Paving over front gardens

by Kate Bradbury

I seem to be bucking a trend among homeowners. Rather than paving over my garden, I have 'un-paved' it, unlocking the earth and growing a range of plants to provide habitats for wildlife.

Paving over front gardensI seem to be bucking a trend among homeowners. Rather than paving over my garden, I have 'un-paved' it, unlocking the earth and growing a range of plants to provide habitats for wildlife.

The paving of front gardens is becoming increasingly common in urban areas where parking spaces are at a premium and there's a lack of availability of public transport. The popularity of low-maintenance gardens among the time-poor is also a factor. The RHS estimates around 12 square miles of London are lost to the practice, while a quarter of North-East front gardens have disappeared under concrete. I cycle, rather than drive, and don't know what I'd do with my time if I had a 'low-maintenance' garden. But for others, paving over their green space is a practical, money-saving solution to the perennial problems of where to park and whose turn it is to mow the lawn.

While one paved driveway in a tree-lined street of lush gardens will not have any disastrous effects (apart from looking awful), the consequences of lots of paved gardens are far reaching: there are fewer plants to absorb C02, while the carbon that was previously locked in lawns and plants is released into the atmosphere, fuelling climate change. Local temperatures are increased, wildlife habitats are diminished and air quality is reduced.

But most alarmingly, the risk of flooding is increased. Hard surfaces like concrete and paving don't absorb water as readily as soil and plants, so it runs into sewers. As much as 50 per cent more water ends up down the drain in heavily paved areas, putting pressure on our ancient sewage systems. During heavy rain, the sewers can't cope, so water ends up back on our driveways and sometimes in in our homes, or in local rivers, which then burst their banks.

I doubt many readers of this blog would be inclined to completely pave over their gardens as most, if not all, will be gardeners. But gardeners aren't exempt from the need to park. If we have to pave over large areas, there are many things we can do to lessen the environmental impact and reduce the risk of flooding. My choice would be to do away with the car altogether and transform the driveway into a rain garden, like the one at the London Wetland Centre in Barnes. Rain gardens absorb rainfall and reduce stormwater runoff through design and clever planting. They also look pretty and are a haven for wildlife.

However, with a bit of imagination, you can use your garden as a drive without having to pave it over. Gravel drives are more permeable than concrete ones, and you can also buy plastic grids, under which grass and other low-growing plants can grow. Any paved areas can be sloped gently to direct water into a border, lawn, hedge or tree, and you can also use materials that allow rainwater to penetrate the ground, so water run-off of any hard surfaces will be reduced.

And if you have inherited a large expanse of paving stones and don't know what to do with it, why not take them up and plant a garden?

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Talkback: Paving over front gardens
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Gardeners' World Web User 28/04/2011 at 15:26

When we moved into our house 12 years ago, the first thing we did was have the reinforced concrete carpark removed from where the front garden should have been. Part of this was led by safety worries for our then toddlers as, without a garden fence, nothing lay between the front door and the open road. It has since been through several guises, and is now dominated by a variegated acer, and a virginia creeper over the fence and gate-arch. Much nicer to look out onto than the bonnet of a car.

Gardeners' World Web User 28/04/2011 at 16:07

It is good to see this article, although much damage has already and continues to occur, which since October 2008 is actually illegal. If you are planning new surfacing or paving over 5m2 in your front garden, which will not be permeable, you require planning permission and this will be only be approved if the new work is carried out subject to SUDS (Sustainable Urban Drainage System) guidelines. Quite why this law, which has been taken and enforced by many other countries due to the fact that it makes such good sense, is still relatively unknown and certainly often ignored and unenforced in the UK where urban flooding has huge and frequent economic consequences is baffling.

Gardeners' World Web User 28/04/2011 at 16:56

The front gardens in my terraced area are tiny 11' x 6' ish and don't lend themselves to a lawn. Nevertheless many people have done little wonders with them making it a pleasure to wander around the neighbourhood and view. Many (like mine) are low maintenance with gravel and grasses, others may just be a home-made mosaic with a small feature tree in the middle. The only ones that make my heart sink are where someone has paved over to park their motorbike on it!

Gardeners' World Web User 28/04/2011 at 17:40

Gravel is ok for your home but not suitable for driveways/parking/public areas to public buildings such as garden centres, hotels etc etc. Gravel is very difficult if not impossible to traverse using a pushchair or wheelchair. The reinforced grass mentioned in this blog is very good and can carry quite heavy vehicles. Block paviors also allow water to drain easily....

Gardeners' World Web User 28/04/2011 at 18:15

I see a win-win situation which is block brick paving with bigger than average spaces between bricks and plants such as creeping thyme planted in the gaps.

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