Gardening in southern England’s changed climate

Where are we now, into the fifth summer on my allotment, and despite going into this year with optimism after two sun baked summers, I feel exhausted by it again. The reason is water.

Weeding my herb bed, a place I come back to regularly in heart and physically
Oreganum ‘Kent Beauty’

Water has been in short supply this year although it may appear we’ve had some deluges, especially in winter. Spring was the driest I remember, April was the driest on record. April showers we enjoy finding irritating are so important for carrying a garden’s plants into summer, building up a bank of water and for strong growth building drought tolerance. Vanished.

Lush through watering by me, not the heavens

As the months have rolled on this year it’s become apparent my allotment didn’t have the usual store of water from spring into summer, which meant the dry period in summer is wider. I’ve had to water far more regularly and now we’re into summer proper with temperatures this week reaching 35C, I can’t keep up.

Tomatoes that were growing strongly are now wilting and struggling despite my attempts.

Grasshoppers and other insects have been abundant this year, having grown my allotment for wildlife as an ecosystem their numbers have grown over the years and they’ve loved the drier conditions so far. That said, I do worry for the next two summer months – I can’t water everything and their grassy wild habitats have been browned and stunted since spring.

Many of my flower displays were over in a flash as plants flowered and seeded as quickly as possible in the dry conditions.

Where I have been able to keep up with watering, the crops do keep giving. Squashes, French beans and the water hungry salad crops have had my full attention to see them through.

On my mind though is that I can’t do this again for another year, the need for water almost nightly (which I don’t do) to keep up with the ever drier climate we live in southern UK. It is getting drier and hotter and standing on my allotment this week I said to myself, this is a southern France climate, it is changed. I don’t want to but I feel I need to adapt almost everything I grow on the plot to account for this.

14 thoughts on “Gardening in southern England’s changed climate

  1. I feel your pain. Here in bone dry Norfolk we have the driest climate in the UK plus sandy soil that drains immediately despite years of compost and manure. Watering is a full time job in summer and water butts ran dry months ago and just dont fill. Its daily fight over our one tap to 15 plots. But I love my plot and cant imagine not doing it!

    1. Yes same on my allotment very sandy too. I love it too but I think I need to grow completely different things on my allotment and adopt new strategies. I think our climate is so changed now.

  2. I feel sorry for you. I do not have an allotment but we do have a front and back garden. And I really have to work hard especially with the pots to keep them going. we have clay overhere in Almere. And we notice that things start early and finish early the past years. Buddleia used to be an August flowering shrub. But today I already have to cut the spent flowers ( keep deadheading I hear Monty say). I hope there is soms more rain to come in balance with the sunny days.

  3. So true. I’m not sure what the answer is, but presumably there is one. Grow different fruit and veg, and manage the land differently? At least the chillies are looking quite good! It is heavy clay here which just bakes to a hard crust.

  4. Jack, the south of France is like being in a fire pit at the moment, it was over 55°c in the gardens we were working in yesterday, if things aren’t watered twice daily then they’re toast. In my own garden this year I have grown very little in the way of food crops as I simply don’t have the time or money to spend watering as much as is needed. Growing my own has always been cost effective but that would clearly not be the case this year. We usually have floods in winter, it’s just part of the normal weather pattern, but this year we had very little in the way of winter rains.

  5. Have just come back from watering ours, a few miles from Heathrow, and I know exactly how you feel. It’s about 15 years since we stopped trying to grow our tall peas, just too hot for them. We have been growing some veg for the guys at a local Indian (Bangladeshi) restaurant the last couple of years and they love the heat provided they are watered every couple of days. Maybe we need to totally rethink what we grow and eat, Red Amaranth seems to love it, snake and bottle gourds too (eaten young like courgettes). There must be lots of similar tropical veg to try. Unfortunately a heated greenhouse to get them started early is a must.

    1. I feel your pain with the peas! Down here in the south of France I can’t grown peas, although each year I do try and get them producing in the house which is air conditioned, I’ve had success once with a type that are specifically for table top growing. Lettuces of any kind are a no-no, I usually have good courgettes, pumpkins, squashes and aubergines but abandoned growing any of them this year as I don’t have time or money for the constant watering. Tomatoes and peppers also do well here out in the sun but again watering is an issue and the mid afternoon sun of almost 60°c in my garden makes them struggle too. I have played with different planting/growing times but time is my enemy when I work in other people’s gardens all day.

  6. When I first came to the U.S. I bemoaned the lack of ‘real’ vegetables. As I’ve grown as a gardener I’ve realized there’s a reason. Things like peas and runner beans just won’t do well. There is no long cool damp season. People grow corn beans and squash and learn to enjoy eating them. Climate is changing everywhere.

  7. It’s so disheartening. I had an al otment during the summer of 2018 with seemingly endless drought and blazing sunshine. It was too hot to work for several days in a row, I gave up eventually on the endless watering and accepted loss of crops. A horrible plot neighbour was also pulling up my Woodland Trust saplings and leaving them in a pile to scorch which was the final straw. I now have a small community garden, very exposed to the coastal wind and hot sun so I’ve designed this with suitable drought tolerant planting.

  8. Here in the Western States our climate too is changing. Peas, cauliflower, and cabbage wilted and died this summer. Tomatoes, potatoes, and corn were fine. So next year I’ll try – one last time – the peas, cauliflower, and cabbage – by starting them way early. Water 💦 here is lacking as well. 101 degrees here today when normal is 87.

  9. This is so thought provoking. On Gardeners’ World last night they said we can’t keep going out every evening with a hose to water our gardens and I thought “Yes, it’s ridiculous. We can’t keep doing that” for so many reasons. Does it need such a major rethink or shall we slowly and surely replace needy plants with more robust ones?
    I for one want to avoid the guilt of seeing plants wither in hot weather. You’re right, we must change.

  10. Like you Jack I am enslaved by having to water my London allotment. But I suspect my case is worse as in the Lea valley our soil is sandy loam without a trace of water-retaining clay. Even my raspberries, shallots, garlic and dahlias benefit from watering.
    I love your taste in dahlias by the way, but what about some two tone cactus types like Kenora Sunset for example.

  11. Glad it’s not just me. We are also a few miles from Heathrow. I’ve been finding the persistent dryness, combined with the strong baking sun very challenge for establishing some new trees and perennials in the past 2-3 years. Some plants advised for “full sun” I have this year moved to shade or part shade and they are doing much better with less wilting. Including Jerusalem artichokes for goodness sake!

    Ironically 6 years ago we were living in mid- France. Amazingly raspberries there grew in full sun by the house wall. But they were also near the downpipe, and heavy downpours were frequent due to nearby mountains, and we had large juicy crops. Back here my raspberries in part shade are struggling in the dryness, and berries have been frustratingly small.

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