Front Gardens & Rain Gardens
The government has brought in new legislation to deal with the link between flooding and the paving-over of front gardens, as homeowners seek extra car parking space. From October 2008, in order to pave over your front garden you will need to get planning permission- unless you use impermeable materials. The reason is that more rain water than ever is going straight into drains as opposed to entering the water table naturally, thus contributing to severe flooding throughout the UK, decreasing the size of tributaries and lowering the ground water table. This is also, once again, decreasing habitat for wildlife. If the aim is to convert a front garden into a car parking space or low maintenance garden it is possible to do so whilst making sure it still contributes to the environment. This principle can also be applied to back gardens that contain a significant amount of hard-landscaping. If you're keen in returning all your property's rainwater naturally into the water table then you can set aside a part of your garden as a ‘Rain garden'. These are popular in America where they have more experience of flooding. A rain garden is where you direct the down-pipes to a manmade depression that has been planted with the appropriate flora, where the rainwater will eventually soak into to the water table.
Research by Dr Ross Cameron from the University of Reading shows that 10% of green-space in a city centre can reduce the temperature by 4 degrees, exactly the same amount as the expected rise in temperature in 80 years time by some calculations. Older, leafy suburbs are 2-3 degrees cooler than the new suburbs being built. Where as concrete absorbs heat, trees act as natural air-conditioning systems. So much in fact that appropriately placed trees could save air conditioning dependent US households 40% of their cooling energy bills (and heating bills in winter as the trees act as wind breaks).
Mark Laurence, who is currently pioneering Green Wall systems in Britain with BioTecture, predicts that in the future the garden, and adjoining home, will become an integral part of a living bio-system, combining the aesthetical with energy generation, water retention and crucially food production. There are various reasons behind his predictions. The global population was over 1.5 billion in 1900, it is now 6.5 billion and predicted to rise to 8 billion by 2050. Just like in nature, when you exhaust the cause for the fast growth there is a collapse. Demand for oil is now outstripping supply, prices are set to rise very high and very fast, and our economy is based on cheap oil. Fresh water supplies cannot meet demand either, with only 2% of the world's fresh water available to us (the majority of the planet's fresh water is in the process of melting into the sea). We put far more into farming calorifically than we get out, especially meat and wheat production, and for every pound of food we produce up to 18lbs of topsoil are lost. The solution will be to make our homes living systems, off the grid. The urban landscape and its communities will have to support itself. It will take into account air purification, storm water retention, ponds and waterways will act as water recycling and purification systems. Green roofs and walls will provide thermal buffering. The majority of what plants can give us is food, and many ornamental plants have edible uses. The best way of producing diverse crops in a garden is ‘Agro-forestry'. Where you have for example taller and mid height trees for fruit and nuts, herbs and berries from shrubs and lower down your vegetables. With people not driving to work (he predicts it won't be affordable) let's hope there'll be enough time to look after it all.