. He told me first hand what it was like to be a student, spending time in the different sections of the garden, the studying, the opportunities, etc.. He sold it to me !!
It was lovely to meet up with Yvette again, she has the coolest job title ever, ‘The Keeper of the Herbarium’ and she introduced me to Lucy from Plant Heritage, where I talked about 2 of my favourite plant species – nepenthes and cacti !
I really enjoyed the lecture and I’d like to thank Alistair for inviting me. I represent the generation who climate change will most affect and I see it as my job to raise awareness about it. I had a day off school to attend the lecture, on the condition that I sit with my head teacher and talk to her about what I learnt. I’ve also been asked to write an article for young naturalists too.
I shall end this blog by quoting a few lines from one of my favourite songs, London Calling by The Clash