Climate change is driving up the cost of food in Ireland, according to Tom Leavy, of Leavy Landscaping, who designed the silver-medal-winning, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory-inspired garden at Bord Bia’s 2023 Bloom.
More frequent periods of drought in Ireland mean that commercial growers now must install irrigation systems to give fruit and vegetables water they would have previously absorbed from rain.
“As a population, I don’t think we’re that aware of climate change, but definitely during the Irish summers during the last four or five years, we’ve got periods of drought – or maybe even longer, six or eight years – every year,” Mr Leavy said.
“And if you’re growing plants, that definitely stresses your food crops out.
“Simple examples are if you’re growing your own veggies at home, then you just have to water them more. It doesn’t sound like that big a deal but, on a commercial scale, that you’re going to feed a country, that is a big issue for the commercial growers,” he said.
While in Dublin for the weekend attending Bloom with his Bord Gáis Energy Theatre garden, Leavy added that he was “freaked out” about his own plants.
“I know my carrots aren’t going to be happy when I get back, because carrots, when they start off, they like moisture, so just some stress. I know some plants are currently getting stressed because of just a short period of dry, never mind a long period of dry,” he said.
Mediterranean flowers, herbs and plants are faring better in Ireland now than they did 15 years ago, he said, but people have had to change how they go about amenity landscaping because of environmental changes.
“What’s happening is it’s a case that amenity landscapers and landscape designers have to adjust now to what is drought-tolerant. Because climate change is making us think and adjust what we are going to be able to plant,” said Leavy.
Christopher White, a Co Dublin-based nursery owner, said “things are changing” when asked about climate change while he sold flowers in Phoenix Park with Bloom.
“It’s strange. Sometimes you see flowers in bloom very early or very late – there’s no set season anymore. It seems to be completely different, like my dahlias are very late this year for some reason,” White explained.
“It’s just the way it is. The season seems to be getting shorter, later. Because what happens in our season I feel is that you start usually like April, May, June, July is the busiest time. And then the kids are going back to school so people spend their money on that rather than the garden.”
White also said that there was now a lot more watering involved, and more heat costs in winter because of more extreme temperatures.
Leonie Meehan, who owns Irish Fuchsia Nursery in Wexford, told The Irish Times at Bloom she also noticed the effects of weather being different. She said the new composts were harder to keep wet and so were using more water than before.
“We certainly seem to be getting warmer summers, so for the likes of my fuchsia, that’s not a good thing because their natural habitat is the cloud forests of South America. So they like a damp, sort of natural Irish summer. That’s why they thrive so well in our coastal areas,” Meehan said.
“This is typical what we would call ‘Bloom weather’, hot and sunny and again now with our displays outside, the fuchsias are not liking it, but we’re coping with it as best as we can.”
On another sunny afternoon in what felt like near-blistering heat in Phoenix Park, many nursery owners and landscapers were happy to talk about gardening and the impacts climate change is having on it.
However, although perfectly willing, many were also too busy to discuss the topic, with throngs of people at their stands inquiring about purchasing a wide variety of potted flowers, garden plants, and fruit and veg.
Shady Plants owner Mike Keep, who was also selling at Bloom, said his plants were coming up earlier this year, and that it was too early to predict if the warm spells would continue.
Speaking at the Bees Knees stand, Patrick Doran, who works in Doran Nurseries in Co Kildare, said that because they now had to import peat, the environmental impact was far larger.
“It’s coming on the ship, then it’s getting on boats, but even to get to the ship you’re going to have to add more transport,” Doran said.