Short version: I feel that there has been quite journey with the lawn. We originally weighed the pros and cons of Astroturf given how hard a lawn on clay soil is to maintain in the winter. It’s the environmentally unfriendly option, but if it means you’ll actually use the garden more and maybe focus your gardening energy into planting more things (especially edibles) around it then that’s great. At the other end of the spectrum I was tempted to just have one giant vegetable patch. I ended up turfing about half. It’s enough to lie on or have a picnic and to provide a soft landing under a swing set. Now that it has been especially muddy this winter and has many little bare patches, I think this is a good time to sow with lawn flowers.
In late January the lawn looks shocking! There isn’t much you can do about this in London, unless you install turf with a very thick layer of topsoil. I did about an inch of topsoil and my lawn looks ragged in winter. In previous years it has recovered fine for the summer. It’s had more of a beating this winter, with an active 4 year old and being the straightest route to the winter edibles.
I feel vindicated when I see the swathes of muddy grass in all the nearby parks. The clay soil and the wet weather combined with any foot traffic just gives mud.
You might wonder why, knowing that the soil here isn’t great for grass, I bothered to install it in the first place. Well, my other half and the sprog had much to do with it. Also, a big (semi) permanent swing really did mean there needed to be something soft in case of an unexpected landing.
We considered AstroTurf because of the muddy winters. However, artificial grass is the environmentally unfriendly option. No offence to anyone who has it – we did consider it and you must do what makes your garden functional for you.
However, for those of you who are considering their options – I’m sure you are aware that artificial grass is made of plastic. It needs to be because plastic is durable, waterproof and easy to mould. Plastic is made from crude oil – so that’s the first problem. The manufacturing process of the artificial grass (and plastic) uses a lot of energy and resources and of course any energy from fossil fuels or wood burning gives off CO2. So that’s strike 2. Real grass photosynthesises, taking in CO2 and giving out O2. Astroturf does not – strike 3! Of course, if real grass means that you find it impossible to actually use your garden then whack down the AstroTurf but grow edibles around the edges and you’ll be saving on food miles and plastic food packaging. Planting a few bushes and /or a tree will help with the wildlife. Grow bushes or trees with edible bits and then you’re even further on your way to reducing the environmental impact.
The nearby school has some AstroTurf alongside real grass as a great compromise. There’s some grass there, happily growing and capturing carbon, whilst allowing an area for the kids to play on in the winter.
So, having decided on turf, this is what we did:
I kept some of the sand to mix into the clay, in the hope that it would help stop it turning into a bog in the winter. To be honest I’m not sure it did much. What clay really needs is shed loads of organic matter. This provides better drainage in the winter and better water retention in the summer.
A thicker layer of topsoil may have helped with the mud problem we now have, but topsoil is expensive, and I had blown quite a lot of the budget on waste disposal before discovering skips. 4 inches is recommended so my solitary inch was pretty measly.
Rolls of turf that were ordered online and delivered on a pallet were then unrolled to make a lawn. I’m afraid I don’t have any photos of the process as I was covered pretty much head to toe in soil and it was a hot day, so it needed to be done as quick as possible before the turf dried out. In all honesty, I’m probably not the best person to give directions in laying turf. I can only say, from experience, it’s a possible DIY project for a non-horticulturist. I pretty much followed this video:
Straight after laying it needs a good water. You are then not supposed to walk on it for 3 weeks. My little one gave it about 3 seconds before she ran across it. She absolutely loved it. That made the whole thing worth it!
Lawn flowers – the next step
I have slightly resented giving so much space to a plant that I can’t eat.
This is the silver lining I’m looking for. My grass with its many bald patches this winter may be perfect to sow some perennial (or self seeding) edible flowers into. The plan is to add short edible flowers like viola tricolor (a tiny wild pansy) clover, daisy and chamomile. Then some taller ones like calendula, marshmallow and bellflowers may be added to the edges where they won’t be mown so short. Hopefully some of the seeds from last summer will still be viable and / or I’ll sow some more in March.
This has got to be win-win for all involved right? Husband gets to keep his lawn, I get to grow some more edibles and little one can pick flowers to her heart’s desire. I can look on knowing that if she wants to nibble it’s safe.
I’m hoping that come summer I’ll be able to post a photo of a lawn dotted with colour. I will let you know how that goes!