Amazing as it may seem, about half of all front gardens in the North East of England are now paved over. No-maintenance, easy parking, or just the latest trend in garden design – these are some of the reasons that more and more people give for turning their natural green spaces into paved or concrete utilities. The problem is becoming so bad that there is now a noticeable, and worrying, decline in garden wildlife as a result.
It’s not just wildlife that is suffering the consequences though. Rainwater, which naturally drains away through a garden, becomes diverted by hard surfaces and has to run off through the drainage system. There are now legitimate fears that the loss of this natural drainage makes streets more liable to flooding as the sewerage systems become over-burdened. Various solutions have been suggested, including the UK government’s recently announced plans to place a safe (ie child-locked) water butt in every garden by 2010.
I can sympathize with the idea of low or no-maintenance alternatives to the traditional garden. I’ve always thought it rather pointless to endlessly manicure a front lawn which never got used and I have never even felt tempted to join in with the unofficial neighborhood competition for who has the best bedding plants. But paving over the garden is no solution.
Lawns are not the solution either – often sprayed with a cocktail of chemicals to keep them ‘just so’ these run off into the drainage system and pollute our rivers and water sources. High maintenance and unproductive – they have their place, but it’s not in the front. Few families are now happy letting their children play out on a front lawn, or taking out the deckchairs. In fact there’s a whole campaign against the front lawn, recently highlighted when the Tate Modern commissioned an ‘Edible Estate’ in London as an artistic and political statement.
Why doesn’t the government promote vegetable gardening in the front? There’s plenty of excellent advice about how to make a small ‘potager’ garden productive, low maintenance and beautiful. In one easy move you have all the advantages of:
- Good drainage
- Productive use of space
- A great source of 5-a-day vegetables
- Healthy exercise
I’ve only just reached the end of this year’s harvest of a wonderful assortment of salad leaves from my front garden and in the past I’ve had everything from pumpkins to potatoes. Intersperse them with a good selection of flowers to attract beneficial insects (see our Natural Pest Control article) and you have the perfect setting for organic vegetable growing. There’s nothing like fresh organic salad and herbs and where better than your own front patch?
Three years ago my neighbors dug up their lawn and covered it with stone. Presumably they thought it would add value as they then sold the house and a family moved in. Up came all the stone and down went turf. I had to sink a thick polythene barrier between our gardens to prevent the weed-killer seeping into my peas which were growing next to the fence. Wouldn’t it all be a lot easier if we all did our bit for our local environment and everyone followed suit? After all it's much more fun to garden in the front when you can taste the fruits of your labour.