The Importance of Front Gardens
Across the UK, more and more front gardens are disappearing and becoming paved or covered in tarmac to accommodate for extra parking. This is understandable as the number of cars per household is increasing and off-street parking is preferred. But what are the negative effects of this and should we be trying to keep our front gardens as green and natural gardens?
Impacts of Paving Front Gardens
Turning our front gardens into a giant car park covering the UK has negative impacts in a range of ways. There are related environmental problems such as flooding in particular, but also social impacts.
- By paving or concreting front gardens, we are just adding to the amount of impermeable surfaces which increases the risk of flooding. Gardens can soak up rainfall but paving increases run off directing more water to our drains which may already be under pressure during periods of heavy rainfall.
- In some instances, if our storm drains cannot cope with the volume of rainfall, water is released into our natural watercourses without passing through the usual filtering processes and can pollute our rivers. This is a particular issue in areas such as London where rainwater is directed to the same place as sewage – missing vital treatment processes can have huge consequences on the heath of our watercourses. Keeping as many permeable surfaces in our urban areas as possible will take some strain off our waste water networks.
- The urban ‘heat island effect’ is what causes our towns and cities to be warmer than more rural areas. Tarmac and concrete buildings absorb heat throughout the days and release it at night. Vegetation helps to regulate the temperature, by using energy, reflecting solar energy and providing shade. Getting rid of what greenery we have left in towns and cities will mean the heat island effect will increase. Vegetation and trees also soak up water helping to reduce soil saturation and flood risk.
- In our towns and cities, wildlife appreciates front gardens, grass verges and garden hedges as it breaks up the blocks of concrete and provides them with shelter and food. Wildlife will struggle and numbers will decline as more and more green space disappears.
- Subsidence can also result from paving and concreting areas. Previously moist soil will over time dry out when the rainfall can no longer reach the soil and water takes up a significant volume of soil. Dry soil will reduce in volume and in some case can cause subsidence causing cracks in garden walls and in worse cases in houses.
- On sunny days in spring and summer, it is unlikely that you will be the only person on your street mowing the front lawn or trimming the garden hedge. It is times like this when neighbours actually chat to each other, rather than quickly crossing paths occasionally. Front gardens keep the neighbourhood looking attractive and tending to your gardens can help with neighbourly relationships and community spirit.
- The North-East of England has the highest percentages of paved front gardens, with 47% of front gardens more that three-quarters paved.
- Over the past ten years, the number of front gardens in the UK that are completely paved has tripled and now 1 in 4 front gardens are paved.
- Almost one third of front gardens in the UK contain no plants at all.
- In London, the area of front gardens now covered with paving is the equivalent of 22 Hyde Parks. If actual parks were paved like that, there would be allsorts of complaints!
Alternatives and Tips
Turning front gardens into car parks may have negative impacts as described above, but we understand that making room to park cars in front of your property is often necessary. It may not be everyone’s first choice to dig up the garden but with the increasing number of cars per household it is often the only solution. Here are some tips to help you accommodate for parking but without losing all the natural qualities and benefits of your front garden.
- Gravel rather than pave or concrete – Use a permeable membrane sheet and cover this with gravel rather than concreting or paving. This means that rainwater can still soak into the soil beneath. In areas where your car will not be parked such as edges and corners, cut holes into the membrane and dot some plants in the gravel.
- Use reinforced lawns – If you want space to park an extra car but it will only be used every so often by visitors, reinforced lawns are a good option. This gives you the option to keep a nice front lawn to provide some natural greenery to your garden and it allows water to be absorbed into the soil. By using a plastic mesh reinforcement, your lawn will be strong enough for cars to park on, and when they are not there you will have a nice front lawn.
- Keep areas as flower beds – Depending on the shape and size of your garden, try to plan some areas that can be kept as flower beds if possible. This will help to keep your garden looking like a garden and keep some much needed colour and leave some impermeable areas for water to drain. They will also keep an area natural which will be appreciated by bird, butterflies and other bugs and insects.
- Introduce pots and hanging baskets – If space is an issue, try to keep some natural areas in your garden by adding some plants and hanging baskets. Place them where they won’t be in the way of your parking and choose colourful pots with a variety of bright plants to add some much needed colour. Climbing plants up bare walls are also a handy way of keeping some greenery in your garden.
We understand that turning front gardens into parking is a practical solution in many instances, but follow the tips above to help keep your front garden environmentally friendly while you are at it. Choose gravel over solid paving and in years to come with the increase in weather extremes, your garden can play a small but vital role in flood prevention in your area. Encourage all your neighbours to do the same, and suddenly everyone’s small changes can add up to make a noticeable difference. So, before you start covering your garden with tarmac, take a second thought and think about the importance of front gardens. Plan a front garden that can accommodate your parking needs as well as helping to look after the environment too.