Over the fence: the case against lawns

Are the days num­bered for the Great Bri­tish lawn?

Gardeners' World - - Contents -

Is hav­ing a lawn sim­ply un­sus­tain­able in our chang­ing cli­mate and times?

The per­fect green lawn, man­i­cured and tak­ing pride of place, must surely be a thing of the past. Of course, we’ll al­ways need ar­eas of a green soft sur­face, but do we need any­where near as much of it, and will it be a very dif­fer­ent type of green in the fu­ture? One of the most strik­ing things about the great brown­ing off of the na­tion’s lawns in the heat­wave of this sum­mer was that the only things that re­mained green were rosettes of tap-rooted wild­flow­ers (or weeds as most peo­ple call them!) among the bleached grass. There’s the clue – let’s go for di­verse flow­er­ing lawns and drop the pris­tine emer­ald car­pet. And why not go a step fur­ther? The eas­i­est way to make a beau­ti­ful wild­flower meadow is to plant tough, ro­bust, pot-grown

ex­ist­ing lawn and stop mow­ing it. They don’t

have to be just na­tive

wild­flow­ers. In fact, all you need to do is make this look as won­der­ful as pos­si­ble for as long as pos­si­ble, so don’t be a purist about what is or isn’t a ‘wild­flower’. In my front gar­den this year, I used cowslips, hardy gera­ni­ums, shasta daisies and Iris sibir­ica – I didn’t have to do a thing to it and it looked great! There’s a huge range of bulbs that you can use be­yond the usual nar­cis­sus, and a cut at the end of sum­mer is all that’s re­quired. Keep­ing up the ap­pear­ance of the tra­di­tional lawn is one of the most un­sus­tain­able things about gar­den­ing – all that wa­ter, en­ergy, chem­i­cals and time re­quired. I’d al­ways want to re­place green with green, and not with ster­ile hard sur­faces. So, get lib­er­ated from the chore of the weekly lawn cut and im­merse your­self in a sump­tu­ous di­ver­sity of flow­ers in­stead.

Let’s go for di­verse flow­er­ing lawns plants into your and drop the pris­tine emer­ald car­pet

Dur­ing pe­ri­ods of in­tense heat or drought, the lawn is of­ten the first thing to suf­fer. How­ever, a chang­ing cli­mate isn’t just about dry spells of weather, but also ex­treme con­di­tions, and for­tu­nately a healthy lawn is a hardy stal­wart of the gar­den. Just as it will spring back to life af­ter drought, it is in­cred­i­bly ca­pa­ble of cop­ing with wa­ter­log­ging, and other un­usual or se­vere weather, such as cold and fluc­tu­at­ing tem­per­a­tures. As gar­den­ers, we are used to the ebb and flow of the gar­den per­for­mance in re­la­tion to weather, and the lawn is of­ten seen as the heart of the gar­den. It’s the ‘liv­ing fit­ted car­pet’, home to sun­bathing, picnics, gar­den games, and some­where to lie and read a good book. Walk­ing on a lawn in bare feet in the sum­mer is a spe­cial feel­ing, as is the smell of freshly cut grass. Who is ready to give up ei­ther of those things? I ap­pre­ci­ate a green lawn as a per­fect foil to show off the rest of the gar­den, a re­li­able zen where more colour­ful plants can bil­low; a crisp bor­der edge where the grass sets a vis­ual break be­fore the chaos of a planted bor­der. Even in the depths of win­ter, a lawn cov­ered in a heavy frost is a vis­ual treat, again, a foil for the win­ter gar­den scene.

So, per­haps as gar­den­ers

we need to learn to re­lax if the lawn goes brown while

we await rain, and use it

as an op­por­tu­nity to spot pesky broad-leaved weeds such as dan­de­lions and plan­tains, which al­ways be­come vis­i­ble against brown grass, and grub them out to be re­warded with a fresh, weed-free lawn once the rain re­turns. Per­haps even cel­e­brate by mow­ing some stripes across it – some­thing ev­ery gar­dener must try their hand at, at least once!

Walk­ing on a lawn in bare feet in sum­mer is a spe­cial feel­ing

Matthew Pot­tage is cu­ra­tor of RHS Gar­den Wis­ley

Nigel Dun­nett is a pro­fes­sor at The Univer­sity of Sh­effield’s depart­ment of land­scape

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