Should we persevere with maintaining a lawn or try something completely different …
Before the lawnmower was invented, nearly 200 years ago, only the aristocracy could afford the manpower to keep a lawn. Prior to its invention you needed an army of men with scythes and shears to keep your grass trim. Since, the lawn has become both the backdrop to and more often than not the centrepiece of the majority of our gardens. Undoubtedly a well-managed lawn adds to a house’s overall appeal. But in order to achieve even a half decent lawn, you need a certain level of dedication, regular feeding along with weed and moss control plus cutting every seven days during the growing season. While growth does slow down towards the autumn you should not put the mower away until you do one more trim before Christmas.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, home owners faced with this commitment might look for an alternative to the lawn. Eager to reduce the use of chemicals and precious amounts of water, it is better for the environment to garden with nature in mind. Formerly the bane of a manicured lawn, the dandelion is now an unsung hero and saviour of the bees. If you have the space and your garden is big enough consider transitioning the lawn, or at least some of it. Allow an area of lawn to grow out taller, add a mown path through the longer grass and you have a more natural informal area within the garden. Along with less maintenance this might be the best spot to hide the trampoline. You can continue to keep an area of closely cut lawn close to the house for some formal effect.
In smaller gardens, why bother with a lawn at all? Think beyond accepted tradition and do away with the grass. Without grass your garden will look bigger, you can include more areas to sit and develop the planting or you can build some raised beds for salads and herbs. It amazes me just how many people try to convince themselves that by keeping a threadbare, worn patchy sod out the back of their suburban home they are keeping in touch with their country origins or Grandad’s farm. In these situations I’m okay with using artificial grass. With great improvements in range and much better quality, synthetic grass has come a long way from shop displays and the butcher’s window. Dry shade, children’s play or games areas and helping to prevent he dog from bringing dirt into the house are all practical reasons for considering artificial turf. Just don’t get carried away and start rolling it out everywhere.
A further way to reduce or cut back on the lawn is to make a Dry Garden, also known as a gravel garden. These are more popular in warmer climates where rain is scarce and watering expensive (as well as being frowned upon). This low-water style of growing works very well, even in our climate. Forget what you know or how you imagine plants growing in ugly grey gravel, dry gardens are nothing like those harsh landscapes, where the pebble has been flung down over unprepared ground and peppered with unsuitable plants that don’t belong together. Once established, a gravel garden is low maintenance and needs little or no watering in our climate. There are a huge range of pebbles to choose from. You can use contrasting sizes with warmer colours complementing your plant choices. If you are a fan of Mediterranean plants you will have a great time combining soft grey foliage plants such as Lavender and Santolina with garden favourites such as Euphorbia, Salvia and fragrant Thymes. Good drainage is essential for a dry garden and if you have a heavy clay soil, digging in organic matter and grit will improve the soil for planting.
If, however, you feel a garden without a quintessential lawn is not a garden and buying yet another gadget for the garden appeals to someone you know, I recommend holding onto the grass for a while longer and buying that four-wheel drive robot mower he’s being eyeing up.
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