Suburban is not Urban
I have a bit of a bug-bear on the way suburban gardens are represented in garden media. If you pick up any selection of gardening magazines you will find the usual selection of large country gardens and small chic city gardens, often courtyards, or community gardens, or people growing vegetables in small spaces – which are loosely termed urban gardens. These are not suburban gardens. I live in suburbia and I do not recognise them as gardens I am likely to encounter in this environment. This month’s RHS The Garden magazine has the theme of urban gardens. I muttered on Twitter about suburban gardens never being featured in magazines and I was told by the editor of the magazine that the rules are the same for urban and suburban – really?
I suppose you could argue that suburban gardens are small and therefore the same rules apply but this does not take into account that suburban gardens do not generally benefit from the micro-climates you get in cities; they don’t have the same levels of noise and other pollution; they are often more open gardens which means they can suffer from wind damage and other extremes of weather; they often have large front gardens which they might not be allowed to have fences or hedges around; they can be all manner of strange shapes due to the idiosyncrasies of the housing development planners. They have their own set of issues and their own benefits. So No the same rules do not apply.
A large part of suburbia is made up of housing estates, such as the one I live in. They do not feel the same as walking down any road in a city even in the residential areas on the outskirts. Houses on older estates often have good size front gardens with the driveway to one side – when do you ever see an article in a magazine looking at these. These front gardens, like mine, are like the front room my grandparents had, areas which are kept nice but never used. Gardens can be a myriad of shapes – yes many are long and thin like urban gardens, but you have wide and short gardens (like mine), or triangular plots or even strange irregular pentagon shaped gardens and there are never articles on how to address such shapes. Or maybe the garden wraps around the house if you have a nice generous corner plot, again nothing. And then there is the sloping garden which hasn’t been ironed out by the town and city planners and when do you ever see any sensible practical advice on dealing with a slope without spending vast sums on hard landscape, contractors and designers – if we had that sort of money we would probably be living in the countryside and be interested in different articles!
And that brings me to another difference between suburban and the urban and country gardens that are featured in the garden media – funds. Time and again you read an article about a country garden and you read about the acreage, a small garden is an acre, and how the owner works with the gardener to create this or that, and how they removed the woodland or extended into the neighbouring fields etc etc etc. Or how this urban garden was created with the help of this designer or that designer or the other extreme how this community or gardener created everything out of nothing – there is apparently no middle ground in the urban garden.
What about the suburban garden? How many of them have been designed by a designer or are maintained by a regular gardener pretty few I suspect. They are the expression of many people who are passionate about plants, or love their gardens, who draw inspiration from the urban gardens and country acres they see featured and maybe visit and then create their very own special mix and match style of garden but do they ever see anything they can relate directly to in the media – rarely.
I wondered if it is because suburban gardens aren’t visited much and therefore the great ones aren’t known about. I sense that they are under-represented in schemes such as the NGS as the owners may think that they cannot meet the 45 minutes of interest criteria. I notice that many garden magazines seem to rely on the NGS guide for gardens to feature which is a pity as it means the diversity and excitement that is out there in the whole gardening world is missed.
And that is what the garden media world hasn’t noticed, suburban garden are equally as interesting and fascinating as their alternatives. We might not be creating wacky gardens on rooftops or growing vegetables in strange pots down an alleyway or lounging of an evening around a fire pit in our designed outside room. We might not be creating a border for a specific season, or a wildflower meadow where the tennis court was, or planting an orchard. We are however, taking the best of all of these, distilling them into key elements and we are quietly working away creating beautiful spaces and growing amazing plants.
Surely it is about time that the suburban garden was given as much print and air time as other gardens instead of this passionate suburban gardener flicking through a magazine and not finding anything to relate to.