Climate Control: Five tips to help improve & enjoy your garden's climate August 28, 2017 10:35
Nothing provides a better reminder of 'climate' than a trip to Wales. Camping trip, I hasten to add, which we undertook last week. West Wales - gorgeous. Camping.. well, for me, less so. But, in the immortal words of Robbie and Kylie, I was very much 'doing this for the kids'. They loved it. Enough said.
Amid the mizzle, we found sunshine and the enchanting, self sufficient estate of Llanerchaeron. Mix Georgian villa, woodlands, a lake, farm, walled gardens and meadow land and you have yourself the heady cocktail that is Llanerchaeron. It is such a magical place, but for me, my favourite part was the walled garden.
As soon as you walked through into the garden, you felt the temperature lift and your shoulders relax. Such warmth, created by those lovely old walls which were adorned with a glass house; either standing proud, or slightly tiddly, with a 'one sleeve sliding down the shoulder' look about the way it was slumped against the parameter. I love that. In the same way I love the slight sense of faded glamour in seaside towns. Beauty enhanced by age. Long live that mantra.
Beds, neatly separated by box hedging, were filled with herbs, fruit, veg and flowers in both formal formation as well as overflowing more naturalistic planting. Again, here I was reminded of the fragility of our climate - even within the cosy confines of the walled garden, many of its fruit, flowers and veg were a good two to three weeks behind my now ripe, or lets face it, leggy crops at home, a mere 280 miles away.
While most of us can only dream of a beautiful, enclosed walled garden, it is possible to learn a lesson or two from their success and charm. Climate is often such an overlooked consideration in a garden. And there is often a sense of resignation about it. However, there are lots of little tricks you can perform to help maximise your space, nudge the temperature up a little and create the perfect oasis for you and your plants.
Our patio is at the entrance to our north facing back door. From May until late September, most of the patio receives some sun. One part in particular is sunny pretty much all day during these months, so this is the ideal spot for our garden chairs, nestled amid cannas, fragrant jasmine and our more tropical plants. The benefit of the patio is that its stones stay warm, if not hot, for most of the day and evening, which makes me, and my jungly, tropical friends, very happy.
Water has a cooling, calming effect for us as well as plants. It takes longer to heat up, but is also longer in terms of cooling down. Create a shady area around a pond or stream, and you'll have the perfect conditions for so many shade loving plants, as well as a gorgeous contrast to your hotspots around the garden. Not to mention the wildlife you will attract.
Nothing removes heat, or water quicker than a good strong breeze. Use planting, or hard landscaping around your seating area, or an area of the garden where you want to increase the temperature. Going back to our patio as an example... when we put a small extension up a few years ago, we kept the old bricks back from the wall that was knocked out. These then helped to form a retaining wall around the patio which is around 2 foot high. The result was a 'sunken' seating area. I love the feeling of being surrounded, and at times dwarfed by the garden. It also helps retain the heat and provides a natural windbreak for us in our most used part of the garden.
Keeping an eye on soil temperature
I've read a few sniffy articles about raised beds - suggesting that they don't really make a difference to soil temperature. I've found the opposite. I'm a big fan of raising soil levels up a bit for fruit and veggies for a few reasons. Firstly, my raised vegetable beds get a good dose of farm manure, leaf mould and garden compost spread over them. 'Steaming muck' is not a phrase for nothing! This decomposed / decomposing matter is, in my mind, essentially 'cooking' and therefore adding nutrients and also a little heat to proceedings. Secondly, if you have raised beds for the specific purpose of growing veg, or say, cut flowers, they really easy and manageable to cover. Putting the beds to sleep over the winter period, under a nice, thick piece of polythene will keep the temperature higher by a degree or two, which makes a big difference when sowing early spring veggies. Lastly, my raised beds are positioned within the confines of old, wooden scaffold boards, that have had a coat of paint. In our small, south facing front garden, the scaffold boards get warm, so it stands to reason that the soil inside them is enjoying some of that transferred heat. Depending on your position, flat beds might not be right for you. If you want to maximise the sun rays, consider sloping the beds, like you would a deckchair or sun lounger! Alternatively, add a cloche or make a cold frame to warm things up.
Remember that even in a teeny, weeny garden or outdoor space, you can have lot going on in terms of temperature and microclimates. Different microclimates are not a bad thing - they provide diversity for your planting, wildlife and your enjoyment. Just don't get caught out by them. For example, just because the entire garden has enjoyed a really good drop of rain, it doesn't mean that the whole garden is now sufficiently watered. Natural slopes or areas sheltered by walls may have received very little, despite the downpour. My two dwarf apple trees provide another good example of these gentle differences. They are just a few metres a part, but one receives about 1 - 2 hours extra morning light per day. The tree sat in the sunnier spot has noticeably more fruit, which is also ever so slightly more mature than it's neighbour. More sun, more growing time, more blossom, more pollination, more fruit. Simple really. Nature has it all sussed. Sometimes in our haste and busy lives, we miss the obvious stuff that you only really see when you slow down a little. Places like the walled gardens of Llanerchaeron offer that perspective and remind you that nature knows what its doing. All we have to do is learn the signs.
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