When it comes to problematic lawns, there’s nothing wrong with faking it, says Elly West
I have a confession to make. I love artificial grass. It’s soft, it’s tactile, it’s practical and it’s green all year round. It’s also a fact that, in some gardens, grass just does not grow very well. Moss, leatherjackets, rust, red thread, weeds, shade, drought and poor drainage can all take their toll on our lawns, and there are times when we have to concede that we’re fighting a losing battle. However much money and time we throw at the problem, the solution could be to simply have a rethink, especially if your plot is small.
But grass is the perfect foil for other garden elements, such as planted borders and paving. A swathe of green is restful on the eye and also provides a practical space for leisure, play and relaxation. Not everyone wants to pave, plant or gravel the majority of their plot to replace an existing lawn, however shabby it’s looking – in which case, it could be wisest to roll out the plastic and fake it.
Artificial grass is a growing industry and the products today are nothing like their greengrocer matting ancestors. Designers are seeing the benefits, and plastic grass has been winning medals at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show since first appearing there in 2010. Modern turfs are remarkably realistic, with strands of different lengths and colours, and an authentic underlayer of pale-toned ‘thatch’. They’re hard wearing, generally with a guarantee of at least 10 years, and are suitable for high-traffic areas, as well as for children and dogs. And there are plenty to choose from. If you are thinking of going down this route, always ask for samples and look at them in different lights and from different angles. Products vary greatly in quality, but will generally have a pile, and a tendency for the strands to flatten in one direction. However, the more high-end products should spring back when you brush them the other way, all making for a more natural-looking lawn.
There are absolutely tons of products on the market now, so it definitely pays to shop around. Although prices might start at less than £5 per square metre, and I’ve even seen rolls of the stuff outside the local supermarket, for a top-quality product, expect to pay more like £25 to £30 per square metre, then double that cost for professional installation. Don’t be afraid to haggle. It’s a competitive market and the discounts are out there if you are prepared to negotiate. And, although the initial outlay can be high, you won’t then have to spend time or money in terms of maintenance, fertilisers, weedkillers, watering and electricity or petrol for your mower (just think: no more mowing!)
Roll widths are normally two or four metres, so keep that in mind when you’re planning the size of your lawn, so you don’t end up paying extra for offcuts. There is also the option to do-it-yourself. Check the supplier’s guidelines for installation, but it can potentially be laid out straight on to a flat roof, decking or paving, perhaps with a self-levelling compound in place first. If you’re replacing an existing lawn though, my advice would be to call in the professionals, as it could be expensive to put right if you end up with lumps and bumps.
Apart from the sleek, modern look of artificial grass, which is perfect for small, contemporary urban gardens, I also love its practicality. My two boys adored having plastic grass when we lived in London, and are delighted I’ve finally decided to install some here, near Bristol, albeit in a more rural location. And I like knowing they can go outside and play, even if it’s been raining, and they won’t be treading dirty shoes into the house. It’s quick drying, free draining (as long as it’s properly installed), and is also good for dog owners. No more muddy paws, bald or yellow patches, and it can easily be hosed down and disinfected if necessary.
But, and there are always some buts, it goes without saying that environmentally, it’s not great. Removing a lawn is removing a habitat and food source for insects and birds. The carbon footprint of artificial grass is high, as it’s made of plastic. But in this sense, it’s perhaps no worse than many other hard landscaping materials. If you’ve found that a natural lawn is not an option, you could always keep the grass area small and make your borders bigger so you can grow more wildlife friendly plants. It is, and will probably remain, a Marmite product in that you either love it or hate it, but I’ve always liked Marmite as well.
Over in Elly’s garden…
I lived in London for more than 15 years, where plastic grass was often a sensible solution. Urban spaces are notoriously small and shady and I’ve seen plenty of gardens where the size of the lawn just doesn’t justify keeping a mower. But I have to admit, when I moved to a village, I wasn’t sure whether the plastic look was entirely appropriate. Now I’ve changed my mind! My new garden redesign is contemporary in style and the lawn area is relatively small, extending into a shady courtyard zone where real grass wasn’t an option. So I’ve bitten the bullet and the results look great. Next I’ll be planting up the new borders so watch this space!