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Why are our lawns being replaced by decking?

Garden decking

British lawns are rapidly reducing, with homeowners opting to deck or pave their gardens instead. So what’s the reason behind the disappearance – lack of knowledge, time – or just plain laziness?

A couple of weeks ago I was invited around to a friend’s new garden flat in south London.

I was rather surprised to find that the ‘garden’ was entirely made up of some slippery decking with gravel around its edge. There wasn’t a plant in sight.

Gardens turn from green to grey

If a recent survey is anything to go by, my friend’s new garden is not unusual. The London Wildlife Trust has revealed that London is slowly turning from green to grey. Hard surfacing in gardens – including decking and paving – has increased by over 25% over eight years. That’s an equivalent of two-and-a-half Hyde Parks per year.

And it looks like this trend isn’t confined to London. According to the lawn care company, Green Thumb, an estimated half a million lawns have been lost in the UK in the last 25 years to make way for decking and for off-street parking for cars.

The London Wildlife Trust says that gardens are essential for wildlife and urban drainage, and the importance of gardens is something that even the government recognises. Since 2008 anyone wanting to pave over more than five square meters of their front garden must get planning permission, unless they use permeable materials such as gravel or porous asphalt.

Are we too lazy to look after our lawns?

Is it because decking is still perceived as being contemporary and trendy – a hangover from the Ground Force days in the Nineties? Or is it because we just can’t be bothered to garden, and paving and decking are the ultimate low-maintenance options?

A clue may be found in the Horticultural Trades Association’s 2011 Garden Intentions survey. It found that many younger consumers claim that they ‘don’t have enough time to spend looking after their gardens’ despite their aspirations to use them more for socialising and entertaining.

This is a point that Colin Crosbie, Curator of RHS Garden Wisley, spoke about on Radio 4’s Today programme this week:

‘Lawns are an important part of the garden. We need them to be able to sit somewhere and enjoy our flowers and barbeques. And they needn’t be as high maintenance as people think. We are concerned with the trend to pave over lawns. We need to look at this development very carefully.’

And I think Alan Titchmarsh has a point too. He recently told Amateur Gardening magazine that he thinks some people are a ‘bit scared’ of their gardens and believe there is a ‘mystique’ around the growing of plants. So maybe that’s why they’re slowly disappearing?


It might be related to lack of light and space. I lived in Haarlem in Holland and every house had a paved or bedecked (?) garden, there were no lawns to be seen anywhere, yet the houses were so close together that the height of fences meant that no lawns received natural light for a decent amount of time every day.

We complain about people paving over floodplains, but the Netherlands is one massive floodplain. As long as the drainage works, which in the Netherlands it certainly does, there isn’t the issue the environmentalists would have you believe.

I also think that not everyone is a gardener. I personally love the natural world, but I am not a gardener.

I find this sad. Gardens can make such a difference to people’s wellbeing and yet many people either leave them to grow over or deck the whole lot. I’m actually trying to do the opposite in my garden – we inherited a garden with lots of paving and only a bit of grass and I’d love to put more grass down – but it’s such a lot of work to dig out all the paving and replace with turf that it keeps going to the bottom of our to-do list!

Damn Young says:
18 July 2011

Lawns are an invention, not natural.
Forever mowing them is a bind, and they deteriorate with weeds and ant activity, and cat mess (other people’s).
I replaced mine with a swimming pool.
Mow it, or swim in it, a no brainer.

I’m in favour of plants and trees – My neighbours prefer planking because they are lazy – My garden is full of birds , animals and insects – wonderful to see and hear. An oasis in a desert of planks. It doesn’t take much work to keep tidy

claire says:
11 July 2012

When i can afford decking,im planning on decking my garden,because my garden has got clay in it,and it ends up like a swamp,when it rains.Any ideas on where to buy cheep decking………

Any good and bad experiences with “quality” decking? I want to replace my cheap one (bought from my local timber yard) for a good looking, hardwearing one.

The problem with cheap decking is that it wears badly. Do remember when fitted that it needs a drainage angle otherwise it will become quickly slippery. The cost to clean a cheap decking is to be considered as well. That is quite a bit of maintenance to ensure the prevention of accidents.

Willi says:
30 May 2015

The article is about replacing lawns with decking or paving…..not covering the whole garden. It is possible to have a good garden design with plenty of space to grow plants and have no lawn. Just take a look at some old courtyard gardens to see this. I am quite a keen gardener in that I like to have lots of plants that give me interest the year round. It also makes for a more pleasant place to sit when the bees are buzzing around and the hover flies are……….well hovering. Birds and bees and even toads are a regular welcome sight in the garden but there is no lawn in sight. You can have clever planting that is easy to care for, good to look at and fills the air with scent and have a pleasant place to sit but there is no need for a grass lawn.