IN GARDENS in London, hard surfaces and new buildings are
replacing vegetation at the rate of two-and-a-half times the area
of Hyde Park each year. This is the finding of Greenspace
Information for Greater London (GIGL), 2013, the capital's local
GIGL states that: "Hypothetically, if the loss of green space
observed during the period of study were to carry on, we would lose
all of our garden green space by the year 2068." In reality, of
course, such a straightforward linear decline will not occur, but
the trend is still worrying.
Planning legislation can help to restrict extensions (one of the
main factors in loss of green space) and paving over front gardens.
Planning permission is needed to pave more than five square metres
of a front garden. In a back garden, however, we are all at liberty
to replace flowerbeds and lawn with patios and decking, should we
Paved areas are desirable as routes through a planted space,
providing safe, dry access at all times. I cannot deny their
appeal, alongside abundant planting. With a bit of thought, their
impact on vegetation can be reduced.
Gaps are key here. Remove some slabs randomly, or, better still,
downsize to stepping-stones. Chip out the mortar between blocks,
and replace with loam-based compost. The aim is to create new
planting opportunities. No plant will withstand constant trampling,
but if footfall can be kept mainly to the peripheral stems,
low-growing thymes are a good choice for forming carpets of scented
Varieties of wild thyme, Thymus serpyllum, make a dense
mat, and bees love their flowers. Lemon thyme, Thymus
citriodorus, has a strong lemony fragrance, and is available
as silver or gold variegated forms, both of which produce tiny
spires of pink flowers in summer. Woolly thyme, Thymus
pseudolanuginosus, rarely flowers, but has lovely fuzzy grey
foliage, and is a vigorous spreader.
Paved areas in shade can be enhanced with Corsican mint,
Mentha requienii, that when brushed gives off an
invigorating minty aroma, or Arenaria balearica, which is
covered with white flowers from March to July. Other choices are
lesser periwinkle Vinca minor, or self-seeding heartsease,
For areas that are not walked on very often, such as the corner
of a patio, creeping speedwell, Veronica prostrata, with
its show of true blue flowers in early summer, and bugle, Ajuga
reptans, would both be popular with bees. The rock phloxes,
such as Phlox douglasii and Phlox subulata, form
tight evergreen mats of narrow leaves smothered in pastel-hued
flowers in spring and early summer.
The GIGL study focused on London, but its findings are bound to
relate to all our urban areas. Individual gardens may be small, but
their sum is significant, and we can all do our bit to ensure green
wins over grey to support garden biodiversity.