Your gardening writer is not the biggest fan of lawns, but I do see their use and their desirability, particularly for those who have a young family, enjoy outdoor games and for those who like a bit of manicured green lushness as a design feature.
I’ve spent a lot of time replacing expansive lawns with vegetable gardens and flower beds (and the lovely ‘green carpet’ I did have was ripped up by my two Boxers, Daisy and Lily), but I have to admit, there’s nothing like the feeling of cool, fresh grass between their toes on a warm summer day.
A Little Lawn History
Although many argue it is a relatively modern invention, some say that keeping turfgrasses low around villages and homes was practiced in Africa thousands of years ago, not for ascetics, but to see approaching animal predators or people who may not be welcome.
The practice of cutting natural grasses and low shrubs was copied by Medieval people in Europe as a way of protecting their castles and to improve the view.
Livestock was often used to keep the grass low.
We can probably date what we would recognise as the first recreational ‘lawn’ to somewhere around the 12th century when there are many instances of deliberately planted and maintained grass areas.
In Japan and China, the production of turfs and creation of garden features using turfgrasses is also well documented around this time.
By the turn of 13th Century England, we can see the use of lawns to play sports such as, of course, cricket!
By the 15th Century, lawns were making their way into private residences of the rich and famous, particularly in France, where the elite had the space and the servants to cut the grass (with hand scythes!), although paintings of this era also show public spaces and parklands with lawns.
It was the sports people of the 16th Century however who seized upon the opportunity to develop more lawn-based sports such as cricket, croquet, golf and soccer.
And then came the big technological breakthrough – the lawn mower.
Now, I know it is Australian Lore that we invented the lawn mower, but the first ‘mechanical’ lawn mower was invented by, Edwin Beard Budding in England who was granted a patent in 1830.
This mower was modelled after a tool used to trim carpet and consisted of a cylinder surrounded by blades between two wheels that was attached to a long handle.
Following this, animal drawn, and steam powered mowers appeared and then, by the 20th Century, petrol driven mowers also made their way out to work on lawns.
These were initially all rather large and expensive contraptions.
The rotary mower, which works by spinning a sharp blade, appeared once engines decreased in size.
And then, it was our turn.
In 1952 Mervyn Victor Richardson invented a light weight commercially viable rotary lawn mower suitable for home use.
He created it from scrap in his garage in Sydney and it is indeed the famous Victor Mower that we all know and love today.
Creating Your Own Lawn
If starting from scratch, you can either grow from seed or lay turf to start your green oasis.
Turf can pretty much be laid at any time of the year while seed sowing should be done either in spring or early autumn.
For the Coast, Buffalo Grasses are recommended as they are very hard-wearing, shade tolerant and do well in hot conditions.
A vigorous grower (albeit something that may or may not appeal to you), is Kikuyu.
It is also a little shade-tolerant, withstands dry periods and it stays very green in winter.
A newer grass is Zoysia which requires less water and mowing and along with being very soft in texture, is a lovely darker green.
Other alternatives that are rising in popularity include Australian Native grasses such as Kangaroo Grass (Themeda triandra), Red Grass (Bothriochloa macra) and Wallaby Grass (Austrodanthonia spp.).
Step by Step to Laying Turf
Weed and rake over the soil and make sure it is level.
Roll out the turf and stagger your edges but make sure they are firmly butted up against each other.
Sprinkle a top dressing over the turf and using a broom work it gently into the turf.
Water in well.
Step by Step to Sowing Seeds
Weed and rake over the soil and make sure it is level.
Measure the area you are sowing and follow the seed supplier instructions for the amount to sow for your area.
Sow as evenly as possible.
Rake over the seeds gently, cover with 2mm of soil and water in well.
You will find without a border, grass tends to run away and grow in places that you would rather it did not and can be detrimental to other plants in your garden.
When it comes to selection of edging you will need to factor in price, durability and suitability and then let’s not forget design.
Bricks and pavers are a great option as they can simply be the edge of a feature adjoining your lawn such as a patio, path or driveway.
They can be laid in various manners to create patterns, styles and heights that please you – I particularly like what is known as a ‘diamond or zigzag style’.
Timbers can be used but unless treated most will decay.
Treated timbers are not to be used as lawn edges to food gardens and to be honest, I personally don’t mind a slowly ‘decaying into the earth’ timber edge in some places but that is up to you.
Other options are stones, concrete (poured and recycled broken pieces), metals and I’ve even seen clever use of old glass bottles buried neck end down, hub caps and even china plates.
Go and explore!
Caring for Your Grass Oasis
Whether growing from seed or laid turf, lawn needs lots of water until it is very well established and has attained a height of 2cm. Water again very deeply and then hold off on the water for a few days so that roots will start seeking out water at lower levels.
Now you can settle into a deep watering every week when there is no heavy rainfall, but you may find that it needs additional watering during the height of summer or very hot dry periods.
Lawns are also hungry and there are many commercially grown fertilisers on the market specifically catering to them or you can make your own.
Whatever you use, do not use too much or use it too often as you can ‘burn’ and even kill your lovely lawn.
Weed lawns by hand as soon as you see them pop up and ensure that you have lifted their roots out.
Pests can be troublesome, and, on the Coast, we experience more than our fair share of curl grub and the best way to prevent them is by ensuring your lawn is healthy and doesn’t dry out as they much prefer a poor lawn to a well maintained one.
An organic treatment is ‘Neem Oil’.
To keep lawns healthy, you do need to mow them regularly as it encourages the grass to develop stronger root systems and it prompts new growth.
Your lawn is made up of lots of tiny plants that run and multiply, and this means it will become compacted by too many plants trying to fit into your defined area.
To help it, aerate your lawn in spring and autumn by spiking it with a garden fork every 10cm all over and wiggling it back and forth to create holes.
There are also spiked sandals that do a similar job – just don’t forget to take them off before you go inside!
In autumn you should also ‘top-dress’ your lawn to add to the quality of the hard-working soil.
Do this a few weeks after autumn aeration.
Use a mixture of three parts sand to three parts loam to one part organic matter. Spread evenly across the lawn to about 10mm in depth and work in with a broom.
Scarifying your lawn sounds scary but it is a way to remove build-up of dead grass in your lawn. In spring and autumn, rake over the lawn to pick up this ‘thatch’.
Go in one direction and then the opposite with a spring-rake to encourage the dead grass out.
UPCOMING GARDEN EVENTS:
The SWAMP (Sustainable Wetlands Agricultural Makers Project) Welcome and Induction Morning is on Sunday 13th December 9am to 11am.
Located at the Central Coast Wetlands – Pioneer Dairy, this new community garden/farm and food project is opening the gate so you can see what is happening and perhaps join in as a volunteer. Bookings are free at: www.swampcentralcoast.com
THIS WEEK YOU COULD PLANT:
French climbing beans, beetroot, carrot, eggplant, lettuce, melon, okra, pumpkin, rosella, silverbeet, sweetcorn, sweet basil, dill, parsley, lemongrass, rocket, sweet potatoes, celosia, carnations, gerbera, marigolds, nasturtium, snapdragons.
Cheralyn Darcey is a gardening author, community garden coordinator and along with
Pete Little, hosts ‘The Gardening Gang’ 8 – 9am every Saturday on Coast FM.
Send your gardening questions, events and news to: firstname.lastname@example.org