Over the fence: the case against lawns
Are the days numbered for the Great British lawn?
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