curiosity about the ways of the world

Standing against the storm

Another storm brewing, I’m teetering on the edge of despair when up comes a cheery message from Scotland’s Gardens Scheme. The new guide book is out and we can find our entry online too.  I wrote the Pond Garden entry but now I’m wondering if I got it right…

“A wild woodland and wetland garden creatively adapting to challenges of climate change. We learn from resilient plants and thriving communities of birds, bats, bees, butterflies, red squirrels, swans and other wildlife.” 

The Pond Garden, Scotland’s Gardens Scheme 2024

I note that bit about ‘creatively adapting’ a little ruefully. I updated our story in late summer 2023 to include the realities of gardening in a rapidly changing climate. Now  here we are in the third week of January 2024 racing through the alphabet of named storms at breakneck speed.  

Storm Isha, the ninth named storm this season, has not even finished before Jocelyn is on the way. In the age of the anthropocene we surely cannot call these extreme events ‘natural disasters’.  Fast on the heels of Henk who had quickly followed Gerrit, Fergus, Elin (yes, I’d forgotten that one too) Debi, Ciaran, Babet and Agnes.  Ah, Agnes, way back in September, not yet five months ago.  

Reach for the sky 

RIP our larch, ripped in two by Storm Isha
RIP our larch, ripped in two by Storm Isha

As the batterings continue, I fret about our trees. It’s not so strange. We planted many of them 30 years ago: watering them into bare ground, staking them against south-westerlies, wrapping them against hungry rabbits, watching them grow into handsome shelter for us, and full of birds. Red squirrels lark about in the larches, bounce through the birches, play high wire acrobatics in the big lime tree near the kitchen window. 

I watch our tall trees with a mix of pride and motherly fear. Bare branches reach for the sky.  Defiant. Supplicant? Both probably, once the wind really gets going.  And afterwards, when calm returns, we find broken limbs, a few uprooted trunks and one of the tallest larches now lies across the lawn, ripped in two.

But I know we’ve been lucky. So far we’ve felt very little real damage to our home or woodland. We’ve also been spared flooding despite the huge volume of brown water flowing downstream. Imagine what it’s like to watch the river flowing through your home, destroying your possessions, sweeping away your crops or garden, imagine how you feel about the sound of rain on the roof ever after. What can it be like to suffer the storms when you have no shelter at all? 

In our age of the anthropocene these are not Acts of God. What a right old mess we have made of the planet. Why is it taking us so long to stop the reckless self-destruction?  

Don’t despair

By chance, as the weather turned from snow to storms last week, I began watching the chilling BBC documentary series Big Oil vs the World.  How ExxonMobil stopped action against climate change they knew from their own internal scientific research would have catastrophic consequences. 

They lied. 

And, while there are profits to be made, they keep on lying, funding the spread of misinformation, seeding doubt and delay, applying pressure to governments to prevent positive progress. The BBC series was made in 2022. Big Oil vs the World?  Why did it not shock us into action like Mr Bates v the Post Office?  In this scandal we are all both the perpetrators and the victims. And that seems to be a curiously paralysing position to be in. 

But don’t despair. Climatologist Prof Michael Mann warns against the ‘doomism’ that he says is the replacement for denial. If we think there’s nothing we can do to stop climate change then, hell, let’s party like there’s no tomorrow, let’s keep on adding fuel to the fire. Defeatism suits Big Oil and the fossil fuel lobbyists just fine. 

So what can we do?  I get back to the yellow book that’s arrived in the post from Scotland’s Gardens Scheme. 

There is inspiration in gardens. Where they are managed to cope with drought and deluge, blazing heat and Siberian cold,  they are living evidence of creative conservation. And, increasingly, as SGS chair Dougal Phillip points out in his Welcome message to this year’s guidebook, across Scotland gardens big and small are nurtured with wildlife in mind.  

Dead hedge made from aspen branches 2023
A circular dead hedge made from aspen branches in March 2023

Planning and planting like there is tomorrow

This morning, Storm Jocelyn is retreating, I look out of the window at our standing trees. Festooned with cones, branches of the felled larch lie across the grass along with a heap of gean prunings the winds prevented us from clearing.  The unruly pile is absolutely full of birds. An invitation to turn storm damage to good use with new dead hedging. Among our other losses, an old ash is stretched out across the stream perhaps creating new habitat for wetland creatures.

Maybe, thinking of my SGS entry, it’s not so daft to combine practical adaptation with politics  – planning and planting to reduce the destructive impact of storms and floods along with active campaigning to stop the causes of extreme weather.   

(In a general election year we can put pressure on politicians to get a cross–party act together, collaboratively tackling the obstacles and opportunities of climate change. Addressing biodiversity loss with proper urgency. )

“Gardeners are well suited to being stewards of the planet.” wrote Stephen Blackmore former Regius Keeper of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh in his introduction to Gardening the Earth (published by RBGE in 2009). He quotes Patrick Geddes: “a garden is the very best of Savings Banks for, in return for deposits of time and strength, otherwise largely wasted, the worker reaps health for himself and his children in air, vegetables and in fruit.”

In a book that looks at the worst outcomes of human-made climate change, Blackmore concludes rousingly. “Gardening the Earth might be the best way of safeguarding our future.”

Gardeners can’t help planning for the future. Planting like there is a tomorrow. 

On that note I should add that the Pond Garden opens to visitors in February. Supporting Children’s Hospices Across Scotland (CHAS) with SGS. Seasons may be less orderly than they were but snowdrops will lead the way to spring. Welcome

Free to roam in the woodland, Pond Cottage snowdrops looking as if they belong here. Photo Fay Young

1 Comment

  1. fay

    “Becoming a lazier gardener can have many positive effects. It can contribute to lowering your garden’s carbon footprint and help to reduce the risk of flooding.”
    The weekly Imagine newsletter is a useful source of ideas

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

© 2024 Fay Young

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑