Rock instead of lawn: harmful to the environment? The dispute over gravel gardens

Berlin (dpa) – Where you don’t necessarily expect it, the biologist Ulf Soltau has set a monument to the gravel garden. Thanks to him, long pebble beds run through the glossy Instagram platform. His account is called: “Gardens of Horror”.

  • In the test: Small folding saws are sufficient for occasional gardening
  • Not a mysterious disease: Plants get sunburned too
  • Plant a tree, save the world: Protect the climate as a hobby gardener
  • Herbs and beets from the garden: Now prepare the winter harvest in the vegetable patch
  • “Insect Summer”: Insect counting action by conservationists

When asked about his motivation, “Gardens of Horror” creator Soltau speaks of a “flood of photos of modern gravel gardens in glossy advertising brochures”. He wanted to counter the “lies of the advertising industry” that gravel gardens are easy to maintain “with the means of satire”. “I wanted to make them ridiculous and socially impossible,” says the author.

Sealing the soil prevents biodiversity

How many hectares of gravel gardens there are in Germany, according to the Federal Environment Ministry has “no reliable information”. A spokeswoman for the ministerial department of Federal Minister Svenja Schulze (SPD) emphasizes that in gravel gardens, because of the “sealing of the soil”, “few or no plant species” can be found and that they also “do not provide a basis for life and nutrition for animals”. A ban on this form of horticulture falls within the competence of the federal states.

In Baden-Württemberg, for example, gravel gardens are prohibited under the Nature Conservation Act and in Bremen and Hamburg under the building regulations. In the rest of the republic there are also some municipalities that would prohibit this form of horticulture, for example by means of development plans.

“Gravel gardens contradict every thought about the connection with nature”, it says from the nature conservation association Germany (Nabu) on dpa request. According to the Association for the Environment and Nature Conservation Germany (BUND), more flowering plants, shrubs and trees are needed in German gardens. These would provide food for insects and a habitat for other organisms. And even more: “Cities with the appropriate planting in gardens can provide cooling through evaporation and shade,” says BUND spokeswoman Corinna Hölzel. Gravel gardens, on the other hand, heat up strongly, especially in summer.

“Gardens of Horror” on Instagram

In the light to dark gray world of “Gardens of Horror”, the green of plants apparently has at most a decorative function. On one of the pictures Soltau collected, there is a pink watering can in a dark gray sea of ​​coarse stones. The watering can is cut open on the side, a bit of green on top – inside: even more stones.

The biologist wrote about the picture: “Artfully dissected plastic watering cans” would bring “a little joy and color to the front yard morgue”. More than 83,000 people follow his account on Instagram. Every month he receives a good 1,500 pictures of gravel gardens. “Shame is a powerful sociopolitical sword,” says Soltau.

In contrast, the legal situation with gravel gardens is vague in some places: In Baden-Württemberg, the gravel garden ban has actually been in place since 1995, according to the Ministry of the Environment by a spokesman for the ministry. With the “additional inclusion” in the Nature Conservation Act in summer 2020, the goal was merely “underlined” again.

Older gravel gardens remain permitted

One sees it differently in the Ländle at the Ministry of Economic Affairs: The “new regulation in the Nature Conservation Act” only affects the creation of gravel gardens since it came into force. “In our opinion, existing gravel gardens are therefore permitted before July 31, 2020,” said a spokeswoman. “Legally created gravel gardens enjoy grandfathering under building law.”

According to the Ministry of the Environment, gravel gardeners in the southwest do not have to fear high fines anyway. So far, one has refrained from creating a fine for violations of the corresponding paragraphs of the Nature Conservation Act, “because we want to rely primarily on understanding and not on coercion,” said the spokesman.

The city of Bremen is going a different way: “More in the three-digit range” there is a fine for creating gravel gardens, according to a spokesman for the environmental authority. The amount of the fine depends, for example, on the size of the gravel garden. In Hamburg, according to the authorities, those who do not comply with a dismantling request can expect a fine.

Even near-natural gardens require little maintenance

In the Berlin district of Charlottenburg, “Gardens of Horror” creator Soltau has his own “natural garden”. The plants that he has grown need “no special care”, as he emphasizes.

He does not understand that gravel gardens are considered to be easy to maintain in comparison. “Every now and then I go through the discounts and have to clean up something,” says Soltau. “And I don’t even see that as work.”