Having a place to park a car by your home is important, there’s no arguing about that.
But is it more important than having an open green space to welcome you, visitors and nature to your front door?
As traffic increases and time-hungry householders opt to pave or concrete their driveway to avoid garden maintenance, there’s little doubt the state of our front gardens is spiralling downwards.
However, horticulturist Joe Swift points out that the front garden should be the first point of a welcoming haven.
Swift, one of many gardening experts appearing in Great British Garden Revival, a new 10-part BBC Two series starting on December 9, visited one such haven in award-winning Rockcliffe Avenue, Whitley Bay, north Tyneside, where residents have transformed their paved street with colourful plants and containers of flowers.
The result isn’t just aesthetic, residents have also reported a much greater sense of community, with kids no longer ‘causing havoc’ in the street and people no longer dropping litter because the beautiful gardens have given them a sense of pride.
“A lot of people just concrete or pave their gardens over and just forget about the plants, but research shows how important plants are in reducing pollution, for wellbeing and house prices,” says Swift.
Creating a planting buffer between your home and traffic is also like putting a filter paper between you and the pollution, explains Rob MacKenzie, professor of atmospheric science at Birmingham University. “If you put plants very close to the traffic then they have a greater chance of soaking up pollution and making a significant reduction, perhaps as much as 10 or 20 per cent,” he said.
Some three-quarters of households in Britain have cars – 40 per cent of those have two cars – and the increased use of concrete or paving to accommodate them has led to huge drainage problems.
Swift says there are products out there which can accommodate both plants and vehicles.
In the BBC programme, he looks at reinforced hexagonal plastic mesh which goes into the ground, and you can park your car on it when it has been filled with either gravel or plants.
Alternatively, use gravel or use a combination of gravel and grass seed or other low-growing plant, like thyme or camomile.
He also recommends planting strongly scented plants in your front garden such as Christmas box, a really tough evergreen which you will notice as you enter or leave your front garden every day.
Swift concludes: “Do you have a car or a front garden? There’s definitely a solution – there’s always a way of getting both in.”
Joe Swift appears in the first episode of Great British Garden Revival, starting on BBC Two on December 9 at 7pm.
Best of the bunch – Skimmia
These tough but colourful evergreen shrubs provide winter interest in beds, borders and winter pots, thanks to their pretty buds, flowers and berries. With some types you will need to grow a male plant with a female to produce berries, while others are hermaphrodite, including S. reevesiana and ‘Veitchii’. Skimmia japonica is ideal for containers, producing clusters of scented white or pink-tinted spring flowers opening from red buds and, on female plants, red fruits which last all winter, but you will need to plant male and female together to enjoy fruit. Try planting S. japonica ‘Foremanii’ (female) with ‘Rubella’ (male), which has a lovely floral fragrance. Skimmias thrive in acid soil so if you are planting them in a pot, use ericaceous compost. They succeed best in partial shade.
Good enough to eat – Garlic
It’s almost as much of a staple as onions in this country and can be added to so many dishes. Garlic is also extremely easy to grow. Prepare the ground as you would for vegetable seed then push each clove in with the tip exposed above the ground. Plant the cloves in straight rows 10-15cm (4-6in) apart, leaving room to run a hoe through later between rows.
Soon, grassy green shoots will appear, which will get the plants off to a good start in spring and you should be lifting the bulbs by the end of July.
Top buy – Gold Leaf Soft Touch Gardening Gloves
Endorsed by the Royal Horticultural Society, these stylish yet robust gloves are made from soft, supple, high quality, deerskin leather and as well as being suitable for all kinds of gardening jobs offer enhanced dexterity. (£20.99, www.rhs.org.uk/shopping)
What to do this week
Continue winter pruning of standard apple and pear trees.
Move deciduous shrubs or trees if the soil is workable.
Harvest Brussels sprouts, Christmas broccoli, parsnips and leeks.
Buy Christmas pot plants from garden centres and nurseries.
Sow exhibition onions in the greenhouse.
Continue to fork over vacant ground to reduce soil pests, if the soil is soft enough.
Place netting over the tops of pots to keep squirrels from digging up bulbs.
Continue gathering leaves to make leafmould, which you can use as a mulch next year.
Check under containers, planks or any other nook or cranny for groups of slugs which congregate in hiding places over the winter, and dispose of them.
Make sure outdoor taps are well lagged with bubble wrap or insulated tap-cosies.
Take hardwood cuttings of roses and easy shrubs.