How gardens have changed since ’88
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