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Confession: I’m quite a fan of gardening programmes. It’s probably a form of escapism, but they’re so relaxing to watch, so comforting in a way! Especially Monty Don on BBC’s Gardener’s World, with his soft voice, calm manner, cups of tea and golden retrievers.

By Luke Strickland

Greening the Grey

Whilst watching a gardening programme the other week a phrase caught my attention: ‘Greening the Grey’. This is the slogan of a Royal Horticultural Society campaign to encourage people not to pave over their front gardens with hard ‘grey’ materials, like concrete, asphalt and block paving, but to keep them green instead, or to be more creative when making them more functional.

I can understand the main reasons why people pave over their drives. It provides more car parking and needs less maintenance for starters, but there are some negative cumulative impacts to more and more of us doing so. It’s pretty lifeless for starters, removing habitat and becoming a barrier between soil and sky.

I’m an environmental consultant these days, but I started out as a civil engineer, so I appreciate both our traditional ‘grey’ infrastructure as well as our ‘green’ infrastructure. We need both, but we need to even out the balance, and there are ways to make our existing infrastructure more sustainable.

There’s a real push these days to increase our green infrastructure, to green the grey, on both small and large scales.  Urban creep, such as all those paved gardens, increases rainfall runoff, which can contribute to local flooding. There’s also the urban heat island effect – hard materials retain heat for longer leading to hotter temperatures both day and night.

Conversely green infrastructure provides habitat, urban cooling, and rainwater storage, infiltration and treatment. There are also documented health benefits when we spend time in green areas compared to living in a concrete jungle. Overall our ecosystems need more green and less grey for the health of all involved – there’s more life when there’s more green, something I’m passionate about.

A Lawn Revived

We had some building work undertaken last year and it’s fair to say that our front lawn took a bit of a battering from our builders. It got buried beneath demolition rubble, got used for material storage, got dug up and got clogged with cement.

By the end of the build, although we had a shiny new extension (on the footprint of previous hard areas before you ask!), we didn’t have much grass left at the front.

In spring I raked it all over and sowed new grass seed, and even when this had grown there were still gaps in which I’ve had to sow further seed.

It’s been satisfying seeing it come back to life though, especially one hot and wet week in which it grew about five inches in height after I’d applied lawn feed the previous weekend. It would have been easier to pave it all over, less work, but I’m glad I’ve coaxed it back to life. It’s worth it even just for the steady supply of dandelion leaves for my daughter’s guinea pig.

New Shoots Through the Concrete

There are plenty of times in life when we might feel like on old lawn – churned up or trampled on by events or people in our life. Perhaps there are parts of our life, which we’ve chosen to pave over rather than deal with the maintenance needed.

Perhaps our hearts have become hard or cynical through rejection, disappointment or abuse. Barriers have grown up which have suffocated the life out. We’ve gone grey.

Maybe it’s a dream, or a relationship, or a skill that we’ve paved over to make way for something else, but in the process we’ve lost some of the life associated with it.

I don’t know what it is for you. Maybe you don’t have any grey areas. Whatever it is, there’s always opportunity to sow new seed or to apply some feed. It doesn’t take much to green the grey.

Ironically I noticed my first grey hair the other day, which came as quite a shock. Although the fact that I’ve made it to my late 30s without noticing any is quite an achievement in my opinion. Now I have noticed quite a few more!

The good news it, grey isn’t the end. Life begins! And like the greening of our grey infrastructure, there’s plenty of green, plenty of life that can be added. So don’t pave over you garden, literally or metaphorically! Sow some fresh seed and feed your existing green shoots. It’s time to green the grey!

This thought piece is post number #4 in our ‘Wisdom from Our Network’ series written by Environmental Consultant Luke Strickland. Luke has two books available to download – Sight Lines: Clearer Vision, Closer Dreams and Life Space: Give Your Dreams Room To Grow.