We don’t know exactly which effects climate change will have in Ham and Petersham. What we do know is that we are already experiencing more extreme weather events, unpredictable rainfall and droughts. Ham House's position on the banks of the Thames makes it vulnerable to flooding as heavy rainfall causes the river to overflow.
Over the past five years, head gardener Rosie Fyles and her team have adapted their planting and management practices to changing conditions. On 4th March, Rosie gave a guided tour of Ham House formal gardens and highlighted practices changed and challenges ahead.
Head Gardener Rosie Fyles explains how her team is adapting the formal gardens at Ham House to climate change.
Finding a balance between visitor expectations at a National Trust site, historic character and value for wildlife is a work in progress. For example, the lawns on the estate were clipped short by a large group of gardeners in the 17th century. Today, these feature half a million bulbs in spring and a wildflower meadow in the summer that add interest to the garden and help pollinators throughout the season. Letting your lawn grow long was Rosie’s number one suggestion to garden in a more sustainable way: it reduces the use of chemicals and provides valuable resources for wildlife.
Ham House has an irrigation system dating back to Victorian times so the gardens do not use main water to help plants along during droughts, which Rosie explain will be more frequent going forward. Maybe you can install a water harvesting system at home? Or help the ground retain more moisture through mulching with homemade compost?
Rosie emphasised that "right plant, right place" will still be true in future. though she suggested looking at what is currently being planted in the Mediterranean for inspiration. Hornbeam and field maple, both abundant in the garden, will not thrive in 30 to 50 years when conditions in London will resemble those characterising Barcelona at present. Finding creative solutions that match the current planting presents a challenge for Ham House Gardens, she explained. The newly planted apple trees and pear stepovers on the other hand will benefit from a changing climate.
Tickets for the tour were snapped up within a week of advertising, so the topic struck a nerve. If you missed the tour, you can watch a video on Responding to climate change at Ham House featuring Rosie Fyles or read her blog post How we're planting for climate change at Ham House on the National Trust website.
What participants said:
"I really enjoyed the tour and learning from the head gardener. The approach she has taken on responding to climate change at Ham House was easily understood and I have taken note of the changes to our seasons as I plan my garden for this year and next. The best thing I learned was how to think about soil mix by starting with the plants that are planned for the area and not the other way round."
"I loved the tour today at Ham House. It was informative, interesting, concise and friendly. I hope you run some more opportunities for me to visit the wonderful gardens."
"we enjoyed it very much, well organised and interesting. we were glad to have confirmed we are right to focus on flowers and bulbs in our grass area and mulch tips noted."
"I attended the event this morning having never visited a Ham house before. Everyone was very friendly and welcoming, especially the HUG representative who organised the event. It was incredibly interesting and informative. I learnt about many things including how Ham House approaches sustainability not just in the current climate but in decades to come and even how this can be applied in our gardens at home. I also discovered a great deal about mulching, irrigation and many plant species. (...) Overall it was a great experience, talking to people so passionate about sustainability and environment has inspired me to get more involved in conservation."