Looking at the sky it’s hard to believe gardeners must start to plan for a scorched earth. Rain is blurring the view from my study window, frogs are hopping by the back door and the cats are settling for a long snooze on the sofa.
A Government minister has just suggested I must start preparing for a more Mediterranean view from the kitchen window, adjusting to seasonal temperatures which simply won’t suit traditional cottage garden plants. He was, of course, really talking to gardeners in the south east which has withered and browned during the hottest summer on record. Scotland is still greener and cooler and today we are soaking wet. Part of me can’t help thinking if this is the worst climate change can do, life north of the border will be positively benign. Then the other part kicks in.
Yet, for once, I found myself more in sympathy with the Government approach than the knee jerk reaction from environmentalists who were quick to retort that the Minister should be saving his energy. Instead of telling people how to live with the consequences of climate change, they said, the Government should be taking action to stop us all pumping more and more CO2 into the atmosphere. Or words to that effect.
But we need to do both: face the reality that climate change is already changing the way we live – and then do all we can to prevent the change becoming much more destructive. Perhaps Scotland can take a few degrees more heat in summer; Spain, Africa and even China can’t.
So I am wondering if – for once – the Government is playing a strangely clever game. With an estimated 7 million gardeners, contributing to a horticultural industry worth £2.5 billion in the UK, the advice could be very good psychology. This threat to smooth green lawns surrounded by lush herbaceous plants may bring home the fact that climate change is happening – here and now – more effectively than dramatic images of glaciers melting in the distance. Getting people to change habits like driving and flying is difficult because climate change is so often placed in the future. Telling gardeners to start thinking about changing to geraniums and begonias may touch a surprisingly tender spot – the next growing season is not far away.
Of course the Government needs to do much more. But environmental organisations should also work harder at winning hearts and minds of the unconverted and, while they are at it, recognise the social, cultural and environmental value of this mass hobby. Gardening is not just a booming industry, it is probably the best shot we make at creating an environment fit for wildlife. There’s not much room for frogs in the agricultural desert we call the countryside.