Thursday, 4 August 2016

The Dead Gardens of Suburbia

Death Valley, California - but it's not been covered in concrete

Have you ever walked or driven along a residential road and noticed how many people have got rid of their front garden (if they ever had one in the first place) replacing it with gravel, concrete or paving? In these days of car ownership and a lack of on-street parking, I can understand why front gardens have been sacrificed to make way for the cars which are parked there. Many people try to incorporate a bit of greenery and nature into these parking spaces by leaving small grassy borders or adding pot plants. But often this is not the case and the encroaching concrete jungles mean that during periods of heavy rain there is nowhere for the water to drain so it runs into gutters, meets up with already overloaded drains and we end up with flooding in our streets.

OK, so that's the dead front gardens out of the way. I don't like them and am currently trying to understand the aesthetics of covering fertile, living earth with woodchip, slate chips and - as I saw recently in the newly "refurbished" front garden of someone I know - the worst and ugliest contemporary fix of all; rectangular wire cages filled with large pebbles. The effect was to make the entrance to the property look like a cross between a prison and the side of an unattractive motorway. Somewhere underneath that was living, breathing earth with all its potential for life supporting and life enhancing growth.

Cut now to the back "garden" of the same property. It was in the process of being made over- for "made over" read killed off. Gone was any vestige of grass, weeds, anything alive, any sign of earth. Already fenced with a plain high wooden fence and severely paved into regimented rectangular stepped terraces, the bottom section was being worked on by contractors who were busily levelling an area (rectangular again) at the far end. They were preparing it to be grassed. Yes, it was to have grass, Jim, but not as we know it. They were preparing to lay plastic grass.

With fascinated horror I watched as the contractors filled in the edges of the soon to be plasticked area with concrete - "To make sure no weeds can get through" they said. It was like watching the earth being sealed into a tasteless man-made sarcophagus, buried beneath sand, concrete and finally covered with a plastic lawn, which they were coming back to stick down next day. So, no to birds, insects, butterflies, ants, grubs, ladybirds, spiders, worms - and at the same time the RSPB is running a campaign encouraging the public to Give Nature a Home. No chance of that in this garden.

What with the woodchip, cages of pebbles, brick paving, wooden fence and plastic grass, I will find it a challenge to go back again to visit this house which is surrounded by dead garden space. I just didn't feel comfortable there. This is not low maintenance, it's NO maintenance, and it's pretty tasteless and unappealing to boot. There won't be any nature to enjoy in that space. Sad. Very sad.....but something tells me that nature will eventually win. Weeds and wild life tend to have their own way in the end. Even in Death Valley, nature survives.
Evidence of life and growth in Death Valley

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