My laws of the lawn: Let nature play a part when planning your green spaces

Nigel Colborn


12:37 EST, 6 April 2014



12:37 EST, 6 April 2014


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April is lawn-care month. If you want Wimbledon quality turf, you’ll need to spread fertiliser, kill weeds, zap the moss and rake out dead grass. But that’s time-consuming, expensive and not very eco-friendly. Better to take a more easygoing approach.All most of us need is an attractive green carpet — a lawn for living. The grass should be pleasant to lie on, durable enough to survive tricycle wheels or ball games, and able to recover from occasional barbecues.We may also want some lowermaintenance green space. Rough-cut grass is as valid as a smooth lawn for beauty as well as wildlife value. And having rough and smooth together makes for a fuller, more interesting garden.
It needn’t be turf wars: Take an easy-going approach to creating a wildly lovely lawn
Lawns, like flower borders, are communities of living plants. So if they receive the basic essentials — drainage, water, spring warmth and daylight — they’ll thrive.

LITTLE HELPERSIf your lawn isn’t too large, you can enhance drainage by spiking the ground with a fork. That helps to break the compacted crust and allows water to escape.But on all lawns, the best agents for drainage are earthworms. They’re your labour force, burrowing into the soil and creating tiny drainage channels. Worms also drag organic matter deep into the ground, improving soil health and distributing nutrients. So don’t begrudge those ugly casts that appear from time to time.Worms aside, grass can make gardens better for wildlife as well as more beautiful. A weed-free, uniform lawn can be pretty sterile — but if you border close-mown turf with areas of longer grass, that will provide further planting opportunities.And when you encourage flowers among the grasses, your garden becomes richer and more beautiful. This doesn’t mean abandoning the lawn to nature. Creating a contrast between closemown turf and longer grasses can be a design feature.Planting bulbs such as crocuses, narcissus and camassias will beautify rough grass. If you add cowslips and other broad-leaved plants, the season extends.MAKE HAYAt some stage, even rough grass must be mown to stop it turning to scrub. Do that in June, if you want to limit the meadow effect to spring. If you prefer a summer-long meadow, mow in September and rake away the hay.For tiny areas, the first big cut can be done with a strimmer. But you’ll need a more robust machine for a meadow. I use a petrolpowered Hayterette, though any workhorse mower will do.Fine lawns benefit from weekly mowing. If weeds worry you, apply selective herbicides or ‘weed and feed’ this month. Remember that when grass is healthy, weeds are less troublesome. And to increasing numbers of us, daisies and other turf flowers are pretty and bee-friendly.In small spaces, you don’t even need grass. Chamomile lawns are the romantic alternative but they don’t wear well.Wild thyme is much more durable and loves hot, dry spots. Thymus serpyllum is aromatic and pretty — no wonder Titania chose to lie on a bank of wild thyme in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

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