Crops for a cool climate

Crops for a Cool Climate

Over the years in which climate change has been discussed in the media, there have been continual suggestions that it will be of benefit to gardeners – allowing us to grow fruit and vegetable crops that enjoy the continental climate, but fail to thrive in a traditional British summer. As those warm summer days have failed to materialise, and look increasing unlikely, I am eyeing up my new allotment with a view to planting crops that will enjoy our cool climate.

Spuds are a good choice, as potatoes don’t need a lot of sun to do well, but the possibility of warm, humid periods means blight is a big risk and I’m going to try growing resistant Sarpo varieties in place of old favourites.

Crops for a cool climate

Potato harvest

Perennial veg and fruit are always good choices, as they don’t rely on one season’s weather to provide a crop. Rhubarb is an allotment staple that usually does well, and red and white currants need far less sun to fruit well than blackcurrants. Asparagus is designed to start growing in cool weather. Globe artichokes, Jerusalem artichokes and Chinese artichokes are usually worth the space they take up.

Crops for a cool climate

Globe artichoke

Crops for a cool climate

Chinese artichoke


I’ve had success with courgettes and summer squash in a lacklustre summer, but good crops of fruit are not guaranteed. Tomatoes are tricky unless the sun comes out, but the smaller the fruit, the more likely they are to ripen. Sub-Arctic Plenty is a determinate, cherry tom variety that was bred to crop outdoors in Greenland, and I’ve found it reliably does so here as well.

Crops for a cool climate


Leafy veg love wetter weather, and if I can keep the slugs off then spinach and chard, cabbages and all of the Oriental leaf vegetables will keep me in greens for months. Leafy herbs like mint, coriander and parsley should also do well, but basil will be happier on the kitchen windowsill.

There’s no reason I have to stay on the beaten track, either, as there are more unusual species from around the world that will have no problem with this weather. Achocha, one of the Lost Crops of the Incas, is a climbing plant that romps away in cool summers and produces masses of fruit that can be used like green peppers. Oca, or New Zealand Yam, (another native of South America) is a pretty, clumping root crop. It doesn’t need a hot summer to crop well, although it does benefit from a long autumn and a mild frost or two before the big freeze begins.

Crops for a cool climate

Achoca plant

Crops for a cool climate

Achoca harvest


Crops for a cool climate

Oca plants

Edible flowers are all the rage this year, and calendula and borage both self-seed quite happily in my garden, adding splashes of colour to borders and dinners throughout the summer. I’ll be introducing those to the allotment as well, and it wouldn’t be complete without a few nasturtiums, which seem to flower well regardless of the weather and have edible leaves to boot.

Crops for a cool climate


Crops for a cool climate

Borage and bee


Every year is different, and each autumn it’s interesting to see what has done well and what faltered. What have been your big winners, in the cooler summers of recent years?

Emma Cooper
Emma Cooper is a freelance writer and blogger based in Oxfordshire, where she is a Master Composter. Emma is currently studying ethnobotany at the University of Kent, and has just taken on the new challenge of an overgrown allotment. You can find Emma on twitter – @emmathegardener – and on Google+


  1. Emma you say
    ” However, the science shows us that climate change doesn’t mean it’s going to be uniformly warmer everywhere – here in the UK we’re probably in for less settled weather patterns, and I believe there’s a risk it will get colder ”

    Could you tell me where to move to for a nice warm climate with good growing conditions, not too hot in summer though?

    Many thanks

  2. Well done!

    I am especially pleased to see more S. America crops suggested.

    I do have a query about the globe artichoke suggestion. Here in the northern USA we’re advised to treat globe artichokes as a two year crop with the plants protected from freezes or brought indoors. The reason given is that our summers are too short.

    Do I misunderstand the globe artichoke?

    Thank you for the terrific post! (even though I was browsing T&M last week, a post in the Bishop Hill blog brought me here for your blog; I am glad I came!

    • I think we just have warmer winters here in the UK, Ted. Most of the UK is rated as zone 7 or 8 on the USDA plant hardiness scale. Globe artichokes will survive a normal winter here, although I have heard that cardoons aren’t quite as reliable.

  3. But… I thought that the science was settled, and that we had to pay huge taxes on energy to stop us using it and save the country from turning into a desert?

    Be careful that Cameron doesn’t catch you saying that your climate isn’t heating up. You will be smeared as a rolling-eyed, loopy, flat-earth denier in the pay of Big Oil, and your ethnobotany course grant will be removed.

    Apart from that, an interesting piece. Just don’t let the (rather large) number of University of Kent courses which depend on Climate Change being true find out about you….

    • I believe that Climate Change is real, and that humans are responsible for the upward trend in global temperatures. However, the science shows us that climate change doesn’t mean it’s going to be uniformly warmer everywhere – here in the UK we’re probably in for less settled weather patterns, and I believe there’s a risk it will get colder if the gulf stream switches off. Having said that, I am not a climate scientist and as a gardener I am just trying to pick crops that have the best chance of success, like everyone else.

  4. At last. A journalist who says what she sees and not what she is told to believe.

  5. At last! I have been worried for some years that we have all been seduced by promises of warmer, longer growing seasons, so much so, that seeds have been “bred” for this. Now, the realisation is dawning that the warm years were fleeting, and we are back to the norm. Hopefully, the genetics of the seeds we need for our varied climate have not been lost.

    • Older varieties of crop plants, and indeed their wild relatives, have been an important reservoir of genetic material for a long time and there are plenty of people who value them. A lot of countries have heritage seed organisations, there are projects looking at wild relatives and of course we now have seed banks like Svalbard that keep crop seeds safe for the future.

      It’s important not to be complacent, and there’s always more we can do, but broadly speaking I think that the value of the genetic diversity in our food plants is understood and we have the genetic resources we need to breed varieties for changing conditions 🙂


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