Lawns cut as global warming hits the traditional garden

By Jonathan Owen

The meticulously manicured lawn, a defining feature of our gardens for centuries, is about to be mown down by the latest trend.

Exotic gardens, featuring a wealth of ways to beat Britain's pervasive drought, are set to dominate this year's Chelsea Flower Show.

Only one out of the 19 show gardens being unveiled next month will have any semblance of the traditional English lawn.

And, in a departure from the past, where variations on European gardens have reigned supreme, 2006's show gardens include those from or inspired by Australia, Africa, New Zealand, the USA, a prehistoric landscape and even a gorilla enclosure.

The average British trowel-wielder, devoted in their own backyards to traditional cottage-type planting, is in for a bit of a shock. Drought-resistant plants and water conservation will dominate at Chelsea - and an awful lot of concrete.

The New Zealand entry, backed by the tourist organisation 100 Per Cent Pure, was inspired by the west coast of Auckland. It features a series of small rivers, waterfalls, lakes and natural streams.

The Australian garden has slow-growing native grass trees, and an African garden showing how you can harvest and recycle water, plus a garden celebrating plants from around the world, as well as the "Walking Barefoot with Bradstone" display, with water collection channels in the walls of the garden.

Bob Sweet, organiser of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, said: "We are delighted with the ingenuity shown by some of the designers who have included water conservation within their designs. Olives, palms, grasses and even cacti are in abundance in the gardens at this year's show."

Graham Pockett, designer of the Gorilla's Jungle Garden, said: "We are moving away from the traditional English garden and I think it is a good thing that the old idea of a sprinkler to keep the English lawn going is becoming less and less acceptable."

For Alan Capper, one of the creators of GardenAfrica, it is all about making every drop of water count: "Water harvesting is crucial, collecting as much as possible that we can then use to irrigate the garden."

Water-efficient gardening is nothing new. Southern Water's Bewl Water Reservoir in Kent has established a garden designed to deal with a globally warmed Britain which has not been watered in six years.

Its creator and award-winning landscape designer Rod Chism said: "I do think the days of the English lawn are numbered; it is just not an economical use of water. Exotic gardens are the direction that we are going in."

But garden designer Chris Beardshaw says he "cannot see lawns becoming a thing of the past. They are an integral part of any English garden."

Britain is set to suffer its worst drought this summer for more than 100 years. The Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, is supporting the promotion of a dry garden, complete with artificial lawn.

Even the Chelsea Show is not immune from the shortages. For the first time in its history, exhibitors will be subject to a voluntary hose-pipe ban.

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