Climate change is a global hot topic, and thanks to its unique geographical location – nestled in the south facing Undercliff and around 5c hotter than the rest of the Isle of Wight, and the UK – Ventnor Botanic Garden is something of a bellwether for climate change.
As you walk around VBG you will find plants from around the subtropical regions of the world happily thriving, which is incredibly uncommon in the UK, where many plant species cannot be grown outside of glasshouses. The microclimate of VBG allows the team to make predictions about the future of flora and fauna as the mercury is set to rise in the coming decades, indicating what is likely to thrive or perish on a hotter planet.
VBG’s regional Gardens aim to show plant communities growing as they would in the wild. Selecting plants suited to Ventnor’s sub-tropical microclimate and alkaline soil has created“synthetic ecosystems” but like Nature itself, they are not orderly, not planted in threes and fives like a standard garden. Dead plants and fallen leaves are often left in place to allow decay and self-seeding. ‘The Ventnor Method’ allows the ecosystem to fill in with the ants, pests, parasites, fungi, and rusts that would not appear in many pristine gardens. The best way to conserve a plant, is to put it in an ecosystem – not by itself in a greenhouse.
Last year something remarkable happened at VBG, when a Cycad (Cycas revoluta) produced cones – only the second time this has happened outside in the UK (the first was at VBG in 2012). Cycads are primitive plants that dominated the Earth’s flora from a period some 280 million years ago until the evolution of flowering plants. During their reign, the Earth’s climate had naturally high levels of CO2. The climate of the Earth today, with artificially raised CO2, may have influenced the cone production. Interestingly, fossil Cycads have been found in the cliffs along the west Wight coast.
This can be seen as further evidence from the plant kingdom of climate change in action. Certainly this sort of plant could formerly not be considered hardy in the UK.
Find Ventnor Botanic Garden at Undercliff Drive, Ventnor. Tel: 01983 855397. Visit the website at www.botanic.co.uk