This browser is not fully supported by Historic England. Please update your browser to the latest version so that you get the best from our website.

I Want to Alter the Area Around My House

Most older houses have at least a back yard or garden, and many have front gardens to separate the house from the street. Large or small, this outdoor space provides the setting for your house - the surroundings that allow it to be appreciated and add to its interest.

Three adjoining red brick cottages with red tiled roofs, on a sloping road, each roof higher than the one to the right. The sash windows have white wooden frames and the middle cottage's front garden is full of low shrubs such as lavender

Discovering the historic layout for your garden

If you live in a town or city, even a small outside space may have historic features – boundary walls, gates and railings, paths, trees and hedges. There may be even older features that pre-date your house. The pattern of hedges and walls along the street can create a distinctive and often admired leafy linear feature. 

Your garden is an important element of this landscape. The care and upkeep of period features, and even reinstatement, will strengthen the character of your home and even the choice of plants and planting style can help evoke the period. In the country, gardens are often larger, with interesting outbuildings or garden structures, and perhaps traces of former kitchen gardens and fruit trees. 

Looking at your street and neighbourhood may give you clues about the original layout, features , planting and traditional materials like flint and brick, panelled brickwork, or drystone walls.  If you live in a conservation area, your local authority may have carried out a Conservation Area Appraisal, which could provide further information.

Old photographs and maps can be helpful too. For more research ideas see Your Home's History.  Books on period homes will give you ideas about front gardens and planting styles.

Looking along a row of identical railings from the pavement outside the steps of a Victorian terraced house. The steps are tiled in a black and white diamond pattern.

Consents and permissions

You may need consent to make changes to the area round your house. If your house is listed, structures in the garden such as walls and outbuildings are usually also protected, so you may need consent before you remove or alter them.

Major landscaping or engineering work usually needs planning permission. Your local authority has to take into account the effect of such work on the area, particularly if your house is listed or in a conservation area.

New parking space

You need planning permission to lower the kerb in front of your house, and to use impermeable materials such as concrete for the parking space. You may also need consent if you want to take down a wall (see section below).

The government has issued guidance on parking on front gardens because this can exacerbate rainwater run-off leading to flooding. The government's Planning Portal provides guidance on the rules about paving front gardens. The Royal Horticultural Society provides ideas for greening front gardens and creating car parking space.

Walls and boundaries

If your house is listed, or you are in a conservation area, you are likely to need consent to remove all or part of the front wall. Boundary structures are often as old as your house, and walls and railings have historic and architectural value. Some boundaries and gateways are listed in their own right. Repair is usually better than replacement, and keeping old gates, fences and walls will conserve the character of your house, garden and the street.

If you intend to build a new wall or fence, you need planning permission if your house is listed, or if it’s required by an Article 4 Direction in a conservation area. For other situations, you need permission for anything over one metre high next to a public highway or over two metres high elsewhere. There is more information on the government's Planning Portal: Fences, Walls and Gates.

Trees

If you want to cut down or lop a tree protected by a tree preservation order (TPO) or a tree in a conservation area you must notify your local planning authority first. If you are worried that a tree is endangering your house, a tree professional can assess the tree’s condition, or check that the roots are not a problem.

Think about wildlife and avoid work to trees and hedges in the nesting season. Some animal species are protected, and you will need advice if bats might be affected. For information on trees and hedges see the government's Planning Portal: Trees and Hedges.

A thatched front porch to a stone-built cottage, with dark wooden posts, hanging baskets and shrubs lining the path to the house

Historic gardens and archaeology

The most important historic gardens and landscapes in England are registered and included in the National Heritage List for England (NHLE). There are over 1,650 sites.

Their special interest is taken into account in making decisions about planning applications. Other gardens can be locally important and may be on your authority’s local list or local register of historic gardens.

If your garden is important for its historic design or archaeology, find out more about it before planning alterations.

If you live in an area where there is important archaeology and you intend to make changes to your garden, first check with your local planning authority or Historic England to see if it is on the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens or designated as a scheduled monument and whether any controls apply - for example, where works such as earth-moving/landscaping is being proposed.

More advice on looking after historic parks and gardens is provided in our technical guidance.

If you’d like to find out more about historic parks and gardens in your local area and get involved in research why not join your county gardens trust .

Was this page helpful?

Area Round Your Home Image Gallery

Please click on the gallery images to enlarge.

  • Front view of 5M houses in Sheffield with low brick garden walls and neat flower beds.
  • Victorian terraced houses in Haringey, with low walls, some overgrown hedges and satellite dishes.
  • Webb Estate, Woodcote, London showing houses surrounded by high hedges and leafy trees which screen them from the road.
  • The Oval, Garden Village, Kingston upon Hull showing a communal green space and semi-detached houses with neat hedges.
  • Terraced houses in Woolwich, London, with gated and paved front areas.
  • Row of cottages, some thatched, with small front gardens and drystone walls
  • Alexandra Road Estate, Camden, London, where the flat roofs of the stepped design provide private outdoor space for each flat.
  • Terraced houses on Latchmere Road, Battersea, with front hedges of varying sizes and shapes.
  • Front area of house showing paved car parking space and carefully shaped trees and hedges.
  • Garden of corner house in Westfield Memorial Village, Lancashire showing shaped hedges and trees.
  • Houses on Broad Dean, Milton Keynes, showing neat front spaces and bin storage which meet the access footpath.

Also of interest...