Shrink­ing vi­o­lets

How gar­dens have changed since ’88

The Weekend Australian - Magazine - - Outdoor Design -

Gar­dens are sub­ject to fash­ion fluc­tu­a­tions just like other aspects of our homes. But in the past 30 years, the most sig­nif­i­cant change fac­tor has been phys­i­cal. Our gar­dens have shrunk.

Un­til the late 1980s, houses in older sub­urbs typ­i­cally cov­ered only a third of the block and had back­yards of at least 150sqm, and of­ten much larger. New hous­ing con­struc­tion through the 1990s wrought dra­matic change, de­liv­er­ing more house and less gar­den. The av­er­age free­stand­ing house is about 30 per cent larger than it was 30 years ago, and has dou­ble the num­ber of bed­rooms of 20 years ago.

And while house sizes have peaked, gar­dens are likely to stay small. The min­i­mum re­quired land­scaped area varies by state and block size but is typ­i­cally 25-35 per cent of the site, and in some states that can in­clude paved ar­eas, ten­nis courts and pools.

The shrink­ing of our gar­dens has wide­spread con­se­quences. Small back­yards with big en­ter­tain­ing ar­eas mean loss of space for play – es­pe­cially ex­plo­rative, ac­tive play – as well as re­duced tree cover, loss of bio­di­ver­sity, in­creased stormwa­ter run-off and hot­ter mi­cro­cli­mates that re­quire more en­ergy-guz­zling air con­di­tion­ing to keep houses cool. It’s a trade-off many are happy to make as chil­dren’s leisure time is struc­tured into things like sports train­ing and adults are too busy to spend time gar­den­ing.

The way we view our gar­dens has changed, too. The high-rat­ing TV show Burke’s Back­yard started its 17-year run in 1987, fol­lowed by Gar­den­ing Aus­tralia in 1990 and Bet­ter Homes and Gar­dens in 1996. No doubt these shows opened our eyes to a wider range of pos­si­bil­i­ties for our gar­dens. We learnt about cre­at­ing themed gar­dens, from Bali trop­i­cal to Tus­can to Ja­panese, hand in hand with our na­tion’s grow­ing mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism and love of in­ter­na­tional travel.

Then re­al­ity TV show Back­yard Blitz pushed the gar­den makeover into the main­stream. Un­for­tu­nately it pro­moted the idea that haste is

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