Sunday, 7 June 2009

Front garden car parks

Butterflies and bees really are a welcome sight in front as well as back gardens. However, I am feeling a wee bit miffed at all the talk on gardening programmes (Gardeners' World on Friday night for example) about how many of our front gardens are a concrete ‘whatever’ as we use them for parking cars and therefore the assumption is that plants and wildlife are never considered.

I expect I’m not the only gardener that thinks this is an unfair assumption. Yep… and gravel in front gardens has been suggested by many as an easy non imaginative solution to a low maintenance garden too. Oh yes… without a doubt we do have busy lives and not everyone has time to maintain a back and front garden as they would like. I can’t deny that.

Painted Lady butterfly resting in sunshine on gravel.

Mm… but is a gravel mulched garden really completely unfriendly to wildlife… nope, not always the case as you can see above.

This morning I was thrilled to see my first Painted Lady butterfly arrive in the garden. Where did I spot it first – sunning itself on my quartz gravel. This is not the first time I have seen butterflies do this either. I have seen Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock butterflies do this too.


Painted Lady butterfly feeding on flowers of perennial Wallflower Erysimum ‘Bowles’ Mauve’.

My front garden can be baked with the sun (yes, I do live in Scotland ;-)) and without my light coloured gravel mulch around my plants reflecting the sun and keeping the ground from drying out I would be continually watering my plants growing there. I tend to grow sun loving plants there (ones that will survive winter here too) and I very much keep sun loving wildlife in mind with my plantings.


Painted Lady butterfly with wings closed as the sun went behind a cloud, still feeding on flowers of perennial Wallflower Erysimum ‘Bowles’ Mauve’

I’ll make up my plant list soon – perhaps for this month’s Garden Bloggers Design Workshop at Gardening Gone Wild. They are revisiting the topic of front gardens. Perhaps you might want to join in with a posting on your front garden or are looking for ideas? We’ll call this Part 1 of my posting.

Gardening Gone Wild say: “…we consistently get so many visitors seeking ideas for their front yard or front garden, it seemed worthwhile to revisit the subject. Our last front-yard workshop was over a year ago, after all, and we have many new readers and participants now. So, let’s see if we can help out all those folks who need some inspiring ideas to make the most of that often challenging site.”

Buff tailed Bumble bee feeding on flower of Cirsium rivulare 'Atropurpureum'. These thistle flowers aren’t even properly open.

Finally, I am not completely impartial here. I do know that there are many concrete/slabbed front gardens which are a problem especially in areas susceptible to flooding. I know many people aren’t interested in plants too. However, perhaps there is another way of supporting this issue instead of showing the ugliest and most unkempt front gardens. Everyone that does use their front gardens for parking cars become tarred with the same brush.


Smaller bumble bee (not sure which one) feeding on Catmint, Neptata ‘Walker’s Low’. This is this is a very popular plant for visiting wildlife.

Street parking of cars is not available to everyone and the reality is that many of us (not all I know) have one or more cars that have no choice but to have them parked in our front gardens. For my part, like many others, I live in a corner spot of a cul-de-sac and I don’t even have a street edge on which to park even one car. Sorry, I’ve maybe come over too strong here but as you can see this does rattle me a tad :-D


Buff tailed Bumble bee feeding on flowering heads of Allium ‘Christophii’.

Oh… but I am in good spirits and looking forward to another week of Spring watching. My wisteria will soon be in full bloom and the chicks in our blue tit Nestbox (over my back door) are getting more vocal by the day which would suggest that they must be getting bigger. I’m seeing lots of hedgehog visits too. They'll need a posting all to themselves… coming soon!

Buff tailed Bumble bee feeding on flowering heads of Allium ‘Christophii’.

Wishing you a great week :-)

All photos above were taken in my front garden on June 6th & 7th 2009.

13 comments:

Lisa at Greenbow said...

If you have to park your car in the front garden you just have to ignore the people that don't understand. As to butterflies and rocks, well, if you read any butterfly garden design articles they always tell you to place a few rocks in your garden for butterflies to warm themselves on. So there.

Little Brown Job said...

Great post :-) We park our car in the front garden, it's a sloped lawn of sorts, rapidly going bald! Still undecided on what to do, probably partially flag it, leaving it mostly grass.

Liz said...

I was only ranting to my parents about this earlier Shirl, I suspect you probably heard me!! ha ha

I can't use my front for cars because of the hill we're on, as a result there are 6 of us in the top of the cul-de-sac that have to park cars out, there are parking areas but some people have 2 cars! It's like a carpark out there now compared to when I moved in just over a year ago.
These cars aren't even used regularly, but those who do use their cars regularly end up parking right down the road because all the other houses have drives and you can't park in front!!

Grrrrrrrrr.

Anyway, lovely photos, very jealous of the Painted Lady - they appear to have completely bypassed Sheffield as I haven't seen a single one and I get pretty much most other common species visiting.

shirl said...

Hi there Lisa, Paul and Liz:-)

Lisa – There’s the thing Lisa, here in the UK our houses (unless we are loaded and have Mansions) are pretty tightly squeezed together and our streets are often narrow too. We cannot get our car into our garage as it is being used for storage (no basements here) like many other people I suspect too. So there is room for one car in front of the garage door and that takes you to the pavement. It isn’t a big space. To put a second car in we have to drive it through a tight space and at an angle and then that is the space pretty much filled. However, I have made the most of the surrounding space and do have an interesting garden without a front lawn. My neighbours, I’m sure, are delighted to have us park cars off the street allowing space for turning. It’s the gardening magazines and programmes that are not always in touch with the reality of this problem. Funnily enough I do have a few rocks in my front garden too and have seen Tortoiseshells sunning there. It looked so strange the first time I saw this too. Yep Lisa… stones ‘rock’ when it comes to butterflies :-D

Paul – Thank-you :-) Yep… I guess you have no choice but to park there too. I can’t imagine that being easy after rain, snow or ice. Yes, slabs are probably the most popular solution (as strips for tyres at the least). I’ve seen herbs planted in between which would get the sun and rain when the car isn’t parked there. It seems to work. Have you not got new Laws for porous paving in England now? That sounds a good idea but I understand it is a lot more expensive. So much focus goes on cars parked on front garden paving but garden designers still add patios in back gardens. I thought a Law was also coming in (still in England don’t know about Wales) that you’ll need planning permission in certain areas to lay a patio. I can appreciate why after watching news coverage of flood damage. Good luck with your solution :-D

Liz – LOL… oh that is why I have a sore head tonight then ;-) Ah… yet another problem. Perhaps there should be laws for the levels builders are allowed to leave a property for residents to gain access with vehicles. Ah… yes I so understand your rant there too. We try to be considerate neighbours with our short driveway while others can park a number of cars up their long strips of driveways and still leave a second car and/or visitor’s cars out in our narrow street. It does make it tricky for others. Yes, moving on… we have had Painted Ladies the last couple of years so it will be interesting to see if we get and increase in numbers as expected. It is usually the small tortoiseshells we see first – yet to spot one of them. Oh dear… I do think some will arrive in Sheffield yet. Maybe they are gathering in numbers at this very moment! Have you not got a sign to stick in the ground (like the Santa ones) saying 'Painted Ladies Stop here'... LOL ;-)

Midmarsh John said...

I'm with you Shirl. I gravelled the whole of my front garden a few years ago. Under the gravel is a membrane to let the rain drain through and stop the weeds. Through the gravel are many plants, anything that doesn't spread rapidly. Heathers and the lavender bushes attract lots of insects, especially butterflies on the lavender. Also there are low growing evergreens which provide homes for quite a few moths and spiders.

Lovely butterfly photos Shirl. No Painted Ladies seen round this part of Lincolnshire either as yet.

Miranda Bell said...

Hi Shirl - lovely to see the wonderful array of plants out in your garden - so many similar to here! I'm right with you on your thoughts on concrete front gardens - we've got quite a large gravelled area to the front of our property - it would get too muddy without it - but wonderful base for self seeding plants - particularly the Californian Poppies which are wonderful... the Aqualegias love it as well as Verbena Bonariensis - so many more as well - but the front garden just as important as the back! Hope all's going well with your various nests at this time of year... any news on this front?

Take care Miranda x

shirl said...

Hi again John and Miranda :-)

John – Sounds good to me :-) I don’t have membrane in my front garden (just on the paths in my back) but it does the job perfectly with or without and my plants still get the opportunity to self seed (as does the occasional weed too). As you say Lavender in particular enjoy (I would say thrive) in a gravel mulch and so in turn do the insects. My catmint, at the moment, is a real hot spot for the bees. Oh yes… I agree about low growing evergreens they are the hot spots for moths and spiders :-D

Miranda – Glad you enjoyed them, yes many of the European gardens do have very similar plants and only vary in flowering terms due to temperature differences. Yes, unfortunately there is a generalisation on gravel gardens but they do have a place in these changing climates we have be it downpours of rain or the baking of the sun! I agree that it is wonderful that some plants that we may have difficulty propagating (or the easy ones) germinate wonderfully in the gravel mulches. Ah… Verbena B I have heard of self seeding but this is one that doesn’t in my area of Scotland :-( I agree completely that the front garden is just as important and that is exactly what I was trying to say. Just because we park cars in our front gardens it doesn’t mean it’s a car park – it is still a garden and as you say plants can thrive there :-D Oh… nest news, well there’s a thing! Recently we’ve had chirping out of our nestbox without a camera (blue tit) which is above our guinea pig hutch at our back door. The other night once I had fed the guinea pigs (around 9.30pm) I was at the kitchen sink filling up the water bottles looking out and spotted a bird peeking out the nestbox entrance. I had seen the female feeding fat cake a short while before. The bird peeked out a few times without leaving the box!!! I watched transfixed with no camera anywhere near. I began to guess what was going on... oh I wish I had a camera. The bird came out and landed on the arch just below. I had to go outside and see if it could possibly be a fledgling. I opened my door and it flew across to the roof of my bird table. The light wasn’t too bright to see the colours of the plumage. However this bird looked very well indeed! If it had been ‘Mum’ there would have been quite a noise coming from the nestbox as the chicks demanded more food. All was quiet :-) So... I am guessing we had at least one successful fledging and I am thrilled about that :-D

Scattered Gardener said...

Round here it seems every time a house is sold, the front garden disappears under concrete or bricks. Yes, we need off street parking but so many people cover the whole thing, not even leaving a small flower bed or soakaway. The street trees suffer, dropping branches, that's a hazard. And the environment is degraded, it becomes harder to keep the house cool in summer and it's hotter walking locally without the cooling effect of planting, shrubs and lawns.
Our front parking space was done before we moved here eight years ago, space for two cars on paving over hardcore so I have no moral leg to stand on! Except, like you, I've made the best of what was left - a four foot by 15 foot bed, which when we took it over had a row of short and poorly leylandii, which we uprooted and replaced with a yew, a thuja, shrubs and flowers. I feel sad that people can't be bothered to maintain that small public area and make it attractive as a courtesy to the wider community. And having enjoyed a long conversation with a neighbour who was giving her front garden its annual prune this afternoon, I think we all miss out on the personal contact that maintenance can generate. Blimey, I think I can feel a blog coming on! Maybe tomorrow...
Thanks for this geat post, which has obviously made me think!

Karen - An Artist's Garden said...

Shirl, lovely to see the butterfly on the perennial wallflower - I have just been eyeing one up in the garden center, (wallflower - not butterfly).

Front gardens + cars - so difficult. I like the gravel mulch

Although I am not going to have that problem here - as our house is right on the street - Although I do have about 3 feet that I am going to have to think carefully about soon, as the builders have nearly gone.
Great post Shirl
K

shirl said...

Hi again Scattered Gardener, sorry I’m a bit late with my reply :-)

Ah… I see your garden is in SW London/Surrey so I guess it will be pretty populated with you. Yes, complete coverage under concrete for a front garden I don’t support either. A compromise can usually by met that doesn’t involve too much in the way of maintenance (where time/knowledge is concerned). Sounds like you did a good job there with your strip. I bet you had to replace soil too as the Leylandii would have taken everything out of the soil.

Re this small public area that is our front garden I completely agree with you. Simply by their location front gardens do become more a communal space that others can enjoy/put up with too. It makes a tremendous difference to the mood of a whole street if everyone bothers to grow a few plants as well as a contribution to the environment as a whole.

Yep… and there is the social aspect of front door gardening too, once again I agree completely that much personal contact in this space can be completely gone if the tenant of the house has no reason to be in this space except for passing through as a way in and out the house. Oops… maybe ranted a bit too long now!

Thanks, glad you enjoyed this posting – it has made me think a little more with each comment. Have a great weekend in the garden… be it in your front or back one :-D

shirl said...

Hi there Karen, sorry I’m a bit late with my reply :-)

Thanks, I was particularly thrilled to see the butterfly on this plant as this is a new addition (plant not butterfly ;-0) to the garden. I have never grown this plant before so must take cuttings soon to ensure I have it for next year.

Yes, you are right it is hard when we have cars. As I said, I am tucked in a corner so even visitors have no spot outside my house to park. We generally move cars tightly together so they can get off the street. I have considered this in the way I’ve planted my front garden.

Yes, having a house directly on the street does change the scenario completely. I guess you have no front garden at all unless the 3ft strip is a possible front garden? I’d also guess you may have pots, hanging baskets or window boxes full of colour there to welcome people to your cottage.

Thanks, glad you enjoyed it… enjoy your weekend :-D

VP said...

Hi Shirl - great to see another British blogger contributing to GBDW :)

I also dipped a toe into this thorny topic in my GBDW post. I can understand why people need to park their cars in their front garden. However, I feel a compromise solution can be found which allows the car to be parked, rainwater to soak through rather than runoff AND incorporate some planting. In general that's not being done at all round here and I believe we need some garden designers to come up with inspiring, practical and affordable ideas which are easy for ordinary people to achieve.

Am I being too optimistic or demanding? I hope not :)

shirl said...

Hi again VP, yes a very thorny subject here in the UK.

On reading your posting you are suggesting houses with you have enough space for two cars and still want more. Not all gardens even have a double driveway (we don’t) nor do they have a piece of kerb (we don’t) so in order to park two cars a creative solution with the paving and the planting is required.

I’m with you on the compromise and creative solution although that message can only get to people who are actually listening. Yep this one will always be controversial.

There is always hope though… I’ve just ‘driven’ out my drive and past a neighbour’s where the gravel front (with odd plants and pots) has been returned to lawn… a bit of green is back. That’s a start :-D