Breaking up the concrete in your front garden brings many benefits to plants and wildlife, finds GINA PARKINSON.

CHELSEA Flower Show has been making its annual appearance on TV this week with its customary display of amazing gardens and fabulous flowers.

A first for this year is a garden in Main Avenue built by an amateur.

Sean Murray, winner of the BBC’s Great Chelsea Garden Challenge, designed his garden from a brief by the RHS highlighting that almost 25 per cent of front gardens are paved, tarmacked or gravelled and contain no greenery at all. This is a rise of eight per cent from a decade ago.

Apart from looking grey and boring, covering gardens can lead to flooding. Water will run downhill and even the smallest slope is enough to send it in someone else’s direction.

In Yorkshire and Humberside, 24 per cent of front gardens are concreted or paved over, and ours is one of them. The concrete was there when we moved here almost five years ago. Much of it remains, but we have managed to lift an area to create a flower bed. Along with the hedge that runs on one side of the garden, the area is beginning to attract birds and insects.

The benefits of restoring your front garden are manifold, with preventing flooding surely at the top of the list. Then there are the birds feeding and singing in the shrubbery, some may even nest once a hedge is mature enough to offer protection. Holly, privet and hawthorn are all good for nesting birds, as are wall shrubs. We have a robin bringing up its young in a climbing hydrangea at the front of the house.

There is also a social aspect to a front garden. People passing by will stop for a chat. It’s a great way of getting to know the neighbours and uplifting to see how a few plants evoke a connection, however brief.

Clearing concrete is neither easy nor cheap, especially if it is a thick layer, but a redesigned front garden can create an immediate wow factor for the house.

If this is out of the question, consider breaking up a section of the concrete as we did, just to get some plants in. Now we see a maturing bed every time the curtains are opened in the morning and when we come home at night.

An area used for parking needs to have a hard surface, but this could be two parallel tracks for the wheels with space between planted with low-growing plants such as ajuga, creeping Jenny and thyme. They just need pockets of soil to survive.

Areas remaining after beds have been created can be covered with permeable membrane, then covered with gravel which allows water to soak away but suppresses weeds. After a while seedlings will pop up, but they can be easily pulled up. Large containers filled with bright annuals or more formal shrubs on either side of the front door will give structure to the area, as will a well-defined path.

The rest can be for perennials and berried shrubs, a small tree and a climber, bulbs and annuals. Suddenly there is a whole new space for planting with the research and nursery visits this entails. Bliss.


In the veg patch

The weather has been cold and our veg patch is looking empty. There are seedlings growing in the greenhouse and being hardened off by spending their days outside, but I have hesitated to plant anything permanently outside. A friend has risked a couple of courgettes, but they are covered at night.

A second reason for hesitation lies in the pigeons that pick out any seedlings in our vegetable plot. It took a couple of years to realise what was happening, until I sneaked into the garden one morning and caught them at it. Since then almost everything is germinated in a cold greenhouse, potted up, hardened off then put out as decent-sized plantlets. At least then there is some back up in case direct sown seeds are gobbled.


Open gardens


In aid of the National Gardens Scheme

Beacon Garth, Redcliffe Road, Hessle HU13 0HA. South-facing garden overlooking the Humber and surrounding an Edwardian Arts and Crafts house. There is a sunken rock garden, bulbs, specimen trees, hostas, ferns, large lawns, herbaceous borders, gravel paths, topiary and a children’s play area. Open noon to 5pm, admission £4.

The Ridings, South Street, Burton Fleming YO25 3PE. Tranquil cottage garden. Climber festooned brick pergola and arches lead to a secret garden with lavender and box edged beds. A paved terrace has a water feature and farming bygones and there are colour themed mixed borders, a potager and greenhouse. Open 1pm to 5pm, admission £3.


Gardening TV and Radio


8am, BBC Radio Humberside, The Great Outdoors. With Blair Jacobs and Doug Stewart.

8am, Radio Vale. William Jenkyns presents local gardening news and features at

9am, BBC2, The Beechgrove Garden. Jim McColl plants vegetables.

9am, BBC Radio York, Julia Lewis. Gardening ideas and features from around North Yorkshire.

9am, BBC Radio Leeds, Larry Budd, Joe Maiden.

2pm, BBC R4, Gardeners’ Question Time. A Chelsea Flower Show-inspired edition from the Tea House Theatre in London.


3pm, BBC R4, Gardeners’ Question Time. From Newcastle with Bob Flowerdew, Bunny Guinness, Matthew Wilson and chairman Eric Robson.

8.30pm, BBC2, Gardeners’ World. This week there is a final visit to South Africa this time to look at Cape primroses, and Joe Swift meets a florist in Surrey.