Putting a plant in soil and watching it grow is one of the pleasures of life. I live in a house with no garden but a small roof terrace that is packed with plants, from silver birches that shrug off the wind to giant hostas that thrive in a shady corner. At this time of year I stand on the terrace to have my coffee in the morning, and in the evening the first thing I do is check up on my miniature patch of greenery. It gets properly wild as the summer progresses and bees, birds and butterflies come in to land and take what they need. There’s something deeply relaxing and rewarding about making sure this small rooftop outcrop flourishes.
I see plenty of evidence that even here, in the heart of the city, I am not alone. There’s a school next to my house where children from the age of five get to plant out vegetable seeds and bulbs and watch as they thrust out of the soil. Odd patches around the base of trees have been kidnapped by granny guerrilla gardeners; there are plants balanced on windowsills; and olive trees stand on century duty at the entrances to apartment blocks. The church has a sign up asking for volunteers to help with its planting days. The desire to grow and nurture is widespread.
But it’s not the same story out in the suburbs, which were once the home of Britain’s keenest amateur gardeners. A report came out this week that says suburban houseowners have been busy not planting shrubs but rather paving over their front gardens so that they have somewhere to park their cars. Some three million front gardens have apparently been lost to the trend since 2005.
While the numbers are hard to verify (they come from a poll and after the UK election debacle we know that pollsters are not to be trusted), it certainly seems to be a trend.
Now while you cannot force people to pick up some secateurs or invest in a trowel, more fuss should be made of what is really being lost here. Gardening is therapeutic, it keeps us connected to the world of growing food and nature; it’s about science and beauty. It keeps our cities biodiverse.
We need more city gardens, not fewer. We need people to take over their roofs and grow produce. We need trees to clean the air. The only hope is that more schools get kids excited about growing their own vegetables and plant the seeds for a new generation of urban gardeners. Without some ambitious recruiting, city halls’ plans to green their cities with centrally run planting schemes will be undone by what’s happening on the ground. Come on, let’s dig for victory.
Andrew Tuck is Monocle’s editor.