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Climate change is creating confusion that blooms flowers

Climate change is creating confusion that blooms flowers

Isle of Wight County Press: Verbascum Ventnor Giant at the garden.

TIME was — and not so many years ago at that — when I first started this column, that global warming was hotly disputed.

In the last 15 years, climate change and our impact upon it have become almost universally accepted, unless one is an immediate past incumbent of Trumpton or those dinos who still live in Trumpton.

Tuning-in to David Attenborough’s Green Planet (essential Sunday night viewing) graphically illustrated the incredibly complex and fragile links between plants and creatures and how temperature rise will break many of those chains.

There is a study underway here on the Isle of Wight that focuses on what climate means on our soil.

Isle of Wight County Press: Verbascum Ventnor Giant at the garden.

Verbascum Ventnor Giant at Botanic Garden

On the first day of each new year the garden’s merry band combats hurty heads with counting flowers.

And it has shown that Ventnor Botanic Garden’s slogan that it is the UK’s hottest is increasingly the case but that there are other factors too connected with climate change that affect our flora, not least cloud cover associated with higher winter rainfall.

It all adds up to a mix that confuses us (do we wear a coat, raincoat, or shorts) but our plants don’t know where they are — whether they are in a temperate maritime zone, the Med or the sub-tropics.

The garden had 203 flowers blooming this year, which is a very low number compared to the peak years of over 250.

Extraordinarily mild winter weather has been recorded — 15 deg C on flower day.

That would perhaps be expected to draw more plants into flower; however, December’s light quality and quantity was poor due to overcast conditions.

The spring flower count is largely late-flowering plants, rather than a mixture of both early and later, because there have not been the usual temperature drops associated winter.

“Milder winters do not necessarily mean an increase in the numbers of flowers on any given day, but do allow growth of plants susceptible to frost,” says garden curator Chris Kidd.

“Analysis of our data shows that a count of 350 is possible in a plant collection whose strongest flowering season should be May onwards.

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“A conclusion that can be drawn from the flower count this year is that Mediterranean native species have been more abundant than in most years, with Geranium Maderense, Verbascum lydium and two species of Acanthus recorded for the first time.

“Less favoured have been the Far Eastern shrubs, most of which are strongly dormant.

“Trends are hard to find in such a small sample, but compared against the data from many years of recording, the plants are telling a story of climate change.

“It is becoming increasingly difficult to exact a time of flowering for so many plants; magnolia could flower anywhere from Christmas Eve ‘til April and camellias named for their spring blooms fully open before mid-winter.”

Even at the most optimistic prediction of temperature rise confusion can only be expected to increase — by many degrees.


  • Plan your vegetable garden. To prevent pests from building up in the soil, it is important to plan your crop rotation.
  • Remove yellowed leaves from winter brassicas — they are of no use to the plant and can harbour pests and diseases.
  • Prepare the ground to sow early peas. To warm the soil for a few weeks, place a cloche on top of it this month.
  • You can force rhubarb plants to grow by placing a upturned bin on top of the crown. A bucket isn’t quite tall enough. The tender pink stems, which will already be showing, will be ready in about two months’ time.
  • Blitz weeds. Remove them — roots and all — from borders and veg patches. It’ll be easier before they get a real foothold. To avoid compacting heavy, sodden earth, tread on a board.
  • When designing a garden, keep in mind that frosty ground at the bottom of slopes can be more stable than higher ground.

Are you an Isle of Wight gardener who has a question for Richard You can email him on

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