Futuristic Garden Design for a Changing Climate

By Francesca Lawes

According to forecasted climate projections, average temperatures in the UK could rise by 2-6°C over the next century, a fact that could dramatically change the face of what is currently perceived as the typical English country garden. Rolling lawns and billowing herbaceous borders may be cast aside and replaced by palms and eucalyptus in a more Mediterranean planting style.

Futuristic Garden Design for a Changing Climate

Tresco Abbey Garden

The reality, however, will be that instead of adopting just a sunny, warm Mediterranean climate (which I’m sure sounds like an ideal scenario for many), the UK will also experience more rainfall during the winter months than present. Therefore, the English garden of the future will need to be extremely tolerant and resilient to both warmer summers and wetter winters.

Simple things that everyone can do to make their garden more resilient is to have a good supply of harvested water and ensuring that any irrigation system using this supply is conservative and targeted. Growing plants ‘lean’ ultimately leads to them being more resilient and watering infrequently and heavily will encourage the plant to establish a deeper root system. Reducing reliance on petrol- and diesel-powered equipment and using peat-free growing media are other easy ways to cut carbon emissions within the garden.

Converting traditional lawns to dry meadows with naturalised bulbs extends the flowering period and ensures that water is not wasted keeping a lawn alive in the hotter summer months. A beautiful example of this can be seen at the Cambridge University Botanic Garden, where species were chosen to suit the Cambridge climate and combines drought-tolerant and temperate species that can withstand long periods without rain in the summer. The final effect showcases soft, naturalistic flowers from spring through to autumn, the majority of which were grown from seed.

Futuristic Garden Design for a Changing Climate

Cambridge Botanic Gardens

Rain gardens are likely to become a common feature, especially in dense, urban spaces. Expanding urbanisation combined with increased rainfall during the winter months results in increased surface runoff, which – during times of peak rainfall – can lead to urban flooding. Rain gardens are designed to capture surface runoff from nearby roads, pavements and rooftops, reducing the rate of flow, cleaning the water of pollutants and also increasing infiltration and percolation back into the soil beneath the planting, returning it to the natural system. As well as their SuDs (Sustainable Drainage Systems) capability, rain gardens also increase urban biodiversity and create wildlife corridors in otherwise ‘grey’ landscapes. Planting resilient trees within these rain gardens will also achieve urban cooling, which is increasingly needed with rising summer temperatures. Nigel Dunnnett’s ‘Grey to Green scheme’ in Sheffield is a prime example of how impactful such measures can be within the inner city.

Derek Jarman’s Prospect Cottage in Dungeness proved that you could create a beautiful garden even in the most barren, impermanent of landscapes and Beth Chatto’s gravel garden experiment in a car park is now famous for never needing to be watered. However, gravel gardens are often overlooked and underused in the gardening world in favour of other planting styles – a shame as they can work at all scales and with any mix of plants. Herbs are suited to the conditions typical of a gravel garden, so as well as providing an edible element, they will also fill the garden with their scent, adding another layer to the garden’s allure. Texture also adds to the impact of a gravel garden with silver leaved plants automatically creating a more Mediterranean feel. Leaf colour, texture and form are important in creating the desired look for the overall garden and help create a rich plant tapestry. People often perceive gravel gardens as being barren, dull landscapes with sparse planting that does not provide much colour. On the contrary, you can create the same beauty as a traditional garden full of perennials, with the added benefit of considerably less maintenance. This was proven in the Beth Chatto tribute garden at the 2019 RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival, which showcased an abundance of colour, texture and form. Many of the plants were drought tolerant species while others were chosen for their ability to adapt to prolonged dry spells, which proved invaluable when the garden stood in all its glory, unwatered for two months during the summer’s heatwave. At the heart of the garden was the idea of ‘right plant, right place’ which was Beth Chatto’s vision for sustainable gardening.

As the climate changes, we will have no choice but to change with it, however, the look of the typical English country garden may not be lost in the process, just adapted and evolved.

Futuristic Garden Design for a Changing Climate

Derek Jarman’s Prospect Cottage

About the Author

Futuristic Garden Design for a Changing Climate

Francesca is currently doing a masters in Landscape Architecture at the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL. In doing so she hopes to expand on her existing skills built over the past year of working at Nicholsons as a CAD technician and assistant designer. Her background in architecture ensures that she approaches the garden design process with an individual perspective and a keen eye for detail.

Favourite Plant? Euphorbia characias ‘Humpty Dumpty’

Why? I love how unusual and architectural it looks within a border. Whether planted amongst colourful perennials or whimsical grasses, it compliments them beautifully while also being a feature itself. It provides great structure all year round and is very low maintenance.

Favourite Garden? Oudolf Field at Houser & Wirth Gallery

Why? The new perennial style of planting in Piet Oudolf’s immense borders sits between (and seamlessly ties together) the sensitively restored farm buildings of the gallery and the Radić Pavilion, which is a modern take on the traditional folly. Oudolf mass plants Sporobolus heterolepis so that it catches the light in an ethereal way, which only intensifies through the seasons, making the pavilion appear to almost float atop the great swathes of planting below.