English Gardens Endangered By Warming?

John Pickrell
for National Geographic News
February 10, 2003

As global warming intensifies, the English country garden as we know it today may soon be a thing of the past, concludes a report issued under the auspices of the United Kingdom Climate Impacts Programme (UKCIP).

The drier summers and milder winters expected to beset the typically cool, rain-drenched British Isles as a result of climate change are likely to negatively impact the lush green lawns, rambling roses, abundant flowering shrubs, and climbing vines that are the defining features of English garden landscapes.

The report was compiled by a coalition of organizations including Britain's Royal Horticultural Society, the Forestry Commission, The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, and the UKCIP, a government body established to assess the impact of global warming on Britain.

Although numerous studies have examined the potentially detrimental affects of global warming on agriculture and ecosystems, Gardening in the Global Greenhouse is one of the first to examine the effects of climate change on gardens.

"Some climate change is now inevitable and although we can still influence the extent of this for the latter part of the century, the die is already cast for the next 50 years," said Chris West, a UKCIP scientist. "We want people to find out more about how these changes will affect their lives and to consider this in their plans for the future."

National Obsession

Gardening is the leading hobby in the U.K., and an estimated 27 million people—41 percent of the population—participate in some way. Garden tourism, in a country with many national heritage gardens that are 500 years old or more, is also a big business, estimated to be worth around $480 million annually.

Though estimates of the rate and extent of warming vary, some climate models suggest that temperatures in Great Britain could increase by between 2 to 4.5 degrees Celsius (3.6 to 8 degrees Fahrenheit) by the year 2080, at a rate of 0.3 - 0.5 degrees Celsius (0.5 to 0.9 Fahrenheit) each decade.

The increased temperatures are likely to lead to higher temperatures year-round, and longer, hotter, and drier summers according to the report. Spring flowers and bulbs will bloom earlier and winters will be characterized by a marked reduction in frost and snow and an increase in torrential rainfall and flooding. Snowfall, which is already rare in southern England, may decline by 90 percent in lowland and coastal regions.

In fact, average annual temperatures are rising at such an unprecedented rate that U.K. gardens are already effectively migrating south by 4 to 7 kilometers (2.5 to 4.5 miles) a year, notes the study.

Summer droughts could threaten the herbaceous borders of traditional English cottage gardens. Species including lupin, aster, and delphinium, which require highly moisture-retentive soil, will require more intensive care. Shallow-root trees and hedges such as beech may not be able to adapt to frequent summer dry spells.

Continued on Next Page >>


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