Believe it or not I’ve had to add mowing to our list of jobs this month. Who’d have thought our visitors would be enjoying sunshine, warmth and the smell of freshly cut grass at the beginning January! Trying to deal with the unpredictable weather is a huge challenge for gardeners, but it hasn’t always been like this, twenty years ago snow was almost guaranteed in October and the ground would stay frozen from November until the end of February. My father in law told me stories of driving the tractor across the frozen pond at Leith Hall where the ice would be so thick they could light a bonfire on it for Burn’s night.
Recently a colleague told me that the world is so big there is no way we can affect the climate. To my mind I can’t see how 7.8 billion people could fail to change the climate. Of course there are natural cycles and changes to weather patterns over the years. Our orbit around the sun changes over time, volcanic eruptions and ocean currents can affect the climate but none of these factors can explain the huge increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and corresponding increase in global temperatures over the last 200 years. This increase coincides exactly with the start of the industrial revolution, fossil fuel combustion and the huge increase in energy consumption from the 1970s onwards. Scientists predicted that more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would lead to higher temperatures, a shift in the seasons, and more floods, wildfires and storms. This all sounds depressingly familiar to me. Despite all of this doom and gloom human beings are a remarkable species and I think the best parts of our nature will overcome these problems. But it’s no good just sitting back and hoping someone else with sort it all out.
We’ve been trying to think of ways to lower our impact on the environment at the walled garden and there are a few simple things you can do at home to do your bit. Using organic peat-free compost for sowing seeds and potting up is a good place to start. Peat bogs are a hugely important environment that have been almost totally wiped out in Britain (we’ve lost 90%) just so that we can pot up our petunias. It takes 9000 years to form a 10m deep peat bed and just 50 years to clear, releasing even more co2 into the atmosphere. Many of the gardeners I’ve worked with believe that peat is the best growing media but this is not necessarily true. The Victorians did very well with little more than mixtures of loam, leaf mould and home-made compost. There are plenty of good organic composts available in garden centres, they tend to be more free draining than peat but this can actually be a good thing, lowering the risk of over-watering and rotting roots.
We always recycle our pots by reusing them every year and from now on we’re only going to buy biodegradable pots to sell plants in. If you ever need to buy plastic pots be sure to buy the brown ones, steer clear of the black ones because the sensors in recycling machinery can’t recognise black plastic and they’ll go straight into landfill! And from now on we’ll only be using wooden plant labels that will end up on the compost heap rather adding to the problem of plastic pollution in the ocean.
We are making the most of the unseasonably warm weather in the walled garden, pruning for hours on end is much more bearable when your toes aren’t cold and we don’t have to worry about levering leeks and turnips out of frozen soil when the chefs call! The kale is still growing happily and we even have some lettuce still standing in the salad beds. I hate to sound like Mr Mcgregor but the blasted rabbit is still on the loose in the garden, nibbling our beetroot at night and disappearing to goodness knows where during the day, if it was up to me rabbit pie would feature on the menu in the café every day!
The warmth has brought on the spring bulbs very early this year, even the tulips have started growing. The plants in our greenhouse have been basking in the sunshine filling it with the scent of ‘Paper White’ narcissus and vibrant pelargonium flowers. The micro-green seed we sow every week have been germinating at a rate of knots, only to be snipped back by the chefs and whisked away to the kitchens. Very soon we’ll start sowing the first flower and vegetable seeds and if the warm weather continues maybe we’ll see fruit blossom in January for the first time since the garden was built.