Advertisement

371-Climate Change-Resilient Gardening, with Kim Stoddart  

| Podcast, Prepare

Extreme temperatures, drought and flooding are all becoming more frequent and severe due to climate change, creating new challenges for gardeners. To explain how to gird a garden for the effects of a warming planet, joining me on the podcast this week is Kim Stoddart, who literally wrote the book — two books, in fact — on climate change-resilient gardening.

Kim is the editor of Amateur Gardening, the United Kingdom’s oldest gardening magazine. Her books are “The Climate Change Garden: Down to Earth Advice for Growing a Resilient Garden” and “The Climate Change-Resilient Vegetable Garden.” She also teaches about climate change-resilient gardening with Green Rocket Courses

 

Kim Stoddart

Kim Stoddart is the editor of Amateur Gardening and the author of “The Climate Change Garden” and “The Climate Change-Resilient Vegetable Garden.” Here she is in one of her polytunnels during a heatwave
Photo Courtesy of Kim Stoddart

 

Kim describes herself as very entrepreneurial. She previously ran public relations companies in the southeast of England. Though she worked in the white-collar world, she had loved gardening ever since she was a teenager.

“I just felt very connected with the idea of growing food within the natural world,” she says. “So when I was running the businesses, I would be in board meetings, and if I’m completely honest, I was slightly bored, wanting to go outside and learn how to build fires and grow carrots.”

She sold her businesses more than a decade ago and moved to the Wild West Wales to make her love of gardening into a career. She says she lives in a high-up, exposed spot on the front line of the impact of climate change. It’s 700-plus feet above sea level.

Around 2013, Kim’s garden flooded — her vegetable garden was under water for weeks. She used that experience to inform her column for The Guardian, and she researched techniques to prevent flooding.

She began her writing for The Guardian by exploring the subject of how she could garden entirely for free. Through that experience, she began her climate change gardening journey.

She says she is passionate about helping people to cope with climate change adaptations and to garden in a way that is both more resilient and more enjoyable.

Kim is a no-till gardener who is passionate about learning and experimenting. She looks to the past and to techniques used around the world to identify resilience techniques for the future.

During other years, she hasn’t had to contend with flooding, but with drought. Since 2018, the water supply to her homestead’s private well has been running extremely low — as little as 10 gallons of water a day. That is not enough water for her house, much less her garden. Her crops in hoop tunnels have had to go weeks on end without watering.

“These techniques that I’ve been talking about and writing about have been absolutely pushed to the limit with amazing results,” Kim says. “It’s absolutely astounding how the natural world can jump in and help with such an extremity as that.”

The natural world is indeed very resilient and adaptive. As gardeners, we too need to adapt to changes that could mean a cold, excessively wet growing season one year followed by a very hot and dry growing season. Kim shares advice on how to get through a difficult period and also how to come up with a long-term solution. 

 

Kim Stoddart talks at RHS Wisley

Kim delivers a talk at the Royal Horticultural Society’s RHS Wisley.
(Photo Courtesy of Kim Stoddart)

 Understanding Why Kim’s Garden Flooded

To the rear of Kim’s homestead is a 12-acre field that was used for livestock grazing and then plowed. “As soon as it was plowed, the soil’s ability to hold and retain water was immediately diminished,” she said.

The grass on the field when it was used for grazing built soil structure. It slowed down water movement so it would sink straight down and not run off to a low-lying area. Then with the grass gone, the soil could not absorb heavy rains. The water ran down from the 12-acre field to Kim’s garden.

Slow It, Spread it, Sink It With Swales and Plants

When a period of heavy rain follows a period of drought, that can cause flash flooding. “There’s so much rain, the soil cannot cope with it,” Kim explains. “It cannot cope with it so quickly. It cannot drain that away. It’s not going to work effectively. So you can get a very quick water buildup.”

To help her garden cope with heavy rain, Kim made a bioswale at the top of her garden. It is essentially a ditch with a load of perennial plants with deep roots growing in it. The roots soak up excess water.

Kim’s swale includes perennials, trees, fruit bushes, rushes and willows; willows can cope with a lot of water, Kim says.

This is in the back of her garden, where she doesn’t mind it growing wild. It also has some weeds and grass, but she notes allowing the grass to grow long helps the swale to soak up water.

A swale can take the form of a mound or a ditch, or even a flat area that’s been densely planted.

She has additional ditches with gravel to channel water where it can be useful. The ditches run in parallel with pathways and look attractive. The water can be channeled to a wet garden, or sunken garden, with plants that don’t mind having wet feet.

Additional Techniques to Overcome Flooding and Drought 

Kim converted her vegetable garden to all raised beds so the plant roots will be raised up and out of harm’s way.

Additionally, Kim uses all-weather porous membrane gravel pathways.

Kim also practices polyculture, with lots of mixed perennial plants weaved in together, and avoids bare soil.

Around the outside of the garden, she says she has a “layered effect,” with lots of hedging and various trees and plants that protect from strong wind.

She also talked her neighbor out of tilling the field where livestock graze. 

Water will always find its way, Kim says. It looks for the quickest route available. 

These techniques not only help when there is excess water but also are useful during prolonged periods of heat and a lack of water. Because the soil has a great capacity to hold moisture between rainfalls, it does not require supplemental watering during a drought.

The Less Coddled Plants Are, The More Resilient They Will Be

Plants that are coddled with fertilizer and supplemental water will be more vulnerable to climate change than plants that have adapted to your local conditions and are in their ideal soil conditions.

Plants that are watered every day have shallow roots because the roots only grow as far as they need to. Plants that are watered infrequently have deeper, more vigorous roots. The same goes for nutrients. Plants given chemical fertilizer don’t grow out their roots in search of nutrients. 

Kim has worked on her soil to make it full of life — microorganisms that build soil structure and turn matter in the soil into plant-available nutrients. 

“There is so much that we don’t yet understand about soil and its biodiversity and its role in connection with life on Earth,” Kim says. “We are really at the proverbial tip of the iceberg in our understanding about the interconnectivity potential of plants and microorganisms.”

On her homestead, she had seen the benefits of microorganism-rich soil 

“My soil is full of my mycorrhizal fungi because it has been stressed and it has been pushed to the limit with the lack of water,” she says.

She also has many ants in her hoop tunnels or hoop houses — called polytunnels in the U.K. — and she says those ants are helping to populate the beneficial fungi in her soil. 

Use Free Organic Mulch for Better Water Retention

Gardening has become expensive and a little bit complicated but often there is a natural simplicity to help with challenges, Kim says.

Mulch helps soil retain moisture, so a mulched bed is much more resistant to drought than bare soil. I have spigots on my property that are rarely used because my mulched beds do such a great job of holding water.

Kim says there are many options for organic mulch that don’t cost a thing: Grass clippings, leaf mold, comfrey, wood chips, etc. 

Using free organic mulch will also cut down on water and fertilizer expenses and suppress weeds — all while diverting waste from landfills or incinerators. 

It’s a way of taking control back, Kim says. “These little things really make a difference. It feels like you are taking a step by step towards a more resilient future.”

 

Kim Stoddart in the garden

Kim adding comfrey to the compost pile. Comfrey can be used as organic mulch.
(Photo Courtesy of Kim Stoddart)

 

Feel Connected With Your Garden

“Look at the natural world. Stop, look and learn from your own little spot of garden,” Kim says. “What benefit does a creature have? How is the gardening struggling? What could you bring to the garden? What do you have in your community? How can you reach out?”

Connectivity and community help alleviate stress and make gardening more enjoyable even as tasks to do are piling up.

“If you’re feeling stressed and you are running around with a very long to-do list, and you are feeling this gardener’s guilt that so many people feel, that is not your creative problem-solving space,” Kim says.

It’s when you are in a more emotionally regulated place, in a more mindful setting, taking observations, that you can tackle gardening challenges effectively, according to Kim.

 

Happy gardeners with Kim Stoddart

Having a sense of community can alleviate stress. Fellow gardeners are a support network. (Photo Courtesy of Kim Stoddart)

 

The Climate Change Community Garden

Kim has been working with a social housing charity in the U.K. at a new business center. The group wanted an incredibly low-maintenance garden that would look really nice but also have areas where the local food bank could pick food.

“Obviously, it was gonna be a climate change resilient garden because it was me doing it,” Kim says.

The site had been a brownfield, with very poor soil quality.  “There wasn’t a lot of biodiversity, there wasn’t a lot of wildlife and natural pest control,” Kim says. “So we had to have crops growing that needed pollination, that needed fertility incredibly quickly.”

She improved the soil, added tons of mulch and used seeds she had bred and saved herself that are locally adapted. She hones the best traits of the plants she saves seed from so she can carry forth those traits for greater resilience, she explains. 

She used many flowering herbs — thyme, oregano, sage, marjoram — for ground cover because they attract pollinators quickly.

The soil was very stony, and she used those stones as mulch. The stones attracted ground beetles and spiders, which are natural pest control.

Make Your Garden Resilient to Wind

Wind can cool plants quickly and can also dry them out. Windbreaks cut back damaging and desiccating winds.

“Slowing the flow of the wind is incredibly important, and this is why traditional fencing or walling isn’t actually the best because what can happen is that the wind can actually bounce off it and become an issue elsewhere,” Kim says.

When Kim needed a way to provide a buffer against westerly wind that made it impossible for her to grow fruit trees, she decided on planting fast-growing damsel trees. After a couple of years, those trees grew enough foliage that her apple and pear trees could flourish. 

 

Climate Change Resilient Vegetable Garden by Kim Stoddart

Kim Stoddart’s latest book is “The Climate Change-Resilient Vegetable Garden,” following up on the themes of her first book but with a focus on food production.  (Photo Courtesy of Kim Stoddart)

 

If you haven’t listened to my conversation with Kim Stoddart on climate change-resilient gardening, you can do so now by clicking the Play button on the green bar near the top of this post.

What are your experiences with climate change-resilient gardening? Let us know your experience in the comments below. 

Links & Resources

Some product links in this guide are affiliate links. See full disclosure below.

Episode 128: Conserving Water’s Finite Supply in a Very Thirsty World

Episode 238: Peat Moss: Examining the Challenges of Its Ongoing Use in the Face of Climate Change

Episode 284: Gardening Sustainably in a Changing Climate

Episode 366: How Gardeners Can Adapt to Climate Change, with Toni Farmer 

joegardener Online Gardening Academy™: Popular courses on gardening fundamentals; managing pests, diseases & weeds; seed starting and more.

joegardener Online Gardening Academy Organic Vegetable Gardening: My new premium online course. The course is designed to be a comprehensive guide to starting, growing, nurturing and harvesting your favorite vegetables, no matter what you love to eat, no matter where you live, no matter your level of gardening experience.

joegardener Online Gardening Academy Master Seed Starting: Everything you need to know to start your own plants from seed — indoors and out. 

joegardener Online Gardening Academy Beginning Gardener Fundamentals: Essential principles to know to create a thriving garden.

joegardener Online Gardening Academy Growing Epic Tomatoes: Learn how to grow epic tomatoes with Joe Lamp’l and Craig LeHoullier. 

joegardener Online Gardening Academy Master Pests, Diseases & Weeds: Learn the proactive steps to take to manage pests, diseases and weeds for a more successful garden with a lot less frustration. Just $47 for lifetime access!

joegardener Online Gardening Academy Perfect Soil Recipe Master Class: Learn how to create the perfect soil environment for thriving plants.

Earthbound Expeditions: Discover South Africa with Joe Lamp’l

joegardener Newsletter

joegardener Facebook

joegardener Facebook Group

joegardener Instagram

joegardener Pinterest

joegardener Twitter

joegardenerTV YouTube

Growing a Greener World®  

GGW Episode 526: Backyard Birds

GGW Episode 620: Bringing Nature Home

GGWTV YouTube

Kim Stoddart on Instagram | @Kim_stoddart 

Kim Stoddart on X |  @badlybehavedone 

Green Rocket Courses on Facebook

The Climate Change Garden: Down to Earth Advice for Growing a Resilient Gardenby Kim Stoddart

The Climate Change-Resilient Vegetable Garden” by Kim Stoddart

Proven Winners ColorChoice – Our podcast episode sponsor and Brand Partner of joegardener.com 

Earth’s Ally – Our podcast episode sponsor and Brand Partner of joegardener.com 

Dramm – Our podcast episode sponsor and Brand Partner of joegardener.com 

Greenhouse Megastore – Our podcast episode sponsor and Brand Partner of joegardener.com – Enter code JG10 for 10% off your first order

Disclosure: Some product links in this guide are affiliate links, which means we get a commission if you purchase. However, none of the prices of these resources have been increased to compensate us, and compensation is not an influencing factor on their inclusion here. The selection of all items featured in this post and podcast was based solely on merit and in no way influenced by any affiliate or financial incentive, or contractual relationship. At the time of this writing, Joe Lamp’l has professional relationships with the following companies who may have products included in this post and podcast: Corona Tools, Milorganite, Soil3, Greenhouse Megastore, Territorial Seed Company, Earth’s Ally, Proven Winners ColorChoice and Dramm. These companies are either Brand Partners of joegardener.com and/or advertise on our website. However, we receive no additional compensation from the sales or promotion of their product through this guide. The inclusion of any products mentioned within this post is entirely independent and exclusive of any relationship.

About Joe Lamp'l

Joe Lamp’l is the creator and “joe” behind joe gardener®. His lifetime passion and devotion to all things horticulture has led him to a long-time career as one of the country’s most recognized and trusted personalities in organic gardening and sustainability. That is most evident in his role as host and creator of Emmy Award-winning Growing a Greener World®, a national green-living lifestyle series on PBS currently broadcasting in its tenth season. When he’s not working in his large, raised bed vegetable garden, he’s likely planting or digging something up, or spending time with his family on their organic farm just north of Atlanta, GA.

• Leave a Comment •

Get my (FREE!) eBook
5 Steps to Your Best Garden Ever:
Why What You Do Now Matters Most!

By joining my list, you’ll also get weekly access to my gardening resource guides, eBooks, and more!

•Are you a joe gardener?•

Use the hashtag #iamajoegardener to let us know!