5 ways to plant up your front garden and turn grey Britain green again

Fill your front garden with plants and help reduce flooding and pollution, improve your health and save our wildlife

exterior of building with front garden and plants

(Image credit: TBC)

We need to turn grey Britain green again and help reduce flooding and pollution, improve our health and save our wildlife. We can do this by planting trees, foliage plants and flowers wherever we can, and especially in our towns and cities. That is the urgent message from the Royal Horticultural Society, which released its 2015 Greening Grey Britain report at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show last week.

According to the report, one in four front gardens in Britain is now completely paved over, and almost one in three of them (that is more than five million front gardens) contains absolutely no plants at all.

There are 19.13 million houses with front gardens in Britain but worryingly, nearly 54% of these are paved over, and in the last 10 years alone, we have turned three million front gardens into solid surfaces.

How can we help reverse this trend, and turn our front gardens into a practical force for good? Here are some simple top tips for you to put into practise immediately, even if your front garden is where you park your car, or if it is one that you share with several other residents in your building.

1 Plant up containers with a mixture of ornamentals and edibles, adjusting your planting for each season, and place them along the path, beside the gate, up against the house and your boundary. For a simple herbs and flowers combination, be inspired by Chelsea medal-winning garden designer Marcus Barnett's "Pockets of the Countryside", created for Scott's Restaurant this year. Containers are the best solution if tearing up the concrete and putting in a border or patch of lawn is impossible. The pots and planters set the tone of your front garden just as much as the plants that you grow in them, but remember, you are creating an environment that can be seen by the world and not just you, so you will probably want to avoid anything too garish or obscure. Stick to a simple, budget-conscious and tidy look and you will be fine.

garden area with purple flowers and pots

(Image credit: TBC)

For a contemporary look, try the KNIT Collection of planters (above), 3D-injection-moulded plastic planters by Keter, available at Argos and B&Q.

garden area with tree stump planters

(Image credit: TBC)

For something a little more rural, recycle an old wine case or salvage some log offcuts and drill holes in the bottom for drainage. You can buy readymade log stump planters (above) from DesResDesign.

2 Create a living or green wall

on the front of your house. Whether you simply fix pots of plants to your front facade, or install something rather more sophisticated such as a hydroponic panel system, walls covered with living plants are visually stunning, a practical way of absorbing and filtering rainwater and a stylish way to provide wildlife (from nesting birds to beneficial insects such as ladybirds, woodlice and bees) with food and a habitat.

3 Grow hedges in place of fencing and walling. "A soft, deciduous hedge is a good way to create a romantic, hidden oasis," says garden designer Marcus Barnett. Hedges are also vital habitats for wildlife, and in particular, birds, and any pruning should be left as long as possible so they can nest in safety. We recommend a hornbeam or willow (the fresh green foliage looks glorious in spring and summer, fluttering in the breeze) or for a winter-flowering hedge, a viburnum. If you want something a little more substantial to line your boundary, then you might be better off choosing an evergreen plant such as yew but do note that evergreens must be pruned regularly and do not do well if left uncared for.

4 Plant a tree. One or two trees will not only add a sense of height and shade to your front garden, their trunks and branches will (like hedges) provide a home to wildlife and the whole shebang is a vital weapon in the fight against pollution: trees absorb carbon dioxide, providing us with clean air to breathe; we cannot live without them, even in towns and cities. Choose slender-stemmed varieties such as acers, magnolias and apple trees; the added advantage of trees such as these is that they have stunning foliage or flowers and in the case of the malus (apple), of course, edible fruits (talk to your nurseryman before making your final choice). Some trees also make rather fine, ornamental hedges, as Rob Jones, founder of The Tree and Garden Gift Company points out. "A pleached hedge of Liquidamber styraciflua 'Worplesdon' will produce an attractive 'hedge on legs', and the gorgeous star-shaped leaves produce a stunning display of autumn colour," he suggests.

front garden with premeable pavers

(Image credit: TBC)

5 Replace concrete or solid paving with open paving and planting. If your front garden is also your drive, you only need a solid surface as wide as your car's wheels; the rest of the ground could be left to planting. Choose permeable pavors (try Marshalls or Brett Landscaping) and be creative with your layout; for professional guidance, contact the Society of Garden Designers to find a qualified designer near you. Choose planting that naturally hugs the ground as it grows, so that you do not have to do very much maintenance, mowing or scything; the planting in this design (above) is by Gillespies for the garden at NeoBankside on London's Southbank and includes Soleirolia soleirolii (Mind-your-own-business)
and the white flowered Pratia pedunculata
‘Alba' (white pratia) and Lobelia angulata (white star creeper), which colonise the spaces between the paving.

Of course, not all of us are gardeners or have the time to do much garden maintenance; however, the ideas outlined above are all achieveable by even the most novice among us and can be put into practise immediately. If we do not act now, then the time may yet come when more radical solutions will become necessary.

"Most non-permeable, traditional driveways require planning permission,
whether new or non-replacement," says Alister Scott, Professor of
Environment and Spatial Planning at Birmingham City University, who suggests that people who keep their front gardens green are helping their local authorities reduce the costs involved in providing flood management services. Professor Scott proposes that as a thank you for keeping their front gardens green, people could enjoy a pro-rata reduction in their council tax. "However," he says, "if people have decking and driveways, they are placing an increased burden on drainage systems and this should lead to an increase in water charges."

Events and places to visit for front gardens ideas and advice:

Chelsea Fringe 2015 Alternative garden festival across London and satellite sites across Britain, Europe, Japan and Australia. Among various events, see eco-benches made from recycled materials and plants in London and Jerusalem, learn how to grow Crops in Pots and join in the Canal Club Gardening Party. Until 7th June; full details of all events are listed on the website.

GROW Contemporary garden fair on Hampstead Heath, with leading designers offering advice, and invited stall holders selling plants and gardenalia, from 19th to 21st June

RHS Hampton Court Flower Show 2015 Lots of small gardens, expert advice, plants and accessories, from 30th June to 5th July

Dig the City 2015 Urban gardening festival and summer party takes over Manchester city centre from Friday 31st July to Thursday 6th August

Capel Manor Gardens, Hertfordshire Permanent 30-acre site surrounding a Georgian manor, with an ever-changing array of small gardens and plantings, including the National Gardening Centre which offers inspirational ideas for domestic front gardens

For more gardening ideas from Homes & Gardens, visit the website.



Tamara was Ideal Home's Digital Editor before joining the Woman & Home team in 2022. She has spent the last 15 years working with the style teams at Country Homes & Interiors and Ideal Home, both now at Future PLC. It’s with these award wining interiors teams that she's honed her skills and passion for shopping, styling and writing. Tamara is always ahead of the curve when it comes to interiors trends – and is great at seeking out designer dupes on the high street.