It's never been more important to choose flowers and trees according to their environmental needs, says Peter Dowdall
The climate is changing, of that there is no doubt and gardeners do tend to be more in tune with the weather than most. That’s probably not surprising as we are out in the great outdoors so much we become more in tune with what’s happening outside in the natural world.
The world is becoming a hotter place in general but it seems that what we have to worry about in this part of the world is more extreme weather events such as stronger and more frequent storms and periods of high winds, long periods of drought, freezing conditions and heavy rains.
These bring their own challenges and as the garden offers us the solution to this period of climate chaos in which we find ourselves, along with so many other solutions, it seems sensible to ensure that our gardens are fit for the future and can withstand such extreme conditions.
To do this we need to be sensible with our choice of plants. Anything green and growing in your garden will be actively removing carbon from the atmosphere so I would suggest incorporating as many plants as possible.
It has never been more important to choose plants according to their environmental needs.
For example if you yearn for a Japanese maple in your garden but your site is exposed to high winds then I would suggest that to plant such a specimen would be foolish, for these stunning plants require a sheltered area in which to thrive.
As stronger and more frequent winds are in our future, look for an alternative. Sambucus nigra, the common elder is more suited to growing in our local, windy conditions, present as it is in nearly every hedgerow in Ireland.
It may not look anything like a Japanese maple, I hear you say, but if I mention Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’, well, that’s an entirely different plant. It’s not of course, its simply a cultivar of S.nigra but aesthetically you could be forgiven for mistaking it for a finely cut leaved Japanese maple.
The bees and butterflies too will thank you as they love the flowers along with those who might like a pink elderflower cordial. This plant will thrive even in the most exposed garden and is thus one to choose if that’s where you are gardening.
Many plants need a well-drained soil and then again there are many who need to be in waterlogged ground but what about many of our spaces which may be relatively well-drained but after heavy rains and the water table rises, maybe boggy underfoot for a few weeks.
For these spaces again look at plants which will tolerate and even thrive in such conditions and don’t go to the expense, often, pointlessly of trying to beat nature by installing complex drainage systems.
Amelanchier x grandiflora ‘Robin Hill’ is a beautiful small tree growing to about 4m over 20 or more years which will tolerate very strong winds and temporary waterlogging. It’s a beautiful feature in any garden bringing masses of blossom during the spring and one of the best choices for autumn colour in the garden. Viburnum opulus, the Geulder Rose will also thrive in soils which hold water for a few weeks after heavy rain.
It is more of a hedgerow-type tree which will also reach about 4m in height and again, produces white flowers during the spring and good autumn colour. The flowers of the Viburnum are similar to snowballs and again loved by the pollinators and the berries which ripen for winter are adored by many of our native birds.
For lower colour, a particular favourite of mine is the Primula ‘Vialii’. This looks like the most exotic and tenderest plant that you could grow but it’s actually, very resilient and easy to grow, again so long as you give it the correct position. It likes an acid, damp soil though it will tolerate drought for a few weeks.
So too, will the Clamagrostis, a very stately looking ornamental grass. This which brings all the movement and texture that you would want in a grass, reaching about 1.5m in height with beautiful, elegant and airy flower heads during the summer and autumn.
It is very versatile in terms of soil type and position. I have yet to find somewhere that it won’t grow and it is very forgiving of soils which can alternate between very wet and very dry.
As our climate seems to be altering to the extent that we expect more extremes, it seems that what we should be choosing is plants which are versatile and will tolerate changing conditions.