Temperature and plants: what I have learned this year

In this short podcast I focus on growing conditions and in particular what I have learned about the relationship between temperature and plants in my garden in the two years I have been gardening here.

The transcript below is an edited version of the podcast.


I’ve been musing about the way the garden has grown over the course of this summer, as we come into autumn.

And I’ve been doing that in the context of the fact that I have lived in Scotland now for three years, although I have only really been gardening for two years in Scotland, because for the first year gardening opportunities were limited.

But in that period the key thing that I’ve learned, or perhaps the thing that has surprised me the most, is the lack of growth that I see in the plants in my garden. And that lack of growth manifests in a couple of ways.

First of all, I see that plant flowering plants, in particular, take a long time to come into to flower.

For example, the perennials take a long time to restart their growth in the spring, and to put on the leafy growth. They do flower eventually but it is much later than I would expect.

Annuals are the same – I’ve sown some Cosmos this year and they are taking a long time to flower – I wonder whether they will flower at all, in fact.

It’s the same story with my dahlias, which are one of the plants like to focus on. This year the dahlias have taken ages to come to flower. It is now the beginning of September and I’ve only had one or two flowers. The buds are there, but very little  in the way of blooms at present.

The second aspect of this is that some plants – not all it’s fair to say – do not grow as big as I would expect

Seasoned Scottish gardeners will no doubt say to me: “well, what do you expect?”

Local growing conditions: temperature and plants

And I guess I should have realised that this is all about the climate. And if I think back through my past experience this should be obvious.  

I spent a number of years gardening in London – Firstly, in an inner city style garden, fairly enclosed by buildings. Secondly, in more of a suburban garden, but still within the London urban sprawl.

And the average temperatures in London are usually four or five degrees higher than they are in Scotland in the summer. And the average lowest temperatures, the overnight temperatures, are often much higher in Londonthan they are in Scotland.

And so this restricted growth, I think, is clearly a function of temperature. Of course, there are multitude of things affect the way that plants grow – the environmental or growing conditions, for example the soil, water, light, temperature, nutrients.

Here in Scotland, there’s an abundance of light in the summer. We have very long days. At the height of summer, it’s light at four the morning and dark at eleven o’clock at night.

And the soil is fine. I have plenty of confidence in the soil in this garden. I’ve tested it, I’ve dug it over and there are no real concerns there.

Likewise, water: this is Scotland. It rains. I do live on the East Coast, so this is a drier side of Scotland. But we do get enough rain and I supplement rain with watering when needed.

So, it just brings me back to the question of temperature. And how bloody obvious is that when you think about it compared to warm climates. Those of you listening or reading who live in warm climates will know this.

I’ve lived in Australia and It’s a very warm a lot of the time. Growth can be abundant. And if you think about warm, rainforest type environments, they are renowned for the abundance of growth.

But here it’s something different. [I should have mentioned in the podcast – the highest summer temperature we have had this summer is 24 degrees C – 75 degrees Fahrenheit.. The average is around 18 degrees C].

And it’s really interesting because it makes you rethink what you know, and it makes you rethink the way that you need to plan and how you need to absorb the lessons you learn about your growing conditions as you consider what you’re going to grow and what is likely to work best.

It is a lesson that it’s taken me two years to really absorb. I think I wrote something on the website last year, and I mentioned this. I mentioned everything seems to be taking a while to come into flower and, As I reflect back now, it’s clearly about temperature.

And this summer we’ve had a lot of sun. We haven’t had a huge amount of rain, but we’ve had enough.  But, although we have had a lot of sun, we haven’t had high temperatures. So temperature is fundamentally what it’s all about.

I’d be interested to know if you’ve got any thoughts of your own on this. Do you have any other or similar experiences in relation to the differing environments and the effects that that they can have on your gardening?

I’ll going to go back to the drawing board for summer next year and I rethink what I’m going to grow. But equally, I’ll still do a bit of experimenting. I think that for me is at the heart of the way I like to garden. I like to test things and push the boundaries a bit and see what’s possible. So I’ll still do that.

Anyway. I hope you found this interesting: the story of my own foolishness when it comes to appreciating the conditions I’m gardening in.

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