Crazy Paving

, written by Jeremy Dore gb flag


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
Front garden vegetables

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.

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Show Comments


"I tend to agree with your views regarding the loss of garden wildlife with the changing designs of modern suburban gardens, I feel that the ever changing weather has a lot to do with the changes that we are now faced with, and of course water shortages does not help, paving over is the knee jerk reaction and does away with the problem once and for all.However this does not need the be the final answer, as I, faced with cutting lawns laid down for my children now grown up and having flown the nest, I decided to remove the lawns, lay down a membrane and cover with crushed shingle, I then inserted heathers (give them plenty of growing room) and installed fibre glass planters strategically placed, then added a watering system automatically operated.This all sounds very expensive, but not so, apart from the shingle, and the effort (not cost allowed for) the whole thing would not be outside the normal gardeners allowance, and the results due to regular watering (only 4 minutes a day) are extremely satisfying and bring forth many admiring glances from neighbours who are not aware of the system used, as it’s all hidden beneath the shingle and only the beautiful flowering results are seen, and no work involved at all, only a casual 5 minutes to remove dead heads are required.I agree I miss my black birds that patrolled my lawns so diligently, but all the others still visit, and with my regular tit bits left for them we still enjoy their presence.Stuart"
Stuart on Monday 3 December 2007
"Yes, I can see that this is a well thought-out alternative in situations where a low-maintenance garden is justified. To my mind in such situations the main things to bear in mind are that it should be: 1. Water-permeable: In this case the use of membrane and shingle solves this 2. Incorporating low-maintenance plants: using the system mentioned above if necessary (though I would have thought the water would get through the shingle and not need a separate watering system) 3. Removable: if the next house owner wants to remove and recycle it then the use of membrane and shingle makes this relatively easy"
Jeremy Dore on Saturday 15 December 2007
"I beleive this incessant paving,hardstanding and gravelling over front gardens should be banned. Most front gardens are not that big,especially terraced houses,but families now have so many cars, it has become a must do project. While I agree that going down the competitive bedding scheme and small lawn route is unnecessarily time consuming it must look better than concrete or pavers. I like your idea of turning the front garden into a pottager. Or why not plant it with a mixture of shrubs,perennial plants,all underplanted with bulbs, and a few vegs for good measure. What about the car parking ??, I hear them say. Do you really need three or four cars per family,definitely not, shared use,bikes and walking that does for me."
DavidM31 on Saturday 16 February 2008
"There is nothing "smart" in this article. It is just popularist and "green" hypocrosy. Two years ago the fanatics warned us of years of drought and to grow drought tolerant plants. Two years of floods and the same self seeking "experts" have a new meassage for us. As regards the junk about 5 cars and a bike is OK then go ahead but leave others to make their own decisions if they don't want to be sheep! I grow very good veg in my back garden and have done so for thirty years but don't try to force it on others."
Lloyd Williams on Friday 4 July 2008
"As an update to this article, the UK government has just passed new legislation requiring planning permission for non-permeable driveways and front gardens of over 5 metres square because it can 'contribute to flooding and pollution of watercourses'."
Jeremy Dore on Saturday 13 September 2008

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