It has probably become apparent that, unless you’re quite well off, or lucky enough to be situated in a rural area of Britain, the advice we dispense every week on garden maintenance is probably reserved exclusively for the area behind your house. While it is, of course, a positive thing if any area of your home supports a large amount of wildlife, there is also an increasing responsibility to make sure that your front garden is just as ecologically sound.
Therefore, we’ve tailored this piece specifically toward the potential advantages, if not necessity, of not simply paving or laying concrete over your front garden as so many people have done.
The key problem with paving our front gardens comes when the neighbours opposite us do the same, as this effectively triples (including the immediate roadway and pavements) the hard surfaced area of a given section of the street. Of course, concrete and mortar are not materials famous for being porous, so this equates to a threefold increase of impermeable surfaces that rainwater must be diverted from, thus increasing in some cases by 50% the run-off to nearby drains, which simply cannot cope.
After a study undertaken by the London Assembly, aerial photography has revealed that over 12 square miles of the capital’s green space have been paved over in collective front gardens. In fact, a study commissioned by the RHS shows that in the entirety of south east England over 20% of front gardens are three quarters paved.
In the majority of British communities this surplus rainwater runoff is less of a problem, as generally it can be redirected to storm drains and eventually river systems, however, in London our contingency plan for unmanageable flood waters is to flush the overflow directly into the Thames, a failsafe that in 2004 cost the Thames over 100,000 of its indigenous fish population.
Though slightly less detrimental in our temperate climate, the absence of well dispersed plant matter (particularly in urban areas where energy output is high) can also lead to a surplus of heat being dispersed into the locality. The dense materials used in paving are excellent at absorbing heat from the sun or from vehicular output during the day time; however, unlike plants they have no means of converting this to other types of energy and so, once the environment cools in the evening, the stone releases all the heat it has accumulated into the air around it.
Of course, the major concern for many of us in cities, and thus the motivation behind paving one’s front garden, stems from a lack of available space to park one’s car. With residential areas becoming increasingly stringent about the guidelines on where you can and can’t park, the driveway is a practical solution.
However, who says you can’t have both? With the government’s stipulations for permeable materials for all new drives, many more options have now become available. We are all familiar with the traditional gravel drive, and with block-paving, but there is also the fairly recent development of ‘resin bound’ or ‘bonded aggregate’, which is a mix of the aggregate of your choice with cold resin, which when laid leaves tiny air pockets for drainage. Reinforced lawn is another, simpler option whereby the turf is laid with plastic mesh to prevent wear.
You could, of course, use a mix of surface materials, or introduce some curves to the design to make for more interest too. However, the trick is in the segregation between parking space and garden, so as to prevent the ‘NCP’ look!
If there’s room, you could plant flower beds either side of a driveway, or even plant into the driveway itself, between the wheel tracks, with spreading alpine planting, provided the car is out most of the day so as not to shade them. Don’t forget the verticals too – house or boundary walls can take colourful or scented climbers to brighten up a sea of hard landscaping, whilst not taking up too much space. Even a couple of pots of cheap and cheerful annuals either side of your front door can brighten up a dull driveway.
So, you see it is now possible house biomass and a 2 litre in the same space, so get your thinking caps on and see what you could do to improve your front garden, not just for your own benefit, but for that of passers-by too!
By Josh Ellison