One Garden's Climate Struggle (And How To Save Yours)

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At the Hillwood Estate gardens in Washington, D.C., the new norm is: "Expect the unexpected." So says volunteer coordinator Bill Johnson, who has worked on property belonging to the heiress of the Post cereal fortune for 30 years.

Like home gardeners, the horticulturalists and professional gardeners at Hillwood are confronting an unpredictable climate.

"We've been getting mild winters, things start growing sooner, so the bloom time is skewed on everything," Johnson tells NPR's Linda Wertheimer.

So what's a home gardener to do? Johnson says it's likely you have to change plants.

Picking which plants fit your climate is crucial. Your first stop might be the U.S. Department of Agriculture's interactive "hardiness" map to compare the local climate with the plants' needs. (The USDA also has plant care guides to see what those needs are.)

For more on what weather to expect, the National Weather Service has drought predictions for the rest of the summer.

Hillwood garden supervisor Jody Fetzer says the agency has also teamed up with the American Public Gardens Association to help the public — and its gardens — adjust to changes in the climate. To an extent, Fetzer says, these kinds of shifts come with the territory.

"Almost every person out there who's a gardener is a flexible person," she says. "You know, you have to be flexible in body and also in spirit because we know we're at the beck and call of weather."

Many of the plants and flowers at Hillwood are doing well, despite fluctuations in the weather. Fetzer says the weather has even opened opportunities for early blooming.

But less welcome guests have sprung; frequent rain has helped the Dead Man's Fingers fungus grow. Flower leaves must be checked for signs of fungus or bacteria.

In addition to keeping up with the weather, some public gardens are trying to reduce their impact on climate change. The Union of Concerned Scientists has tips on how home gardeners can do their part in sustaining a more "climate-friendly" plot.

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