Garden Design - Lawns

You can't beat good old fashioned grass. If you use your garden at all (as opposed to looking at it out of the windows) then it will often be the lawn that you use. If you have children, it provides a near perfect outdoor play surface, soft and forgiving, self-repairing, and good looking.

 The same applies if you have a dog or cat (rabbit, guinea pig etc.). If your garden has aspirations to being ornamental as well as utilitarian, then the lawn provides an excellent foil to show off all the other features.

Why grass?

  • It's drought tolerant
  • It can be cut very short and still re-grow
  • It looks good all year round
  • It provides an ideal contrast for the rest of the garden
  • It's cheaper than any other form of ground cover
  • It is alive and will attract worms, birds and other wildlife (unlike the abomination that is artificial grass - other opinions are available*)

*but are wrong

Almost irrespective of the size of your garden, a lawned area is well worth incorporating if you don't currently have one, or renovating / improving if you have one but if it's in poor condition. The only gardens that are probably better off without a lawn are very small courtyard types, where space for hard surfaces and planting is at a premium. 10ft x 10ft is probably an absolute minimum for an area of lawn, anything less really does look silly (and is a faff to mow).

Things to consider when planning a lawn in your garden

  • If mowing simplicity is important, then make sure that the shape and layout of your lawn is simple, without corners or even sharply curved edges. Island beds and specimen trees or shrubs can make mowing awkward so don't overdo them.. Overhanging branches that require you to duck beneath with the mower can be a nuisance or even dangerous. Aim for long runs up and down the lawn where possible.

  • A close-cropped ornamental lawn isn't the only sort - while they look smart and elegant, they take more effort to mow and don't wear so well. A utility area which shouldn't need mowing more than once a week at the most when it is growing fastest is more than adequate for most purposes.

  • For a new lawn, choose one of the newer, hard wearing, but slower growing grass mixes if possible.
  • Fence-to-fence or not. If at all possible leave part/s of the garden unturfed where beds and borders are to go. Laying turf that will later be lifted is a waste of money and also it's hard work digging up well-rooted turf which then has to be disposed of.

Alternatives to lawns

  • Hard surfaces, such as paving, brickwork, concrete, small cobbles set into concrete, gravel, wooden decking or tarmac with small pebbles brushed over. Mix the surfaces to create interesting patterns and textures but limit the variety, no more than three kinds. Leave gaps for plants between. Make sure that the surface is safe to use - choose non-slip materials. Avoid too reflective colours and surfaces (they can be painful to look at in full summer sunshine). Provide some shade for large areas of hard surfacing, parasols, shade sails, wooden arbour etc.

  • Ground-cover planting, particularly useful for those awkward corners, areas of uneven ground or slopes, shady patches under trees where grass does not grow well and mowing is difficult. Though be aware that if grass won't grow in a particular place, then it unlikely that much else will either.

  • For a small area, try establishing a lawn using a plant other than grass. As long as wear is minimized, and the ground weed-free to start with, these suggestions are all suitable, being neat and attractive all year, tolerant of some trampling and having a dense, low-growing habit that reduces the need for hand weeding. You may find however that they need to be replanted every 3-4 years. This is not really a solution for a walking-on lawn, but for a small (they have to be clipped by hand, not with a mower!) - looking-at lawn.

      Anthemis nobilis - Chamomile. The variety 'Treneague' is the one you need as it is non-flowering, standard flowering chamomile grows quite tall and gets very straggly, tatty and un-lawn like after it has flowered. Aromatic, feathery, best on a sunny site. Trim in late summer. Establish from divided plants or cuttings, 4-6 inches apart.

      Thymus spp. - Thyme Ideal for well-drained sites in full sun. A mixture of the low growing and creeping forms gives a lovely Persian carpet effect. Establish from seed, sowing different species in bold shapes, at least five plants per patch. Choose varieties with contrasting leaf colours, textures and flowering seasons. Maintenance is minimal, restricted to a little hand-weeding and the occasional clipping of the taller dead flower heads. Good where they can spill onto the edges of a path or gravel / paved area.

  • Artificial turf - this has come on a long way in recent years and doesn't look as artificial as it used to by a long way, there are also many different grades for differing requirements, The surface is porous so liquids pass through it, you just have to make sure you poop-scoop regularly.

    The downsides are that it is a lot more expensive to lay than a lawn needing a sub-base in the way that a patio does with the "grass" then being laid, pegged and held in place with sand. As a rule of thumb it will cost about the same as having a patio laid, in the region of £50-£70 per square meter. If comparing prices, be aware that many of them are for the artificial grass covering only and not inclusive of the materials for the sub-base or of the labour required to prepare and lay it. It has an expected life of around 15-20 years with 5-10 year guarantees being typical. The surface will fade with time as plastic does in sunlight, though when it needs replacing, the sub-base will already be in place so it won't be quite so expensive as when it was first laid.

Click here for how to lay turf

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