Greening Small Front Gardens

The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has published a useful guide to greening small front gardens. A significant proportion of U.K. housing predates the arrival of the motor car; and estimates show that one-third of the 20.8m homes with front gardens have turned them into hard-standings, an area roughly equivalent to around 100 Hyde Parks.


The main cause for the increasing number is the significant rise in car ownership. The number of licensed vehicles in the U.K. in June 2019 was 38.7 million. Cars make up the majority of licensed vehicles. It is estimated that cars are on the move for just 4% of the time, otherwise being parked at home for 80% of the time and parked elsewhere for 16%. This is an enormous amount of metal sitting idly and occupying space most of the time!

The pictures show the RHS Guidance applied to a typical Sutton Coldfield Street; Highbridge Road in Wylde Green where tradional houses have had front drives paved with space for cars.

The findings also raise concerns about the potential effect the increased paving would have for floodwater run-off, making drains more likely to overflow. Reports on climate change adaptation have highlighted the increase in paved-over gardens as a danger during periods of flooding. Also paving over surfaces can intensify the urban heat island effect, potentially magnifying the effects of heatwaves in cities.

And front gardens are an incredibly valuable wildlife resource in any urban environment for example In leafy Sutton Coldfield gardens represent approximately 30% of land. So, the removal of each tree, hedge or square metre of lawn is a loss not only of the plants involved, but also for the wildlife that depends upon them for food and shelter. The U.K.’s gardens provide valuable habitat for a range of wild plants and animals including birds, mammals, amphibia and a huge variety of invertebrates.  And so the RHS guidance is timely . . especially here in the Royal Town, where late Victorian and Edwardian streets such as illustrated on Highbridge Road exude arts and craft character which greener planted front gardens can enhance. And at least for the moment pragmatically the guide doesn’t propose banishing the motor car; simply softening its impact on our environment.

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