The Beauty of a Garden Lawn

A garden with a lawn

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The beauties of a lawn are so self-evident that few people ever stop to ask themselves what is the point of a lawn. In fact there are several points that combine to make a lawn one of the most important features of any garden. In the first place it is green, the most restful colour in the whole spectrum: this quiet quality in a lawn is the ideal foil for the riotous, exciting colours of the flower border.

It is also a way of creating vistas. It was the great English landscape gardener ‘Capability’ Brown who used smooth-rolling sweeps of grass to lead the eye away into the distance. Not only can the lawn lead the eye away to beds and borders and distant trees, it can be the perfect foil for features within it.

Bulbs planted in the lawn will not interfere with mowing, if they are kept to one corner.

Specimen trees; it can be the perfect foil for features within it. When planted in a lawn. Isolated beds in formal patterns and shapes set in a lawn are extremely effective if well kept and carefully edged. On the other hand curved edges, provided they are not too sharp, are easier to mow particularly with motor mowers, and curving lawn edges may be used for those eye-leading effects or just to break up a long monotonous straight line.

Lawns are also places where people relax in the sun during their leisure, or where children play. Lawns may also be used for games, such as croquet, clock golf or tennis. Many people turn over areas to lawns because they just have no wish to do anything else with the space at the moment. Very often they may think they can save labour by doing this, and it is true that a piece of grass can be kept fairly neat-looking without doing very much except mowing.

Your lawn will probably combine several uses. Its shape and position will be decided also by such considerations as the layout of paths and access to other parts of the garden. It will be planned to take account of the positions of established trees, the view from the house and road, rock garden features, ornaments, slopes and levels and the size of the garden as a whole.

The first thing to appreciate about a lawn is that it is composed of living, growing plants that need just as much care and attention as any other living, growing plant. Most of the problems that people have with lawns arise from their failure to appreciate this simple fact.

Many of the troubles which affects lawns can be avoided thorough preparation of the site, which should always be done properly even if the ground has already been cultivated. It is always much more difficult to correct a badly made lawn than to see that the soil and drainage conditions are correct in the first place.

The preparations for a lawn whether by tuning or seeding are roughly the same. If the site is at a new house the effects of the builders’ work including debris and disturbed sub-soil must be removed before a start can be made. A regular 6-inch layer of top-soil will be needed for the finished lawn, and on sites that have been cleared by the builders it may be necessary to buy in soil. Such soil may also be used to achieve a level grade, as it is likely to make for irregular growth if you denude one area of soil in order to fill up a hollow in another. When constructing terraces or making other changes involving considerable movements of earth it is best to remove the top-soil altogether, make the required levels with the sub-soil and then return the top-soil. Levels are easily made by laying a straight edge with spirit level on pegs set into the ground at convenient intervals.

Good drainage is essential to a lawn, and according to the heaviness and stickiness of the soil and sub-soil you should consider whether land tile draining pipes may be necessary, either in the form of a single pipeline or with lateral pipes stemming from the main pipeline, which empties into a soak-away, or preferably, a drain. In most cases of clayey soil it will be sufficient to fork in gypsum at the rate of 1/2 lb. per square yard after deep digging. If you decide that land tiles are needed to make a piped drain, cover them with gravel or cinders below the level of the topsoil.

Ideally, after the preliminary digging, the ground should be allowed to over-winter. This helps to settle the soil and leaves it ready to work in the drier spring weather. However, most gardeners like to get on with tasks once started and by hoeing and raking they will break up the clods and level the surface while keeping an eagle eye out for weeds. Going over the ground with the heel of your boot to feel out and consolidate soft spots is known as ‘heeling’. There is no real need to use a heavy roller; a light roller such as may be found on the back of modern hand mowers should be all that is needed. During the soil preparation the surface may be improved with plenty of sand (builder’s sand is cheap if not perfect) if the soil is heavy, or peat and well-rotted compost if the land is light. Peat may also be included with the sand on heavy soils. Almost any amount of sand or grit, and peat at 7 lbs. per square yard, will be suitable for heavy clay, and over 14 lbs. per square yard of manure or well-rotted compost and the same amount of peat will help light soils. A proprietary lawn fertiliser may also be added at this stage. When you have raked and double-raked and gently firmed out every bump and hollow you are ready to sow or turf.

Turf or Seed?

The great advantage of turf is that it gets off to a quicker start than seed. Late autumn and winter (when no frost is about) are the best times for turfing. It can be done in the spring if there is not too much drought, and even in the summer provided mechanical water spraying is kept going almost permanently during the day in dry weather. Turf is simple to lay, requires less fine preparation of the soil and is usually more robust against the ravages of weather, disease and garden pests, such as birds. Despite these advantages, seed is cheaper and easy to obtain at high quality. There is a British Standard for turf, but even the most excellent turf will deteriorate in places where it was not intended to grow. Seed sowing is limited to the period August-September, or spring or even early summer when the dangers of drought and competi-tion from weeds are greater.


When ordering turves ask for the names of the grasses they contain. These should be fine quality bents and fescues for an ornamental lawn. They should be free of weeds and disease. If not regularly 1-1/2 inches thick, put them upside down in a box of standard thickness and slice off the extra soil with a two-handled shear or a carving knife.

Turves may come in 1-square-foot sizes, or 1 ft x 2 ft, or 1 ft x 3 ft. Do not pile them but keep them flat until laid. Keep in mind the pattern made by bricks in a wall when laying turves and you will not go wrong. Do not forget to rake in a final dressing of a compound fertiliser before laying the turves, and use planks to prevent heavy treading on the newly-laid lawn. Start from a corner of the site. Use a garden line for straight sections and cut curving edges with a half-moon edger once the turf is laid, using a hosepipe to give good, graceful curves. Make sure the turves are set as close together as possible and topdress with sandy soil afterwards to fill in gaps between turves. Hollows should be filled up with this top-dressing, and mounds levelled by removing soil under the turves. Further top-dressings may be given when growth begins and the regular programme of maintenance is being followed.


A finer tilth is needed for seeding and a complete garden fertiliser must be mixed with the raked soil a few days beforehand. Grass seed can be bought ready-mixed or you can mix your own. You will need about 2 ozs. to the square yard and some in reserve for areas that may need to be reseeded.

Some special dwarf varieties of grass are now available which require less mowing. The following are suggested for various types of lawn. In general, the best grasses, fescues and bents, germinate more slowly than rye grass or meadow grass.

Before sowing, rake the site so that the tiny furrows will catch the seed. You can soak the seed in a mild solution of antiseptic to put off birds and mix it with sand to make distribution easier. A distributor may be used, or use rods or lines to divide the site into square yards and sow by hand. The seed should be lightly raked in after sowing, traversing the lines of the original raking. Do not roll until the seedlings have developed. Do not expect germination for anything from 10 to 20 days. When the grass reaches 2 inches high mow it with the blades set about 1 inch high. When the grass is established this can be reduced to about 3/4 inch, for hardy lawns and 1/2 inch for top-quality lawns.

Watch out for weeds or alien grasses and remove them while small without disturbing the sown grass. A dressing of good John Innes type compost may be given after two or three months, though this should not be strictly necessary if the lawn site was properly prepared.

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06. September 2011 by Dave Pinkney
Categories: Lawns | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on The Beauty of a Garden Lawn


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