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Mar 14

The Fight For Our Front Gardens…… continued!

The Fight For Our Front Gardens…… continued!

Back in May 2006 I wrote an article for Birmingham 13 entitled ‘To Pave or not to Pave?’ I had read an inspirational and somewhat shocking article in the RHS magazine, The Garden, spelling out the consequences of block paving or tarmaccing our frontages. The RHS followed up the article with a ‘Front Gardens’ leaflet and 10,000 of these were dropped through your letterboxes last year in a joint venture with The Moseley Society.

So what was all the fuss about?

The main concern is the impact that the loss of front gardens is having on our environment. There is now good evidence to show that the trend toward impermeable hard standing is adding to what is known as the ‘urban heat island effect’. Plants and trees transpire through their foliage helping cool the air while on the other hand hard surfaces such as brick and concrete absorb heat during the day and give it off at night. The tendency therefore to pave our front gardens and remove all planting from them results in a big increase in temperature in our cities – and this can be as much as 10 degrees above the surrounding countryside.

The individual front garden, of course, is not isolated. When multiplied by the number of houses in a town or city, the area covered by gardens is vast. Any major changes in the way we use them can have major consequences and probably the most serious of these is the increased risk of flooding. While gardens readily soak up rain, solid paving, tarmac and concrete comparatively are much less porous and increase peak rainwater runoff by about 50 per cent. At times of very high rainfall the storm drains that were originally designed to take much lower volumes just cannot cope. This was vividly brought home last summer during the persistent heavy rains that led to horrendous flooding in many areas.

And the Solution?

It is worrying, I think most of us would agree. However, it is no good telling a mother with two toddlers that she has to trail up and down the road looking for a parking space rather than turning straight on to her drive. Clearly the homeowner needs practical solutions and alternatives. And thankfully there are many. The inspirational part of the RHS leaflet was the ideas that it gave on how to have a multi-use front garden. Clever garden design can allow for minimal paving, just say for the wheel tracks, or alternatively the use of new, more permeable materials that allow the rainwater to soak through could be a solution. For people who prefer traditional-looking block paving, bricks are now manufactured with channels down the sides to allow water to permeate and they are about the same price as normal paving blocks. A cheaper option is a simple layer of gravel laid on compacted (but permeable) hard core.

Remaining space not needed for parking may be planted. Even the space beneath the car can be planted with low-growing thymes, bugle and creeping jenny, as the long as the car is not in situ shading them all day.

Following our campaign last year and the mail drop of the leaflet in the spring I was delighted to receive enquiries from residents. These were mostly people wanting a bit of professional help! But I would like to think that some DIYers got on with it themselves. One resident in the former category was Ann Roxburgh from 73 Cambridge Road. She told us:

We bought the house in Cambridge Road in the late 70s. One feature we appreciated was the tarmac front, for the convenience of car parking.

Over the course of years we had the tarmac replaced once and created a border against the old brick wall. Then we had the old brick wall rebuilt when we realised there was an 8inch lean in our direction. By this time the tarmac had been vandalised by the Cowboy Plumbers and by this year was looking very tired. We decided it was a “project to do”. We were not certain about anything other than “we were not having those awful bricks”!

Then through the letterbox came two leaflets. One was from Moseley in Bloom and the other from the RHS promoting the idea of reclaiming your front garden for flowers. Now there’s an idea!

Ann contacted us and we gave her a list of local landscape designers who support the campaign for multi-use front gardens. The Plan was to use rustic slate as paths with a track to park the car on and gravel in between. There was to be planting in the gravel. Ann and husband Andy are delighted with the result – and you can see for yourself why!

In fact so pleased was Ann with her garden transformation that she has joined the Moseley in Bloom team as a volunteer! Just as impressed were Ann’s neighbours at number 77 who then resolved to have their own front garden given the same treatment. Both used a designer but this is by no means compulsory. Such a transformation could be relatively easily, and cheaply, undertaken by an energetic DIYer. The RHS front garden leaflets are still available from the CDT or downloadable from the RHS website Front Gardens and contain some super ideas for all budgets.

If you would like further advice or would like to join our growing Moseley in Bloom team please contact us via the CDT on 449 8585 or email nat@moseleyinbloom.org.uk.

Natalie Higgins