Decking, gravel, paving: the lawn has rivals for your affections. Stephen Anderton warns against succumbing to their wiles, and makes a stand for garden greens
The best place from which to look at your lawn is the south of France, where I have just spent a fortnight taking a holiday. There, just north of Montpellier, the natural landscape is evergreen scrub over almost bare rock. The lawns there, at the Ch‚teau de Cambous where we had taken an appartement, had not needed to be mown since mid June. Nor had they been watered. They had faded to a kind of camouflage fawn, erupting here and there in rosettes of grey verbascum. So coming home to England after that desert was a shock. Who says all the greenness of our climate is soft and romantic? There is actually something almost obscenely opulent about the rich emerald green of an English lawn. Compared to Montpellier a mere 800 miles away my lawn is sheer pigging luxury, and closer to the jungle than Montpellier.
Travel, they say makes you wiser. The more I see of hot countries, the less patience I have with the anti-lawn lobby back home, who would have us put our lawns down to gravel, or try to turn them into species-rich alpine meadows. And the more I see that, in most of Britain, lawns make sense.
When you think about it, a lawn is simply the native vegetation cut short (and if you are of that mind-set, preened a bit). It is weather that makes lawns: our relatively gentle, moist climate helps soft grasses grow the year round. We have lawns because the weather lets us.
So we ought to get on and make the most of it, and enjoy our lawns - that lovely soft feel underfoot and on bare feet, that perfect foil for colourful borders or the shapes of clipped evergreens. We can do it. We can shout about it. We should treat them as a desirable luxury, and stop moaning about the work.
The work? Itís a lot less than the serious preeners make out. Unless you mow mercilessly short, much of the need for feeds and weedkillers is grossly exaggerated. Mowing often and not too short is the recipe for easy lawn care.
Gravel? When the climate is soft and moist, gravel grows weeds like nothing on earth unless, like Beth Chatto, you have 20ft of pure gravel underneath instead of soil. Rich flowering meadows? They work best on impoverished land, due to thin soil or generations of hay-making. Are you prepared to have mere stubble in high summer?
There are western Brits of course who say that in their side of the country the grass grows too fast for lawn care to be easy. They are right, too. They should give it up, unless they are preeners, or minimize how much lawn they have, and settle for growing trees instead. Or heather.
When it comes down to it, a lawn is only as valuable as the pleasure it gives you. Or rather the pleasure, in relation to the work is also causes. Take that ch‚teau in France. Now, it may look pretty sad in July and August until the summer storms come, but consider this: in winter and all through the spring it is probably a delightful green plain upon which the evergreen shapes of box and cypress can roll or soar. See it then, and you too might say, "If it looks like this now Iíll settle for it looking poor in summer." Itís a fair deal. Does your lawn give you a fair deal? If it does, keep it. Donít fix it. It ainít broke.
Visit the Superstore to see our range of lawnmowers.
See also the Helping Hands workshops:
How to make a lawn by laying turf
How to make a lawn by sowing seed
How to look after a new lawn
How to renovate an old lawn
How to do autumn maintenance on a lawn
How to maintain a lawn edge
How to choose a mower