Gardening: Think Globally (warm), Garden Locally 

Is it hot out here, or is it just you, world?

The only tickle in the plan was — guess what! — the ornery old United States. But I'm getting ahead of myself. What's all this climate-change talk? I'll let our president tell you all about it, just like he did in a 2001 speech:

"There is a natural greenhouse effect that contributes to warming. Greenhouse gases trap heat, and thus warm the earth because they prevent a significant proportion of infrared radiation from escaping into space. Concentration of greenhouse gases, especially CO2, have increased substantially since the beginning of the industrial revolution. And the National Academy of Sciences indicate that the increase is due in large part to human activity."

The tickle came four years later at the summit in Gleneagles, when, as reported by The Guardian, Washington's editorial gurus looked over drafts of the official G8 statement and softened the declaration by deleting certain passages saying, among other things, that "climate change is a 'serious threat to human health and to ecosystems,'" that "global warming has already started," and that "human activity was to blame for climate change."

A lot can change in four years, I guess.

But to be fair, it's a massively complex issue. Look at how meteorologists sweat over local weather. Predicting climate change is like guessing the first frost date in Richmond 500 years from now. If you were to look at the equations involved written on a chalkboard, your sanity might instantly evaporate like early morning clouds, and you'd spend the rest of your life digging and refilling the same hole in your garden, mumbling, "It's time for bulbs. It's time for bulbs. It's time for bulbs."

It's like the analogy of exponential change: If a butterfly flaps its wings in Richmond, it snows in Japan. But maybe all those presidents and math nerds are missing the obvious.

Any gardener who's dirtied his or her knees for long enough gets a sense of the balancing act in the microcosm of the yard. If in some not-too-distant future, higher temperatures cause plants to bloom sooner, butterflies might miss their egg-laying window for the caterpillars to get their food of choice. A whole generation lost because of bad timing.

What other scenes can our gardener of tomorrow look forward to? Heavier rainfall in winter, more allergen-producing plants, earlier spring, summer droughts, sweaty gloves. On the other hand, balmy weather in Richmond means we might someday be able to grow tropical flowers and fruits. Bananas, anyone? And, of course, all that CO2 in the atmosphere could encourage plant growth. Virginia's mighty forests growing thicker and fuller like they were treated with Rogaine. But what will the penguins do?

A-ha. See: It's all connected. Butterflies and snowstorms.

Interestingly, the British are the Chicken Littles of climate change in the garden. Prime Minister Tony Blair stamped his feet and held his breath more than the other G8 leaders about the severity of climate change, with mixed results. Search for information on climate change in the garden, and you'll be dropped into a hotbed of discussion in Britain. BBC news is full of articles debating the ultimate fate of the temperamental English garden. They're really worried over there. So it's appropriate that Guy Barter, head of Her Majesty's Royal Horticultural Society's Advisory Service, has the following advice in a BBC piece:

"Plant for the future, using trees, shrubs and hedges that are drought tolerant.

"Plant windbreaks to protect the garden from stormier weather.

"Prepare soil thoroughly to maximise drainage, adding organic matter, gravel or grit.

"Set up a water butt, or two, so you have your own natural supply during warmer weather.

"Create wildlife gardens with ponds and water features to give some respite to animals in hotter drier summers.

"Don't plant for the long-term in flood areas.

"Be careful if gardening on slopes not to clear too much of the existing vegetation, as this will create problems with erosion.

"Choose plants carefully — work with your gardening environment, for example, use drought-tolerant or damp-loving plants suited to the conditions in your garden."

Which is all timely advice going into the fall. Now's the time to plant trees and shrubs, which absorb heat and provide shade. It's also a good idea to divide your perennials, seed and fertilize the lawn for the winter and, if you looked too long at those crazy equations, plant bulbs, plant bulbs, plant bulbs.




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