On my way home from the Royal Horticultural Society’s autumn press conference this week, I looked out of the train window and saw many gardens submerged by flood water.
There could be no clearer illustration of the message just delivered by a panel of experts; our gardens are under increasing threat from weather extremes.
With the torrential downpours accompanying Storm Ciaran in the South this week, following the persistent rain of Storm Babet in Scotland, the NorthEast, and the Midlands last week, gardens have suffered.
The wild weather has wreaked havoc on many National Trust properties.
At Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire, a wooden footbridge was damaged by flooding and bench seats washed away, while at Charlecote Park in Warwickshire, a 260-year-old Cedar of Lebanon came down in the deer park, probably due to the weight of water.
Measured success: Managing water flow in a garden might involve a rain gauge
One in four gardens in the UK has been affected by flooding and this is set to rise.
But the outlook is not all gloomy. There are practical measures to help gardens be more floodproof.
One of the show gardens for RHS Chelsea 2024 is the Flood Resilient Garden designed by Naomi Slade and Ed Barsley for Flood Re, which is a joint initiative between the UK Government and the insurance industry (floodre. co. uk/ flood-resilient-garden).
It offers tips for managing water flow in an ordinary garden such as planting an apple tree on a mound, a traditional way of preventing plants from becoming water-logged.
The garden will also feature a swale, a channel designed to store run-off water and direct it into an ornamental pond, which is drained using smart technology if heavy rain is forecast.
There will be lots of take-home ideas such as using raised decking walkways, growing plants in hanging baskets, and bog plants for wet areas.
These include Caltha palustris, the common marsh marigold, Lychnis flos-cuculi or Ragged Robin, a marsh cinquefoil (Potentilla palustris), Rodgersia, and ferns for foliage.
Other measures that help include ensuring as many surfaces as possible are permeable, and planting trees that will soak up water such as pollarded willows.
Hotter, drier summers also mean our gardens are stress-tested by drought.
Tom Massey and Je Ahn’s Garden for Water Aid at Chelsea 2024 sponsored by Project Giving Back will include innovative ideas for sustainable water management.
The centerpiece is a rainwater harvesting pavilion that filters and stores water for drinking and irrigation.
They have chosen plants that can cope with varying amounts of water. These include water violet (Hottonia palustris) which can indicate whether a water source is clean or polluted and the alder tree (Alnus glutinosa) which doesn’t mind its roots getting wet.
The website mains2rains.The UK offers practical advice for combatting both drought and flooding, including using water butts, choosing watering cans over hosepipes, mulching with homemade compost to improve soil structure and de-paving an area, and replanting to give water a chance to soak away.
Lawns can also play a crucial role in helping to absorb and retain water, especially species-rich lawns containing dandelions, daisies and plantain which can still be mown but trap moisture in their tap roots.