Front Yard Controversy in England

– Posted in: Garden Design

Last night as I was browsing through the latest issue of Gardens Illustrated, I came across a short article on page 11 that touched on front yards from a political/environmental standpoint. Since our Garden Blogger’s Design Workshop’s theme this month, thanks to our dear Nan, is on Front Yards, I couldn’t resist passing this onto you. I can’t wait to hear your comments!!

Paving The Way

“It used to be said that England was a nation of gardeners-but over the last few years many householders have chosen to pave over their front grardens. Now Environment Secretary Hilary Benn says legislation will be introduced this year requiring home owners to secure planning permission before covering gardens with impermeable materials. The move follows recent research by the RHS which found that 12 square miles of front gardens in London are now paved. The Government’s concern is not horticultural, though-it’s worried that instead of soaking into the soil, rainwater will run off paved surfaces and into overflowing sewers, causing floods. Benn says that provided they use porous materials, householders will still be able to cover their gardens-without planning permission.

Fran Sorin

Fran is the author of the highly-acclaimed book, Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, which Andrew Weil, M.D., recommends as "a profound and inspiring book."  

A graduate of the University of Chicago with Honors in Psychology, she is also a gardening and creativity expert, coach, inspirational speaker, CBS radio news gardening correspondent, and Huffington Post Contributor.

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Fran Sorin
10 comments… add one

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Helen (aka patientgardener April 24, 2008, 7:41 am

I agree with the article. More and more people in the Uk are paving their front gardens to provide off road parking as most families have more than one car. Not only does this cause problems when we have heavy rain and flooding but it also reduces the areas for nature etc


Agreed 100%. And as we both know intuitively as gardeners, nature is extraordinarily therapeutic and adds meaning and beauty to our lives in a way that little else can……it’s great to receive your post from the UK….thanks for chiming in! fran

Sandra April 24, 2008, 11:22 am

In addition many of these front gardens would hardly hold more than a very small compact car, and are located on narrow roads that were never build for motor traffic, let alone to provide parking space. The idea that everyone should have personal transport, largely imported from the US, has been a disaster in Britain environmentally not only impeding rain water drain-off but raising levels of pollution. The answer is not to restrict how citizens use their garden/yard space but to restrict ownership and usage of vehicles.


Bravo….a brilliant idea and yet one that you and I know won’t happen…at least not in the near future. In the name of capitalism, we have created alot of havoc and vanquished some of the most simple of pleasures from our lives. No wonder ever other publication has the world ‘SIMPLE’ written across it…Simple Living, etc.
Thanks for your commentary. Fran

our friend Ben April 24, 2008, 12:33 pm

Paved over?! Gack!!! What a sad situation. In my part of PA, houses tend to be close to the road–their builders never envisioned auto traffic, either–and on-street parking causes untold driving hazards. But at least the front yards remain green!

I know…’s hard to believe in England that this is happening. One of the things I always loved was that no matter where a person lived….within 10 minutes of Heathrow, as a visitor, one would be treated to closely packed row houses with incredible, tightly planted, romantic gardens. It is a sad commentary! So maybe PA. isn’t so bad after all!! Fran

Gail April 24, 2008, 5:08 pm

An English friend sent me this information, she was completely shocked having lived the last 25 years in the states …that her England had been so badly Americanized….she said, ‘Americanized’ with complete derision in her voice. Fast food, super consumerism and now garden destruction, all from us! Sad. Gail

It is sad indeed…especially because we think of England as one of the great beacons in the world of gardening. Fran

Nancy Bond April 24, 2008, 5:51 pm

I’d seen much the same thing covered in some British home makeover shows. Some are removing the asphalt and concrete and reverting back to gardens and grass. I hope the trend continues.

Your comments are giving my hope. Since I don’t watch any of these shows, I have no idea of what the trends are. If you say this issue is being addressed in home makeover show, yahoo!!! this is good news indeed. thanks for keeping us up to date! fran

Earth Girl April 24, 2008, 8:21 pm

The primary problem with impervious pavement is not flooding but water pollution. Storm water washes over the oily pavements into the storm sewers and straight into the rivers.

Earth Girl-
Your description of what happens with impervious pavement makes me sick. What a chaotic, topsy-turvy world we live in. I feel that in the world of gardening we practice a Western approach, much like medicine vs. an Eastern approach. (I hope that makes sense) Thanks for your comments. Fran

Heather's Garden April 24, 2008, 10:53 pm

They’ve been having the same issue in NYC for quite some time:

I’ve also remember an article somewhere (maybe Garden Rant?, maybe My Skinny Garden?) about Chicago putting in green alleys with permeable pavement to prevent flooding.

jodi April 27, 2008, 8:46 am

Interesting, though scary. I wonder if the permeable pavers that are available now would be more acceptable? They allow water to seep down through them, and grass and groundcovers to grow up through the middle, so that washouts aren’t so common. I think they are popular in parts of Europe, because the only place I know of them here in NS is a winery established by Swiss-German immigrants.
But better than even semi-permeable pavers (I believe that’s the right name) is just giving up the second frickin’ vehicle and having a proper garden (by which the British also mean front yard, not just flower garden, of course).

I love what you wrote. It is amazing how we destroy both beauty and health in the name of technological advances. I’d love to know the name of the permeable pavers that you mentioned in your post. Perhaps if you don’t know, someone else will fill us in on the product. Thanks for your honest thoughts. I couldn’t agree more!! Fran

Cathy April 20, 2015, 11:41 pm


They are on target – this is a serious problem. Not only does it lead to flooding but when the rain runs off in the road, it picks up oil in the street and this is carried into the groundwater… the same groundwater that supplies our drinking water.

We in California have recognized this problem and are dealing with it but from a different perspective. We are in the midst of a severe drought and while many people are foregoing lawns (which require large amounts of water to sustain), they are being encouraged to replace them with gardens that feature drought tolerant plants and mulched with either bark, stone, clam shells, or another porous material.

In our county, we can get up to $1000 in cost reimbursed for planting a rain garden…. For directing run off from the roof and driveway into a small, man-made depression in the yard surrounded by flowers, pea gravel, and ornaments. The goal is to direct the rainwater into the groundwater supply and off the street where it carries oil into the storm drains that flow into the river.

There are so many lovely, creative ways to build a low maintenance garden that is environmentally friendly and sustainable. But paving the area over is not only not aesthetically pleasing, it’s also detrimental to the environment and local ecosystem.

Fran Sorin May 3, 2015, 12:15 pm

As always, your point is well taken. Thanks for your thoughts and hope you’re having a good spring gardening and are feeling well enough to do so. Fran

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