Gardens Trusts and Climate Change

With apologies to Hokusai

With apologies to Hokusai

It took two sparks to get Climate Change on the front pages; a 92 year-old and a 16 year-old. The former because David Attenborough is the most treasured of National Treasurers and the latter is young and has Asperger’s; which makes her unafraid and ticks a box for the media. No I’m not sneering, no way, but it shows how years of scientific reports, international meetings proving not only that climate change exists, not only is it caused by human activity, but is speeding up, has been side-lined.  Not just a threat but a certainty of devastation. A future, as Greta Thunberg tells us, for her generation that may not happen. In relation to our current preoccupation with Brexit, our politicians are re-arranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.

It isn’t that no-one knew, including politicians, but it was easier to ignore in our world of short-term profits and globe-grabbing, wars, the rise of the right-wing, sexism and racism, domestic issues like getting enough food, having somewhere to live. I could go on. Perhaps our politicians are over-whelmed, the elephant – soon, perhaps, to be extinct –has crowded them, and us, out of the room. Or, like death itself, we all know it’s going to happen, but we spend our lives as if it isn’t.

So where are the horticultural and garden organisations on Climate Change? What is their role in keeping the urgency for change on the front pages, keeping alive and upping the campaign, pushing the politicians? Without actually gluing their members to buildings, that is.

The doyen of these in the UK is the RHS. It has done surveys and reports, encouraged communities and designers to be more aware, to re-cycle. It has given advice on drought-resistant planting, and then when the floods started, change tack to ‘knowing your plants’. In 2017 it published a report, Gardening in a Changing Climate, the title innocuous enough, in line with its constitutional purpose, gardening. But the report contains stuff which is far more alarming than its anodyne title; you only have to flick through the pages to see diagrams where the graph lines all rise, and much steeper over the last decade, the last two/three years. Then the words: on page 8, within the executive summary, is the sentence ‘It is theoretically possible that in the future, much of the UK could be frost free in some years.’ [i]

So far, so mild.  but within this report which seems to be merely ‘advice’ for gardeners, the RHS members, much along the lines of ‘what to do in your garden this week’ are the devastating facts. if you extrapolate them you go beyond the RHS mindset, beyond the shores of the UK:

‘Gardens are not isolated entities. They exist in a wider landscape and comprise an element of that environment’.[ii] (surely the not that?) Especially as ‘it is now 95 to 100% certain that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid–20th century.’[iii]

In the case of Gardens Trusts, has any one of these, or The Garden Trust itself, a policy about Climate Change? I don’t just mean using recyclable cups ar meetings or emailing rather than printing newsletters and the like, though that’s a start, I mean pitching in, writing to politicians, campaigning? Trusts have spent the last 20 years or so researching and recording historic gardens, helping in their restoration and maintenance for future generations. Shouldn’t we be acting to ensure there are future generations able to live, eat enough, work and enjoy the environment? The RHS report again; ‘some historic gardens and properties are finding it challenging to introduce efficient adaptation strategies because the problems of climate change …Maintaining historic accuracy of gardens will …. generate a conflict between historic conservation and adaptation.’[iv]

So, Essex Gardens Trust has as its strapline ‘caring abut our green spaces’, not just historic gardens then. The RHS report, after some gardening advice has a final paragraph, ‘what can be done at a national level?’. In this, its final   statement ‘the important contribution of gardens to our health and well–being… adds weight to the argument against a growing trend for ‘garden grabbing’. Consequently, policy makers at both a national and local level should prioritise the importance of maintaining green spaces and private gardens in new housing developments.[v]  

What? is that all? After 81 pages? A bit lame after all that scientific evidence. Shouldn’t the RHS be making a fuss abut the Environment? Shouldn’t it be alarmed at the scientific evidence in this very same report? Isn’t that last statement re-arranging deckchairs?

And shouldn’t Gardens Trusts be on board - to protect their own work, at the very least? Shouldn’t we be collating our own regional evidence, publishing reports? Generating our own campaign? ‘Caring about our green spaces’ in an active, positive way – before there are no longer enough to soak up the carbon dioxide, feed the bees?

Our planet will adapt, it will still be around, whatever happens but will we?


[i] E. Webster, R. Cameron & A. Culham, Gardening in a Changing Climate, Royal Horticultural Society, 2017, p.8.

[ii] Ibid p.11.

[iii] Ibid p.22.

[iv] Ibid p.46.

[v] Ibid p.81.