Saturday, 24 November 2012

Is biodiversity too untidy for 21st century living?

Wildlife-friendly garden  or lazy gardener?
The weather today is grey and gloomy, and because I've spent a good part of the last fortnight away from home; 2 days for my son's graduation in Sheffield, a day in London at the steering committee meeting for the Landscape Show, a reception at the House of Commons and of course the Futurescape Show at Kempton Park; the inside of my house is looking rather unkempt.

Now I hate housework with a vengeance and a passion, so invariably, as soon as I pick up a broom, my thoughts begin to wander, and today I'm wondering if our modern day obsession with outward appearances has lead to the demise of garden wildlife.

When I think about life in the western world, it seems to me that in general, we're far more materialistic than our predecessors ever were; more concerned with presenting the right image of ourselves to the rest of the world and, sadly, a tad self obsessed.

Way back in history, gardening for leisure was only for the rich and privileged. Everyone else was concentrating on keeping warm, dry and fed - but not necessarily in that order. As time went on, life became slightly better for the masses. If they were employed, they were generally housed too, but gardens were still only for the wealthier folks. So, it follows that if you had a garden, you were socially superior to anyone living in a two-up-two-down like my Auntie Aggies house in Preston.

Auntie Aggie lived in a terraced house with a front door that opened onto the street and a back door that lead into a tiny paved yard with a privvy but no room for greenery. Uncle Tom used to supplement their diet with veg grown on his allotment. The whole estate was the same, row on row of perfectly decent mill workers houses. If you happened to reach foreman grade, you may have been able to afford a house with a bit of a garden. Maybe grow a few roses...p

Jump forward to the 1950's and low and behold, standards of living have risen for some people and the lawnmower has become affordable. More people have gardens and they make a point of keeping them immaculate so that the whole world knows they are a happy, decent and prosperous family. There'll be a lawn, a hedge, flower borders, possibly a bird bath and it’s crucial that everything is neat and tidy.

By 2012, the family has got wheels – lots of them – and they need a place to park them that is close to the front door and acceptable to the insurance company.  So, the front garden is (very neatly) buried under brick-weave and concrete.  With these wheels, the family can travel – to the retail park, to friends’ houses and to work….and let’s face it; they need to work long hours to raise the money to pay for their home, their cars, their big TV and their brick-weave.  With no energy left at the end of the week, gardening takes second place to more relaxing pastimes and so the back lawn and flower beds are transformed into a low-maintenance deck with a patio area and a plastic lawn.  The hedge is then replaced with a wooden fence that won’t ever need trimming and bingo! very neat, quite attractive, but devoid of habitat.

Having said all that…recent research from the RSPB has shown that urban gardens are much more biodiverse than most parks and communal areas.  So where does that leave our wildlife?  Hungry I suspect.

green roof shed standing in a wildflower meadow
The answer is simple.  Find some low maintenance, but biodiverse ways of bringing green plants into public spaces and private gardens.  Green roofs and mini wildflower meadows really don’t need a lot of TLC and they can really benefit insects, small mammals and birds without making the outside of a house look unkempt or creating a lot of work.  If anything, a living roof on the garden shed or a modern planter filled with colorful native plants will prove to the community that whoever looks after this plot of land is very aware of the importance of biodiversity in the future of our planet and is “doing their bit”

I’m off to temporarily improve the look of the inside of my home…I say temporarily, housework seems like a waste of time when the home is shared by 3 dogs, 2 lively grandchildren, a welly-wearing garden lover and a filthy farmer.  It’s no wonder I prefer to be outside.


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