Are UK gardens shrinking?

Alongside homes, which have halved in size when compared to those built in 1920, between 1983 and 2013 British gardens have shrunk from 168 metres squared to 163.2 metres squared. Additionally, more than two million homes in the UK are without a garden at all according to figures released in 2010. The same study noted that by 2020, around 10.5% of homes would likely not have a garden. Considering research that suggests children who don’t have access to a garden are 38% more likely to struggle with obesity, this is a bleak forecast. But gardens have seen changes beyond size and access. The entire approach to gardening in the UK has shifted as different materials have come into usage – from synthetic living spaces such as decking to actual gardening tools like fertiliser, which was originally organic. Some of the first things to change were:
  • Plant pots: Now made from plastic or biodegradable material, where they used to be made from clay.
  • Fertiliser: It used to be that fertiliser was entirely organic. However, chemicals have now been developed to serve as fertiliser – although many gardeners prefer organics.
  • Lawn mowers: Grass cutting used to be a manual endeavour. Early machinery was developed in the 1900s which saw early versions of cylinder mowers powered by pushing. Now, electric-powered motors mean gardens are far easier to maintain.
  • Materials: Gardening still uses the basics: stone, clay, timber and soil. Now, however, we use plastic, concrete and stainless steel – which was invented in 1913.
The approach to gardening has changed a lot over the years. During WW2, gardens became areas for growing food to supplement rationing, but also an area of refuge for those who’d build their own bomb shelters. In the 1950s, gardeners shrugged this sensibility off and focus shifted towards ornamentation and decoration, placing more attention on manicured lawns and neatly trimmed shrubs. Garden Centres began cropping up in the late 50s and early 60s, with the first in the UK appearing in Ferndown, Dorset in 1955. This widespread availability of plants meant heathers, conifers and bedding plants became popular. The 70s saw another change, going back to the concept of gardens being used for self- sufficiency. Colour TV’s invention also saw the widespread airing of gardening programmes. 80s gardening became akin to what we are used to today, with gardens for recreation. BBQs and conservatories grew in popularity. By the 90s, this movement became more about the ‘makeover’ – with many people installing timber decking as a fast, affordable way to create a living space in their gardens. The digital revolution of the 2000s once again changed gardening. Now, information about growing and cultivating your own plants is everywhere, accessible through mobiles, desktops and tablets. A renewed focus on climate change and healthy eating has also meant more people are aiming to create sustainable gardens with minimal harm to the environment, using recycled materials in everything from plant pots to fencing. We have more information than ever before, but less space to try it out ourselves. For some, this means studying guides online and creating their own DIY fruit and vegetable gardens. For others, it means creating as much living space as they can in their shrinking gardens.

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