Whatever happened to front gardens in suburbia?
When I was a child, in the fifties, every front garden had its hedge and its flowers/bushes/trees and was well kept. You usually didn’t see vegetables – they were round the back.
The backdrop of pretty front gardens made the street an attractive place to be. You can still find them now in places – particularly in terraces where there is no room for parking, and in well-to-do areas with big gardens.
But in many places, particularly in the cities, there has been massive change since then. First it was a space for the car and a run-in. Then a space for two cars. Then the ultimate – the whole area paved over. There was no longer time for gardening – and indeed, with the mad expansion of buy-to-let and rental, no motivation for the residents to keep the place nice for the future. Of course, also people get older so simply cannot do the gardening. Even houses without any run-in for a car have paved over their garden to remove any living thing that might need attention. The massive proliferation of wheelie bins has added yet more pressure for space.
Does it matter? Walk along such a street. Passing a tree, attractive bushes, flowers, insects, birds, even a neat lawn, the spirit rises. Passing a concrete or gravel mess, the spirit sinks, mind says ‘ugh’ and quickly passes on. At a practical level, when it rains the water rushes to the drains, rather being held by leaves and soil and gently released.
Ugly functionality has gradually crept up on us, replacing the beauty that was there before in the manmade environment. Some people attempt to leaven the effect with geometric or artistic patterns of slabs – better, but the soul still cries out for vegetation. Some even use artificial grass to pretend there is vegetation – a travesty.
The outer reflects the inner. So the average person in these dwellings would seem to have lost some contact with, and feel for, the natural world – too embedded in busyness and the glamours of media and technology. The direction of travel will only change when our inner orientation changes.
Interestingly, technology may provide a way out. The ultimate driverless car, callable at the press of a button, could remove the need for all that parking in the front garden. What will we do with the space then? Reinvent the front garden?
First image by peganum from Henfield, England (front garden) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.
Second is my own.