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A Short Course on Microclimatology

Introduction: Some long words on why you can't grow everything everywhere.

The British climate is described as Cool Temperate Maritime. Heavily influenced by the relatively warm waters of the Atlantic, we experience cooler summers and milder winters than any other place at an equivalent lattitude, either north or south of the Equator. As a general rule, in Britain, the further west one goes, the greater the influence of the Atlantic, the further east one goes, the greater the influence of the Continent. So - the further west, the higher the rainfall, the cooler the summers and the milder the winters. The further east, the lower the rainfall, the warmer the summers and the colder the winters. The north-south divide is less well defined; the further south, the warmer the summer, is about the only obvious characteristic.

This island climate allows us to grow an incredible range of plants from every corner of the non-tropical world; select the ones that look like they come from the tropics, use them to excess and - Hey Presto! - you have an extraordinary garden.

Further in this section we describe 5 microclimates to be encountered within the British Isles, followed by lists of plants for particular positions. You might recognize an exact description of your garden but it's much more likely that your garden incorporates aspects of several of these categories.

Exposed or Canopied

A substantial difference can be made to any of the following categories, according to whether they are 'exposed' or 'canopied'; overhanging trees will create conditions of dappled shade beloved by so many plants, create shelter from wind and, particularly in the Frost Pocket, will trap warm air on cold clear still nights. These canopy trees will create an effective wind-shelter, even if deciduous, but to create an effective shelter from frost, tall-growing evergreen broadleafed (as opposed to coniferous) trees are essential. There are not that many reliably hardy trees that fit this description but some of the Eucalypts and Quercus ilex, especially when they've had their crowns lifted, are absolutely ideal - dense enough to keep the heat in, sparse enough to let the light in. ('Crowns lifted' is Tree-Surgeon-Speak for cutting off the lower branches.)

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