The grass is greener

June is the time when your lawn will be look­ing at its best. Sue Bradley gives her tips for keep­ing it look­ing in top con­di­tion

Living France - - Ala Maison -

Whether it’s an emer­ald pelouse sur­round­ing a château or a painstak­ingly striped sward be­hind a coun­try rec­tory, one thing that the French and English have in com­mon is an abid­ing love for a lush green lawn.

Sum­mer is the time when these grassy ar­eas come into their own, pro­vid­ing a place to sit, play games or sim­ply lie on a blan­ket.

The prac­tice of cul­ti­vat­ing ar­eas of short grass has been around for hun­dreds of years, both for de­fen­sive rea­sons and sports use, although his­to­ri­ans credit lawns as we know them to­day to the 1700s and in­no­va­tions such as An­dré Le Nôtre’s ‘ tapis verts’ – green car­pets – within the gar­dens of Ver­sailles.

Un­til the 19th cen­tury, the task of main­tain­ing these dec­o­ra­tive ar­eas was ex­tremely labour-in­ten­sive, with reg­u­lar scyth­ing or graz­ing by an­i­mals needed to keep them in check, and this meant that lawns were gen­er­ally the pre­serve of the wealthy.

This was to change with the in­ven­tion of the lawn­mower in Glouces­ter­shire in 1830, af­ter which short grass be­came a more fa­mil­iar el­e­ment of gar­dens be­long­ing to peo­ple from all walks of life.

June is gen­er­ally the month when lawns should be look­ing their best, with reg­u­lar cut­ting and feed­ing be­ing all that’s needed to keep them look­ing good.

The se­cret of mow­ing is lit­tle and of­ten: avoid cut­ting the grass too short as this can weaken the plants and cause shal­low root­ing, lead­ing to moss, weeds and lower tol­er­ance of droughts. In­stead, set the cut­ting height higher and mow twice a week if nec­es­sary.

Feed should be ap­plied when con­di­tions are cool and moist. If rain is in short sup­ply, wa­ter ev­ery few days.

Even the best-main­tained lawns can de­velop bare patches, a prob­lem eas­ily reme­died by rak­ing over the area and sow­ing grass seed. Wa­ter these ar­eas well and net them to keep birds away.

Other fac­tors af­fect­ing the ap­pear­ance of lawns in­clude moss, which usu­ally oc­curs on ar­eas that are damp and poorly drained. Re­move it in au­tumn or spring by vig­or­ously rak­ing af­fected patches of ground.

Weeds can be an ir­ri­tant as they com­pete with grass for mois­ture and nu­tri­ents and many peo­ple con­sider them un­sightly, although oth­ers re­gard the sight of daisies pok­ing their heads through the grass is a source of plea­sure. A per­fect sward is more likely if grass is reg­u­larly fed, aer­ated, raked to re­move moss and mown, all of which en­cour­ages vigour and makes it more dif­fi­cult for these op­por­tunists to gain a foot hold.

Use a hand fork to dig out ‘rosette’ types such as dan­de­lion and daisy, and clovers, and, if weeds are a big prob­lem, look for chem­i­cal con­trols.

As sum­mer leads to au­tumn, make the most of the op­por­tu­nity to treat wear and tear while the tem­per­a­tures are still warm enough to en­cour­age newly sown seed to ger­mi­nate.

Rake lawns well to re­move ‘thatch’, which can in­clude old grass stems and moss, and drive a gar­den fork into ar­eas of com­pacted soil in or­der to al­low air and mois­ture to reach the roots. Top dress­ing with a mix of loam, sand and com­post is also worth­while.

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