Are front gardens becoming an endangered species?

With outdoor space being a premium and in some cases a luxury, it is no surprise that we feel compelled to pack extra value from every square metre of land by erecting sheds for extra storage, laying patios for outdoor dining and block paving our driveways, and in many cases at the expense of the planting.

An example of totally paved front gardens taken from the RHS sustainable gardening pdf

With garden centres, DIY chains and supermarkets pushing hard landscaping, because quite simply, that’s where the money is, it is easy to overlook the soft landscaping option. The thought of having mixed borders in the front garden, showing an array of colour, gently spilling onto the path or driveway is very alluring to most people, but it also spells high maintenance, which doesn’t necessarily fit in with everyone’s busy lifestyle.

What is interesting is that hard surfaces can have a surprising impact on the wider environment. Predominantly, it is the role hard surfaces play in causing environmental problems that are the concern, with some of these problems being cumulative, therefore becoming more noticeable in the future. Some of these are listed below:

  • Flooding –  this is the most significant problem. Potentially this can lead to flooding of homes, because hard landscaping can increase the amount of rainwater that runs off by as much as 50%.  Street drains can’t always cope with the extra demand during a storm and can lead to damage and high repair costs.
  • Pollution – most UK cities rainwater run-off, gets contaminated and polluted as it is channelled into storm drains and ultimately rivers. In some situations the excess rain water goes directly into the sewerage system. If the system gets overwhelmed with the volume of water, it gets disposed of into rivers. An example of this resulted in 100,000 fish being killed in the River Thames back
    in 2004.
  • Dust particles – Grass verges and trees absorb dust particles. Without them dust absorption is greatly reduced. Additionally there is nowhere for birds to nest or for insects to feed.
  • Aesthetical impact – endless block paving does not have the interest that soft green landscaping provides.
  • Biodiversity – hard landscaping reduces biodiversity within the area.

  • Local temperatures hard surfaces absorb heat in the day and release it at night, referred to as the ‘heat island effect.’ It can also be responsible for poorer air quality and localised weather conditions, such as thunderstorms.
  • House prices – if a large proportion of home owners pave their front gardens, then the average house price can drop.
  • Structural damage – hard landscaping can potentially reduce or even stop rainfall getting into the ground, which can cause the soil to shrink. Clay soils are particularly vulnerable, which has consequences for structures built on it. As a result garden walls, paths and houses may develop severe cracks or develop severe subsidence.
    Reference: RHS ‘Front gardens Campaign.’

How to make a difference?
It is perfectly understandable for anyone to wish to convert their front garden into a practical, useable space, however it need not be one hundred percent hard landscaping.  A low maintenance approach to the planting is an option.

Installing a wildflower meadow on your roof will greatly enhance biodiversity

Try and maximise the potential for creating green space to encourage wildlife. For example smother walls and fences with climbers to make suitable habitats for nesting birds,  install green roofs on sheds and garages, plus, you could also consider incorporating a wildflower meadow around the perimeter of the paved areas. If it’s a large area, how about breaking it up with strips of wildflower meadow as well? If you are hoping for an instant effect, with minimal effort, then the wildflower option would definitely be worth considering.
A wildflower meadow will add colour and interest to a hard landscaped area, as well as help to absorb rainwater

If you are thinking of employing a garden designer, request in your brief that you want to keep as much green space as possible, with the design being practical enough to allow cars to park within the area. Have a look at this link for further information and some inspiration for front gardens, rhssustainable-gardening. The pdf link is on the top right hand side of the page titled ‘Front gardens Campaign.’
With just a little bit of imagination you could create a really striking and unusual front garden…with emphasis on the word garden!