Front gardens help make communities

Joe Swift           Picture: Sarah Cuttle
Joe Swift Picture: Sarah Cuttle
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As front gardens nationwide are paved over to make space for cars, 
Hannah Stephenson asks TV plantsman Joe Swift on how to make these spaces green instead

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.

Yet, points out horticulturist Joe Swift, 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 BBC2 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 overflowing with 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 the pollution and making a significant reduction,” he explains.

Herbaceous ground cover like hardy geraniums and alchemilla mollis are pretty tough and can easily be incorporated into many front gardens, he notes.

“If your front garden is in a shady area you could go for plants like hostas and ferns, anything that can take a bit of a battering and which you can get into the ground.”

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.

“Wintersweet is another good scented plant, as are a lot of winter flowering viburnums which can fill the whole street with an incredible fragrance.”

Eyesores such as drainpipes can easily be covered with climbing plants, which can be trained using a semi-circular trellis specifically designed to frame the drainpipe.

“People are very cautious about planting climbers up their houses but as long as the pointing is sound before you start, plants like ivy and climbing hydrangea which self-cling to the wall can actually protect the wall and insulate the house.”

If you don’t have soil you can always plant climbers such as Clematis armandii in pots and, provided you keep them well-watered and shade their roots by topping the pot of compost with decorative stones or gravel, they should soon start climbing up the trellis.

If you have a number of dustbins and recycling boxes, think about creating a trellis framework which you can tuck them behind and then grow plants up it to screen the bins.

Those who live in urban areas may be more limited as to what they can grow because some plants don’t thrive in highly polluted areas, Swift explains.

:: Joe Swift appears in the first episode of Great British Garden Revival, starting on BBC2 on December 9 at 7pm.