Lawns can be utterly beautiful, a green sward, freshly mown looks wonderful, and makes a lovely simple backdrop to flowerbeds. In an ideal world, I would have a garden of about an acre and a half. It would have lots of different areas; wet, dry, shady and sunny, a small piece of woodland and a meadow. I would step out of my french windows, from my library and have a stone terrace overlooking a perfect lawn. In this dreamy universe I would have a lot of money and could afford to pay someone for maintenance. As it happens I have a tiny little plot and am madly greedy for plants so space is at a premium and the plants take pride of place. While my daughter was young we had a patch, which if one was feeling particularly generous, could be termed a lawn. It was small, weedy, soggy in parts and bald in others. I wanted to maintain a bit of grass as it makes a lovely play space for children. We camped out in summer (torture, it really doesn’t get properly dark until midnight this far north, especially if there is a full moon), we had a paddling pool, my daughter put up obstacles for the dogs to do showjumping and my little patch of green could justify its existence. Now my girl is grown up, the grass seemed surplus to requirements. It was a fag to mow – sometimes twice weekly in a warm and damp Irish summer (no wonder our beef is famous, our climate is perfect for grass), after mowing it had to be edged by hand and it was so small it hardly seemed worth the effort. Last year we made a decision to get rid of the grass altogether and replace with a jumble of reclaimed bricks and slabs. I cannot tell you how much this has transformed the garden and my enjoyment of it. I have far more time to footle around with plants. I don’t have to weed and reseed every spring, no more mowing and labour and I have a nice spot for my table and chairs and loads of room for yet more plants in containers.
For those of you with space, or who like a good lawn, rather than a daisy and dandelion and moss filled slab of greenery, now is the time to take control so you will have something decent by mid-summer. Some of you (mostly men), may even hanker after the perfect lawn, a bowling green swathe of grass, if so you will have to put a lot of extra work in. I think it is almost impossible to get rid of moss in the Irish climate unless you are prepared, as someone I know, to kill off last season’s grass with a herbicide, and start again from scratch each year. Personally, I think this is excessive, if not verging on clinically insane.
Here are your options:
If you are starting from scratch and laying a new lawn you choices are to sow grass seed yourself (very cheap, very easy and surprisingly quick in summer) or, if you are rich and/or lazy, you can buy turves which come in rolls like carpet. The ground where the lawn is to be will have to be prepared properly however you will need to have it levelled, cleared of big stone and roots, very well weeded and then spread with a nice mix of sandy loam and fertilizer. I suspect that if you are flash enough to buy the grass this way that you can afford to pay someone to do the tedious labour for you.Do not under any circumstances take a rotovator to an old weedy patch. The blades will break up roots of weeds like dandelion and dock and make lots of baby little root cuttings to spread all over the place and you will be in a far worse state than when you started – the weeds will all pop up though your fancy new lawn.
A useful, but time consuming way to rid the ground of perennial weeds before laying a lawn is to week out as much as you can by hand, then cover the ground with plastic sheeting for at least year. When you take off the sheeting you will have to wait a couple of weeks and weed yet again, or if not feeling very green spray with glyphosate, and then prepare the ground.
Once you have the patch ready and the surface of the ground looks smooth, level and covered in a nice fine tilth you can sow your seeds or, have your manservant lay the turf for you. When choosing your variety of grass consider what the lawn will be used for. Grass comes in various qualities, tough rye grass is suitable if you have children, footballers or pets and the lawn is in constant use. There are finer grades suitable for lawns which are more decorative and extra fancy fine grass for the bowling green effect.
If you just want to fix up an existing lawn there are lots of things you can do to improve its appearance , starting now:
if the ground is dry enough, mow the grass with the lawnmower blade at a high setting; then go over it, poking holes in the soil with a fork or for the very serious, buy one of those tools designed especially for the job. This aerates the soil and improves drainage.
Pull as many weeds as you can. To remove’ moss, use a grass fork to drag out as much of it as possible.
Reseed bald patches.
If you think it all sounds too much like hard work and don’t like using herbicides, an application of lawn sand, available in any garden centre or supermarket will both weed and feed the lawn, but it is good idea to hand-weed out the real hard core thugs such as dandelion and thistle first. Spraying individual weeds with a general all-purpose herbicide is not a good idea, as any drift will kill surrounding grass. The lawn sand, which should kill off any remaining weeds, should not be used on grass less than about six months old.