Types of Garden Lawns
A perfect-looking garden lawn might not be the best lawn for you and your family. It depends very much on what you want to use your lawn for and how much time and money you spend on its upkeep.
There are over 10,000 species of grass. However, most ordinary seed mixtures and turf are composed of just three or four species. These mixtures usually contain both tuft-forming grasses, such as the fescues (Festuca) and stoloniferous types, such as bents (Agrostis), which have leafy shoots that creep along the ground. How much of each is used in a mixture can vary according to the climate,type and water content, cost and amount of shade, wear and maintenance envisaged.
Beautiful velvety garden lawns are made up of fine-leaved grasses, such as fescues and bents. These are slow growing, especially when started from seed, and expensive to buy as turf. Fine-leaved grasses are relatively delicate, and do not stand up to heavy wear or periods of neglect. They are also vulnerable to invasion by stronger, coarser grasses, such as meadow grass (Poa) — regular close mowing is needed to discourage them from gaining a foothold. Any coarse grasses or lawn weeds that do become established stick out like a sore thumb. Furthermore, any small bump, hollow or awkward level change is immediately noticeable because the lawn hugs the ground so closely.
Ordinary, hard-wearing garden lawns are made up of a careful mixture of broad-leaved grasses — meadow grasses, perennial rye grass (Lolium perenne), crested dog’s tail (Cynosurus cristatus) and Timothy grasses (Phleum). They are relatively inexpensive in seed and turf form, and quick growing.
Unlike most of the fine-leaved grasses, broad-leaved types will tolerate heavy use, neglect and poor management without deteriorating too much. Any wild grasses that seed themselves quickly become part of the fabric of the lawn.
However, broad-leaved grasses need frequent cutting, especially in spring and summer. Rough grass areas create a rustic feel and are suitable for large gardens. They are ideal for naturalizing bulbs, such asand bluebells, and concealing their unsightly foliage as it fades.
Selected wild, such as cow parsley and willow herb, poppies, cornflowers and foxgloves, can be encouraged, particularly those that attract butterflies.
Rough grass needs cutting only twice a year — once after the bulbs have died down completely and again in autumn.
Weeding can be a problem though, since ground elder, ragwort, thistles, docks and brambles quickly establish themselves. Apply a selective lawn weed-killer once the bulbs have completely died down.
Alternatives to Grass for Garden Lawns
Grass tolerates heavier wear than any other plant, and is self renewing once established. But there are alternatives — these can be delightful if given the environment and care they need.
Chamomile (Anthemis nobilis) was a favourite for garden lawns with the Elizabethans because of its sweet scent when bruised. There is no need to mow it and it is softer and springier to walk on than grass. However, it is short lived, can develop bare patches and often turns brown in winter. The non-flowering, dwarf ‘Treneague’ is best, but cannot be grown from seed.
Creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum) is another possibility for small areas. It, too, is sweetly scented, but can also become thin and uneven. Both creeping thyme and chamomile need full sun and free-draining, sandy soil.
Paths of pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium) and Corsican mint (Mentha requienii) are lovely, but they tend to be invasive, sending rooting shoots into nearby beds.