Gardens gone mad

The “Grass Lawn” a versatile essential part of modern living especially in Suburban Life. Taken for granted far to easily, working away 24 hours a day , requiring little or no thanks but always receptive to a bit of love . It brings life to what otherwise would be a sterile place being a home to literally millions of microorganisms and creates recreational areas, allows nature to prosper, and for the soil to breath. It beats its man made rivals hands down. Plastic Grass is quite simply an abomination that needs to be outlawed. Then there is tarmac and concrete and while being essential for certain requirements offer little bar facilitating options to park vehicles on or to assist foot traffic and of where wheelchairs access is required. The Lawn in Grass form has been quietly part of our lives and dates to the 16th century and creates an essential needed buffer between the natural environment and the constructed urban and suburban space.

It was not until the 17th and 18th century, that the garden and the lawn became a place made up of meadow plants, such as camomile. In the early 17th century the closely cut “English” lawn fashion was born. With more than 9,000 species, this family is one of the largest on Earth.

Grass is major food source rice, corn and oats come from grass plant family and wherever it grows, grass plays a vital role in curbing erosion. Lawns can absorb incredibly heavy downpours of rain 920 square metre residential lawn can absorb more than 22,000 litres of rain water in a very short space of time

While everyone may not have that big a lawn, the network of grass in each house, in an estate work together to prevent floods. I have very little sympathy for people who remove the grass and replace it with a stone or similar surface, and then wonder why the water is coming in there door, during a heavy deluge of rain. Grass roots are simple effective designs being threadlike and extend into the soil like fingers, collecting nutrients, soaking up water and securing itself to the ground. The leaves alternate in direction the first leaf grows to the right, the second leaf will grow to left and the third leaf will grow to the right and so on.

Many people are ambivalent about lawns and there are those that yearn for the perfection lawn and tirelessly work to achieve this level of perfection. In my case I am quite content with A Hippy Lawn where all are welcome be it daisies, buttercups or even moss and free of chemicals being fed and self sustained by using the garden clippings to feed the lawn. I even let part of the lawn mature to its natural height for part of the Summer and into Autumn its quite amazing what beautiful wild flowers emerges.

When I run into grass/lawn problems that cannot be solved for a client I need to refer to an agronomist who is a soil scientist who specialises in managing Grass Lawns. Ollie Ennis is my man with all the lawn secrets he is my “Grass Whisperer” .He understands the complex life of the Lawn and how to mange it to its potential that is required

I met with Ollie last week to examine a lawn that was perplexing me; it faced south meaning it gets sun all day, but was always wet 12 months of the year. It was wet under foot even though it had not rained for weeks.

Ollie manages prestigious lawns all over Ireland including working for Leinster rugby for the last 10 years.
I needed a prescription from him that would remedy a cure. Ollie surveyed the wet lawn by digging a number of holes into the grass 200 ml deep extracting the sod and examining the colour the amount of moisture the size of the roots. This confirmed to him that the soil was saturated to quite a depth below the roots of the grass. He evaluated that the water had no outlet, as the poor quality sub soil, was not allowing the water to percolate i.e. not drain away properly. This is where a considerable amount of problems lie Ollie tells me “in day to day lawns you need a 150 ml to 200 ml, of good quality soil but this makes will make no difference if the sub soil does not do its job and is not porous”. In this case the sub soil was appalling and not porous so this equalled no percolation. To correct this Ollie prescribed removing the existing grass sod and starting afresh.

We then had to determine the lowest point of the remaining soil where we would dig a sump 600 by 600 by 600 ml which would be complimented by a series of trenches which become the veins of the garden carrying thee water to the heart The Sump. Each vein was to be 1 meter apart 150 ml deep by 50ml wide and are filled with 6 to 10 ml with pea gravel to the topped off with a 50 ml silica ,sand and soil mix (silica sand is crushed from sandstone in Co Wexford) the particles size is just right to allow the drainage and the air to be correct in the roots of the grass. The result is the excess water is now drawn to the drain meaning no wet lawn anymore.  To finish it off we top of the entire area with a free draining new surface and seed directly into this.

A grass lawn can recover extremely well from any kind of trauma once the subsoil is in good condition “we repair the damage weekly for Leinster Rugby and prepare for the next onslaught. In May when the season is over we can cure all its ill’s we aerate (get air to the roots by spiking the grass) it apply a topdressing of silica sand. Then reseeding a Dwarf Ryegrass and Fescue Mix and within 6 weeks the grass looking like no one has ever played on it”

So what about a lawn, where the likes of an extension is being built, and the garden becomes the work area. The builders who seem to have no interest in leaving the garden the way they found it or the way it should be. Can leave very little topsoil to deal with resulting in poor drainage the compacting of the soil all contributes to being hugely problematic. Ollie’s prescription for making it work even when the grass appears almost non existent is to fork what’s left to 150 ml depth move the fork to maximise the effect and get the roots working again. Then rake off any dead grass discovered and then seed area with a silica sand top dressing.

So what about the gardeners who aspire to the “Serious Lawn” the answer is simple says Ollie with an ironic smile “to achieve a good quality lawns ….you need the time, knowledge, consistency and patience and of course correct growing conditions. The finer the lawn the bigger the challenge so when one goes the trouble of creating this type of surface it requires an amazing amount of day to day care”.

Poor soil lacks humus and microbial life this leads to grass becomes easily compacted where there is a lot of intense activity concentrated on a small area. Ollie has been using the likes of “Soil Renew” a chemical free mix of organic plant matter and microorganisms to combat problems. “It creates humus in the soil in a natural way means there is also an increase in the earthworm population which creates natural channels through the soil to drain away water in the grass”.

Ollie is sharing some of his Grass Whispering secrets on line. People can tap into his gathered knowledge including his blog. His website has an amazing amount of free advice on how to mange and problem solve an ordinary lawn or how to manage it if you want to play or practise Tennis or  a few rounds of golf in your Own Garden or perhaps create your own “Field Of Dreams”. Just before Ollie left he gave me another startling “Lawn Whisperer” fact “The lawn outside of your home can provide most of the oxygen one breathes in fact, a 16 x 16 metre grass area, will provide enough oxygen for a family of four… day after day”.

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