Choosing plants for climate change

Today’s post explores which plants to choose to help make a positive impact on climate change. As temperatures continue to rise and extreme weather events become more frequent, the delicate balance of our ecosystems is being disrupted. Species are struggling to adapt to these changes, and many are facing the threat of extinction. This loss of biodiversity diminishes the beauty of our natural world, and whilst it may not always be visible to the naked eye, biodiversity plays a crucial role in maintaining the balance and sustainability of our planet.

Put simply, biodiversity encompasses all living organisms, from plants to animals to microorganisms. It is a key indicator of the overall health of an ecosystem. A diverse range of species ensures that ecosystems can withstand and recover from environmental changes, such as climate change or natural disasters. Biodiversity provides numerous vital ecosystem services, such as clean air and water, pollination of crops and natural pest control. The intrinsic value of biodiversity is also important as the loss of even a single species can have far-reaching consequences. For example, a recent paper published last year by scientists from Butterfly Conservation, a British wildlife charity, shows a 26% increase in the number of butterfly species nearing extinction and, according to the same study, British butterflies are amongst the most endangered in Europe.  Butterflies form an important part of a circular eco-system. They act as pollinators, help control pests in both their larval stage or as caterpillars, and at the same time, butterflies are a food source themselves for many insectivorous animals. The presence of butterflies is a key environmental indicator of a thriving, biodiverse ecosystem.

Insect-friendly plants such as Persicaria (which can be annuals, ever-green perennials or herbaceous) are swarming with insects when in bloom. These plants are typically dependable, hardy, and low maintenance and can be grown as effective ground cover. There are many varieties and choosing a few different ones for your own garden means that you could have blooms all the way from April through to October.

Choosing some plants native to the UK (or region) can also help as they provide a natural habitat to insects and other wildlife typically found in your area. For example, the Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust instigated an initiative in partnership with Nether Edge and Sharrow Sustainable Transformation (NESST) to encourage residents local to the area to plant Common Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) to help increase the dwindling Brimstone Butterfly population. These butterflies feed exclusively on two out of three native Buckthorn species in the UK, showing the correlation between specific plant varieties and their impact on wildlife. You can read more about it here. Native flowers include the foxglove, mullein, primroses, and forget-me-nots, amongst many others.

Drought-tolerant plants are also worth investigating. It doesn’t seem to take much hot weather to dry the ground up in our patch of North Yorkshire. Or, if you live in an especially dry region, plants such as Agapanthus, Geums, Lavendula, and Hardy Geraniums are all worth a look in. Beth Chatto’s writing on the subject of the drought-proof garden is a good resource and we often have some of her books in the Garden Shop.

We’ve written before about the merits of leaving your grass cuttings behind to mulch your lawn. Taking this one step further is the ‘living lawn’. A trial at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh allows sections of grass to flower – proving both colourful, pretty, and good for wildlife as the flowers provide both nectar and structure for insects to shelter within. Dandelion, ribwort, clover, and yarrow are all examples of plants that can often be found in our lawns and instead of waging a battle, why not consider keeping your lawn on the longer side and letting these types of plants flower?

Research has shown that plants play a crucial role in fighting pollution. Through the process of photosynthesis, plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen. They also absorb some forms of pollutants and trap these in their leaves and stem. Alchemilla mollis is a good example of one such plant and it is also excellent for ground cover. It has been used to great effect in multiple areas of our Garden and this charming perennial looks good with or without flowers too.

“While all plants absorb pollutant particulates such as soot and nitrogen dioxide, some plants, such as ivy, lady’s mantle and wallflowers, absorb more than others” Gardeners World 

And did you know, certain plants can gradually absorb harmful compounds from the soil through a process called Phyto-remediation? Plants really are nature’s superheroes!

Most importantly though, take a look at what’s going on in your garden and consider what has done well and what hasn’t. Many plants can be lifted and divided in Autumn, and if you have let any flowers go to seed, now is the time to collect them to dry out. Getting hands on in your garden gives you the opportunity to take stock and observe the health of your plants. Pay attention to which flowers are most frequented by pollinating insects and which ones always seem to be decimated by slugs or caterpillars. The beauty in gardening is that it is ever evolving and we can always change course if we need to – moving plants to a sunnier or shadier spot, or making any other changes depending on need.

*Photo: Colin Dilcock





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