Here are the steps you can take to protect your gardens from drastic climate changes

With all the terrifying talk of climate change, peculiar and unpredictable weather patterns, water shortages and floods, and winds not seen since the Dirty Thirties, you have doubtless been wondering how we could have got ourselves into such a pickle. We?ve done a fine job of fouling our own nest, and global climate change will affect our gardens as follows: we?ll be witnessing bugs and diseases not seen before in any given area. Winds will be more destructive, and old trees will likely succumb completely while younger trees and shrubs will suffer damage. Our gardens will be drier or wetter than usual. Summers will be hotter or colder than usual.

If there was ever a time to keep good garden notes, this is it. Watch those changes, then calculate how you can adjust, and what you will do to be an even more responsible gardener.

Dry Gardens: Look for plants that are drought-tolerant, including herbs such as lavender and rosemary; fleshy- leafed plants such as hens and chicks (Sempervivum) and stonecrops (Sedum); and many of the ornamental grasses.
Wet Gardens: Consider bog plants or even create a little bog?dig out the wet area in your garden, line it with pond liner, punch some holes in the liner, fill it with a peaty soil mix and put in moisture-lovers such as Ligularia, giant blue lobelia (Lobelia syphilitica), turtlehead (Chelone) and bog asters.

Bugs and disease: Don?t panic and start tossing chemicals around; they are among the many factors leading to our current troubles. Become an organic gardener and accept a few chewed-up leaves. Use your own compost, mulch and simple pest-control techniques such as spraying aphids with a solution of a teaspoon or so of soap flakes (not detergent) in a pint of water.

Plant with biodiversity in mind. Choose a mix of plants (with an emphasis on native plants) that will attract all sorts of wildlife. It?s imperative to think of our gardens as fulfilling the role of hedgerows: diverse plantings that offer food, shelter and safe passage for birds, insects and other small animals that are part of the web of life. We are in the middle of a bee crisis as thousands of honeybee colonies are collapsing. Without bees, many crops, especially fruits, won?t be pollinated. Plant such things as purple coneflower, goldenrod, native honeysuckle and Joe-Pye weed to attract bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects.

We got into trouble because we distanced ourselves from Nature?s intricate system?one that is balanced and self-sufficient. We must place ourselves back in Nature?s thrall and become a co-operative part of it. Think of the planet strip-mined of its trees and get angry.

In the words of Al Gore, author of the best-selling An Inconvenient Truth, ?This isn?t a political issue, it?s a moral issue.? This is the only planet we have and it is absurdly precious. Being eco-sensitive is not a fad, it?s not a trend, it?s the only direction we can go in for survival.

Take Action

  • Create windbreaks to shelter your garden. Add trees around your home to clean up the air and moderate temperatures, and keep your trees healthy and well pruned (a visit from a good arborist is a must).
  • Plant for erosion control, especially near waterways. Soil is a precious resource; halt damage by planting ground covers, native grasses and perennials such as daylilies, salvias and artemisias.
  • Install rain barrels under your downspouts or redirect them into your garden to keep as much water out of the storm drains as possible.
  • Go for plants that can best withstand extreme weather and temperatures. For specific suggestions, check out The Weather-Resilient Garden: A Defensive Approach to Planning & Landscaping by Charles W.G. Smith (Storey Publishing, 2004).
  • Keep count of songbirds as you see them in your garden and give the information to your local birding or naturalist society. Songbird populations are easily affected by climate change so their numbers are valuable indicators of change.

Originally published: Summer 2007. Backtalk.