Sitting out in the garden

Traditional garden bench at Pine Lodge Gardens
Traditional garden bench at Pine Lodge Gardens

One of the most popular pastimes in gardens is sitting out enjoying any warm weather the British climate affords us. At its simplest this could be just relaxing on a lawn, but soon you will be looking for something a little more comfortable. With this comes the decision – where to put the seat. A light wooden bench can simply be stood on the lawn and moved around as needed. This has the advantage that when it comes to cutting the grass it’s a relatively simple task just to move the bench to one side out of the way.  More substantial seating, or when you want to make a feature of the seat, a permanent base is needed to stand the seat on.

The first consideration when deciding where to put your seat is what is you going to use it for? Are you looking for a shady place to read a book, some where to sunbath or a dinning area? By now you should be getting to know your garden and the shade changes during the day and the year. Take a chair into the garden – any one will do – and try sitting in some likely spots. The world looks different when you drop your line of sight by 2 feet. Does it still feel like a good place to sit? Are you over looked (or overlooking)? Can you till see the view you were hoping to admire? Lots of questions I know but it’s easy to modify your ideas at this stage.

Once a suitable place has been found; the next things to consider are what style of seat and what you are you going to stand it on. The actual choice of style is largely a personal choice and most styles can look perfectly good in most settings; either by complementing or contrasting with its surroundings.  The range of different seats is vast but a few pointers are worth considering.

Garden bench built from railway sleepers
Garden bench built from railway sleepers
  • You get what you pay for. The better made the seat the more expensive it is going to be.
  • Hardwood is more durable but of course costs more.
  • Both wood and metal seats both need regular painting to maintain them.
  • Seats don’t have to be bought. Some very effective seats are homemade.
  • Garden seats can soon become hard and uncomfortable so do you need cushions?
  • Single seats never look very inviting in the garden; so generally stick to benches or use groups of two or more single seats.
  • A garden seat does can be made from all sorts of different materials.
  • A seat doesn’t need to be a conventional chair or bench – be imaginative!

    Sculptured garden bench at the Hillier Gardens
    Sculptured garden bench at the Hillier Gardens

When it comes to what you stand the seat on the choice is simpler. You can stand it one the soil or lawn; but the legs will tend to sink into the ground, and not evenly, so you will have to keep repositioning it. Also constant contact with the damp soil is likely to encourage rotting or rusting of the base of the legs. Bark has similar problems unless it is laid over a firm base, if just a porous membrane is laid under the bark the seat legs will tend to puncture it. Gravel has similar problems to bark and it also needs an edging to stop the gravel spreading about. That aside both can make a good base for a seat that is not being moved around as it is in use. The last choice is paving in its various forms and this is the most expensive. If the seating is going to be around a table, with chairs moving about as people sit and get up from the table, then a smooth solid surface is the only practical choice.

What to put in the garden

By now we’ve got the garden under control and we can take time to consider what we are going to do with it in the longer term. I can’t give a list of what to put in as every garden is different as are its owner’s needs.  What actually goes into the garden is going to be determined by the garden and the use you are going to put it to. It is inevitable some compromises will have to be made; so it’s worth considering who is going to use the garden and for what. Once you feel clear about this, comes the problem of fitting it into the space you have available. Only a very luck few space for all the demands that we will place on a garden. In addition to the size your ideas have to allow for nature of the garden and how your needs are going to change with time. Most commonly people remain in the same house 10 to 20 years and a lot can change in that time.

The Slave Garden at Pine Lodge Garden
The Slave Garden at Pine Lodge Garden

To start off make two lists, one of the characteristics of your garden and the second of what you what to be able to do in your garden, both now and in the future. In the first list you need things such as its rough size, its shape *, whether it faces north, south east or west**, is it fairly level or does it slope, is it shaded by buildings and trees, which parts get the sun and when***, is it sheltered, where are the inspection chamber/manhole covers, where are any existing things you want to keep, What is the soil like, …

The second list needs to contain things such as do you intend to eat out in the garden****, what a pond or other waterfeature, are you going to put play equipment in the garden now or in the future, are you going to need a washing line or rotary dryer, are you planning to grow your own fruit and vegetables, what areas are you going to need access to, what car parking/additional car parking do you need now or in the future, do you need a clear area of lawn to kick a ball about on, do you want to grow a particular type of plant,…

Notes:

* Most people assume their gardens are rectangular, but in practice they never are and in practice are generally along way from being a rectangular.

** In the UK satellite television dishes point roughly due south.

*** In the summer the sun is much higher in the sky, but never directly over head, so things like buildings and trees will cast much less shade.

**** As a general rule, ideally, you need a paved area at least 4 metres by 5 metres for a modest garden table and chairs.

Feed for health

As I have said before, the vast majority of domestic lawn problems come down to its feeding. That is not to say you can’t over feed a lawn, most people will have seen a lawn scorch where a heap of fertilizer has been left on it killing it. I also remember reading a report many years ago that some golf greens had been fed so heavily that the soil they were growing in could have legally been sold as fertilizer! So what to do? Clearly feed the lawn. Yes, I know it will make the lawn grow more and it will need cutting more – you will still only get round to cutting it at the weekend anyway.

If you read gardening books they will tell you about feeding a lawn in the spring and autumn, with more nitrogen in the spring to encourage lush growth and less nitrogen in the autumn to encourage less lush growth. There is though a problem with this, we know nitrogen is one of the most important plant nutrients but, there is always a ‘but’, nitrogen is not held in the soil and we don’t actually have any usable method of measuring the nitrogen that is in the soil. The latter we can nothing about the former we can. If the nitrogen is going to be leached out of the soil quite quickly, and the interaction between nitrogen and the remainder soil constituents is a very complex one, clearly the answer is to feed the lawn a little and often.

How often? About every 6 weeks during the growing season is probable about right. As to what to use, well a professional groundsman will use a specialist turf fertilizer but in practice: one you are not going to have access to these and two: unless you are looking after something like a golf course it will make no practical difference. In reality any general garden fertilizer will do the job, the fact the lawn is being feed and feed regularly is far more important. This way the grass is going to be well feed and able to outcompete weeds and diseases. Thus you will be well over half way to a good lawn capable of putting up with the use and abuse garden lawns live with. That is not to say it will not need occasional treatments but these should be the exception rather than the rule.

Keeping a lawn healthy

Ideally a lawn should be cut three times a week and the height should be reduced by no more than a third at any one time. In practice the first is never going to happen in a private garden, but the later is a good rule of thumb. The grass cuttings, unless you are using a mulching mower, should be removed and the most practical method of disposing of them is to use your councils recycling facilities. Making compost from them may seem a good idea but, unless they are mixed with a lot of other compostable material, grass cutting will not make compost – just vile smelling goo! In the past it has been recommended that you use the grass cuttings as a mulch around plants. In small quantities this can work but is unsightly and if too much is heaped up around plant stems it can lead to the stems rotting and the plant being killed.

Weed or feed

As you keep cutting the grass and then removing the grass cuttings you are removing the nutrients (plant food) that the plants have taken up from the soil to grow. This means you are slowly starving your lawn and if you starve something – be it a lawn or a person – it will succumb to things like illness and disease. Most domestic lawn problems come down to nutrition. Gardeners will complain that their lawns are sickly and full of weeds but when you suggest they feed it; they throw their hands up in horror and complain that that will just make it grow more. Now decide, are you going to have a lawn or just do the decent thing and give it a quick death at the hands of some weed killer. Either way you shouldn’t be torturing it! If the grass is going to out grow the weeds and fight off the diseases it needs to be properly fed, I’ve never heard a doctor say the best cure for that cold is starving you!

Most garden centres, and the like, are full of packets of lawn food; nearly everyone combined with a selective weed killer. Invariably every last one saying it will convert that sad collection of grass and weeds to something fit to grace centre court. The truth is that the groundsmen responsible for areas of fine grass like that don’t use combined fertilizers and weedkillers. They use fertilizer and very occasionally separate selective weed killers. This is partly because of cost, why pay for weedkiller that you don’t need.  There is though another problem with selective weedkillers; they are not that selective. They are weedkillers – they kill plants – its just that grasses are less susceptible to them than the broad leaved weeds. There is no chemical to treat grass weeds in a lawn and they do occur.

Selective weedkillers work by being applied at just the correct rate, too much and you kill your lawn, too little and you achieve nothing. So why do the manufactures sell “weed and feed” to the home gardener? Partly is because by adding the weedkiller they can add value to the product and so hope to improve their return. But the manufactures should not take all the blame because gardeners see weeds and assume the thing they should do is use a weedkiller to get rid of them, and a combined weedkiller and fertilizer seems a logical thing solution. Now this is not to say selective weed killers do not have their place, they definitely do, but prevention is always better than cure.

 

Cutting your new lawn

Now you have got the garden down to grass you have time to get on with the other pressing jobs about the house while you think about what you are going to do with the garden. Obviously the new lawn will need some attention during the summer and not just cutting it – but we will look at that first. When you walk into the shop you will be presented with a bewildering array of options but they can be split up into a few simple choices. How do they cut the grass and how are they powered. There are several mechanisms which can cut the grass but here we only need to consider two types.

Cylinder mowers

These are the more expensive type and cut the grass by a rotating cylinder of blades over a fixed bottom blade, so they cut like a pair of scissors. The blades fixed around the cylinder form one of

Lawn mower cylinder
Lawn mower cylinder

the scissor blades and a fixed flat blade at the bottom forms the other half. The blades have to be kept adjusted so they just pass one another. Because the cylinder is horizontal the motor has to be mounted behind it needing a system of belts or gears to transfer the power between them; adding to the cost. Normally the mowers have a pair of rollers, front and back, to support it and the height of the cut is normally by adjusting the front roller. Cylinder mowers are more expensive to buy and maintain but give a better finish (the more blades on the cylinder the finer the cut – not the faster the cylinder turns) and last longer.

Rotary mowers

These cut by spinning a horizontal blade parallel to the lawn and the motor is mounted straight on top of the blade, with it just bolted onto the end of the drive shaft. This makes them cheaper to build but because the motor is running at full speed, to give the blade the speed to cut the grass, they tend to have a shorter live. Also because they basically knock the top of the grass off they do not give as good a finish as a cylinder mower. They are supported by either wheels, wheels and a roller, or air. Ones supported by air have a fixed cutting height while the others’ cutting height is adjusted by the wheels and/or rollers. The blades of the mowers are shaped either to blow air down to provide a cushion of air if this supports the mower or suck the air up to blow the grass cutting into a collection bag. Rotary mowers never pick up the grass cuttings as well as a cylinder mower, and are very prone to clogging if the grass is wet. Some mowers, called mulching mowers, are designed to chop the grass finely and return it into the lawn. These can work very well and save the work of disposing of the grass cuttings but only work if a little grass is being removed at a time, otherwise there is too much grass cuttings to be lost back into the lawn.

Petrol mowers

Both types of mower can be powered by petrol engines and these have the advantage that you don’t have the problem of trailing leads or recharging batteries. They do have a lot more moving parts, so the chance of them breaking down is greater, and they are more expensive to buy and maintain.

Eletric mowers

Again both types of mower can be powered by electric motors and these can be either battery of mains. With mains electricity you have the problem of extension leads trailing across the lawn as you cut it and the power loss with long cable runs which makes using them a long way from the house power supply impractical. Batteries on the other hand will only run so long until they need recharging which can take a long time and rechargeable batteries only have a limited life before they will no longer hold their charge.

Turfing a lawn

It’s often said that you don’t need to prepare the ground for turfing as well as if it is to be sow. I don’t believe this is the case as in both cases the better the area is prepared the smoother the finished lawn will be. Again the surface needs to be cultivated, raked and compacted as for a seeded lawn. Fertilizer should also be applied and raked in the same. The difference comes from then on.

The first big difference is if the weather turns bad grass seed will happily stay in the bag in a cool dry place until the weather improves. Turf will not. In summer turf needs to be laid they day it is delivered. The best policy is then to prepare your ground for the turf so ounce it is delivered you are ready to lay it straight away. Measure you area in square metres and decide if you are going to be able to lay it all in one go. Bear in mind a roll of turf is sold in rolls weighing about 20 to 30 Kg. That in itself may not seem that much but remember each roll has to be picked up, carried to where it is to be laid, positioned and unrolled. Be realistic about how much you or you and your helpers can do. Also if the area to be the lawn is very irregular it may not be possible to accurately work out the area. Turf suppliers do not take back turf once sold. It may well be best to order part of what you need, say half or two third, lay that and then order the remainder.

Now comes the job of sourcing your turf; there are two types available meadow turf and seeded turf. Meadow turf is a farmer’s field someone has stripped the turf off and the grass is therefore very suitable for grazing cows and sheep on. If you are planning to keep a sheep, and I can’t imagine why, meadow turf could be suitable but for a garden lawn it is a waste of money. Avoid it! Seeded turf is grass that has been sown using a good quality lawn seed mixture solely for the purpose of producing turf. This is what you want and there are many turf growers spread across the country. Go and have a look at what’s available, any reputable grower is only too keen to show you the turf they produce. It should be a rich green, the turfs a uniform thickness, width and length, and the turfs should hold together well. In the field it should look just like a really good garden lawn.

Laying the turfs

 

Once delivered you want to get straight on with the job; so it is best to get prepared before its delivered. You will need plenty of timber boards to work from as you lay the turf, enough to reach the full width of the area to be turfed plus sufficient extra to stretch from the nearest hard surface to the furthest part to be turfed. The other things will be stout gloves for everyone, a wheel barrow or two if you are moving the turfs any distance and a good sprinkler and hose – the last being essential.

Start nearest to where the turf is and unroll the turf in a straight line across the width of the site. At the end of the first roll butt the end of the next turf up to it and unroll that. Carry on like that until you have a row across the lawn. Now place timber boards onto this row of turfs and start the next row butting the turfs close together but start about half a roll in. This way you will stagger the joints between the ends of the turfs. Carry on across the area to be turfed in this manner keeping the turfs butted close together. Keep working off the boards at all times or you will sink into the newly laid lawn. If the edge of the lawn is not retained by paving or fencing finish the edge by running a row of turfs along the edge to form it. Avoid any short pieces of turf at the edge. Any gaps can be either filled in as you go or near the end, it’s a mater of personal preference. The best way I’ve found to cut them is with a strong replaceable blade craft knife, at least that way the fact it ruins the blade doesn’t matter.  Knee pads are also very useful, the more padded the better, but either way by the end of the day your knees are still going to ache, along with your back.

Once you have finished for the day you must water the turf really well. Set your sprinkler up and leave it on until the water has soaked through the turfs and saturated the soil underneath. This can be easily checked by lifting up a corner of a turf. DO NOT stand on the lawn once soaked; you will sink straight in spoiling the lawn. Keep the lawn really well watered until its established. This is easy to gauge by lifting up a corner, at first you will see the fine new roots growing on the underside of the turfs and then you will just not be able to lift up the turf from the soil. At that point it is established and can be treated as an ordinary lawn. You must not let the turf dry out. If it does it will shrink and no amount of watering will reverse that, you will be left with a lawn which is a mass gaps along the edges of the turfs.

Sowing a lawn

Measure the area to be made into a lawn, BEFORE you set off and read my post “The great grass seed swindle!” I won’t repeat myself here but I would rate knowledgeable sales staff as being way more important than the prettiness of the packaging the seed comes in. One containing a rye grass cultivar is most suitable for a garden lawn and a breakdown of the different grasses in the mixture should always be provided. The fact the names mean nothing to you isn’t as important as it may seem. What matters is someone has taken the trouble to choose the cultivars they feel are suitable for the job and not just thrown in the cheapest they could find. The latter is sadly far too common.

In addition to the grass seed you are going to want some fertilizer. The cost is quite small but the benefit in improved establishment is well worth the cost. You can get specific pre-seeding fertilizers for this job but they are not widely available and ordinary general fertilizer will do just as good a job. The name on the packet is unimportant and most will list on the packet a recommended rate for applying when sowing a lawn, if not use the rate for general use. To give you a guide weigh out enough for one square metre, spread that over a square metre and use that as a visual guide. The evenness is not as important as for the grass seed and the fertilizer should be raked into the surface before the grass seed is sown.

Grass seed is typically sown at 50 grams per square metre, though the rate varies so check with supplier. To get an even cover of grass you need to sow the seed evenly. To gauge this get four canes, one to one and half metres long, and set them on the ground to form a square with sides one metre in length. Now spread over this half the quantity you are going to sow per square metre as evenly as you can. This should give you a good idea what the correct sowing rate should look like and aim to reproduce this pattern over the remainder of the lawn. This should use half your grass seed. Now repeat the process with the other half. Sowing the grass seed half at the time will help even out any unevenness in the sowing.

Sowing the grass

All you need now is warmth (which is out of your control), moisture (which is) and patience. If no rain falls after the grass is sown, these things can be hard to control; you will need to water the seeds. This, in addition to providing the seeds with the moisture they need, helps to firm the seeds onto the soil. When watering the seed use a sprinkler on a hose pipe, if you don’t have an outside tap get one, and make sure you put plenty of water on. Try to get a sprinkler which will cover all the lawn if possible, at least the biggest you can, that way you can set it up and leave it in place; so avoiding walking on the newly sown and picking the seed up on your shoes. Put on enough water to soak the soil without washing the seeds about and top up the moister with more water as you need to.

Once the grass seed germinate and you start to see the thin green shoots watch for the grass reaching about 25 mm high. The grass will benefit from being lightly rolled to make it branch out and thicken. The water filled roller you may have used when you prepared the seed bed BUT WITHOUT the water in it will be fine. Do you remember I said there was only two occasions you roll a lawn? Well this is the second one. Now get rid of it.

The final state is when the grass reaches about 50 mm high. Get the lawn mower out and cut the top third off. NO MORE. You now have a 35 mm high established lawn. From now on you can keep reducing the cutting high to the level you want, but remove no more than a third of the height at any one go. The final height will depend on personal preference but the smoother the surface you managed to create before sowing and the finer the mixture of grasses you sowed the low you will be able to cut the grass.

One final word on weeds, it is quite possible that a lot of weeds will germinate along with the grass seed. Don’t panic. The majority of the weeds will be annuals which will die out because they can not survive being cut and/or because they never get the chance to flower and so die out that way. Some will be perennials but very few of these can survive being kept cut down to below 50 mm. Either way, very nearly all the weeds will die out anyway just leaving the few normal lawn weeds which you are going to get anyway and can be treated next year if they are a problem. Why you ask, did we start off by killing the weeds in the first place? The reasons are:

  • It would be very difficult to cultivate the soil if it’s bound together by weed root.
  • If you chop up and mix in lots of vegetation with the soil that makes the seed bed very spongy mixture which will not compact to form a stable seed bed.
  • The grass seed will not survive the competition from the established weeds.
  • You kill off as many off the weeds which could survive in a lawn before you start so you are starting with a weed free lawn.

Making a seed/turf bed

Having selected a suitable machine and made sure you are familiar with how to operate it; the time has come to get our hands dirty. Before you go diving in stop a moment and take time to create a plan of action. Your soil should be moist, too wet and you will destroy the delicate structure of the soil and end up with a paddy field that’s dries to a hard crust which will block the roots of the newly geminated seeds, too dry and you will reduce the soil structure to dust which once it gets wet will for the same root blocking crust. That said most soils are quite forgiving but if anything err on the dry side; soils dry on the surface are very rarely so a centimetre down as the dry surface slows the drying of the soil below. You will also find cultivating soil combined with a gentle breeze will very effectively dry a soil that on the wet side. Try to avoid rain as the combination of churning the soil together with rain quickly makes a gooey mess. Perhaps not so obvious the problem of frost; a light frost shouldn’t cause a problem and the action of cultivating is putting energy into the soil anyway but a hard frost will stop things completely. I’ve seen heavy duty cultivators bounce on frozen soil many times!

That really bring us to one of the problems of rotary cultivators; if you look at the rotating tines you will see that the front edge of the tines travel down onto the soil so as to push the machine out of the soil. This reluctance to dig in to the soil makes getting them to penetrate the soil often difficult and in hard conditions they want to run along the surface. I remember once being told by a manager at a hire shop how he had been sent to collect a machine from a building site as the hirers had decided it was not suitable. On arriving he started looking around for the machine and found a fence panel with the outline of the machine punched through it. All that was missing was the outline of the operator running after it! This problem of running away is greatest the lighter in weight the machine, the tine driven ones being the worst by far but it can afflict all of this type of machine.

Levelling the ground

 

Its now time to start, try to work in a methodical fashion so that you cover all of the area but with the minimal of wasted time and effort. If you find the machine is struggling to break the soil up don’t try to fight it but just go over it a second or third time. Once finished you should have an area of loose fine soil which rakes over easily. Use a rake with solid metal tines and with it push the soil forward and backwards to level it out. The smoother you get the ground now; the smoother the lawn is going to be. As you go rake off any large stones, sticks or other rubbish and get rid of them.

Once satisfied with the surface it needs to be compacted either by rolling or your feet. DO NOT use a vibrating roller, or for that matter plate, this is soil not hardcore. You can hire rollers from the same hire shops as the cultivator and this is one of the only two times you need to roll a lawn. These rollers are generally filled with water to give them weight and after use emptied to make them easy to transport. For small areas your feet are best and this is done by what is called “toe and heel”. Put you weight on your heels and then shift it onto one heel. Shuffle the other foot forwards the length of your shoe and then shift your weight onto that heel. Now shuffle the other foot like wise. And repeat. You will look faintly ridiculous, but you will provide the neighbours with a little entertainment, and it is still the best way to prepare a lawn. Once you’ve gone over all the area it should be covered with footprints which you rake over (holding a rake as you go I find helps you keep you balance). If necessary you can repeat this if the surface is not sufficiently firm. If you walk on it you should see you footprints but you should not sink in.

Cultivating the ground

Ok, so we’ve decided to put the garden down to grass and decided if we are going to use seed or turf. Now it time to start. Get your weed killer out and CAREFULLY read the instructions. This will tell you if you need to dilute the chemical, by how much, what to use to spread it over the weeds, what safety precautions to take, how much to apply and when. Wait for a dry still day, you do not want the chemical washing off before its has had time to act or it blowing onto anywhere it causes unwanted damage, and get on wit it.

Now wait. Glyphosate weed killers take time to work; 10 to 14 days is perfectly normal. The first thing you may notice is the grasses start to turn faintly yellowy, but you have to look carefully. Shortly afterwards the weeds will all turn yellow and die; except for the green streaks where you missed. Now some of you will now be saying if you’ve carefully applied the weed killer you should have missed none of it. You’ve never done it. Trying to apply a more or less clear liquid over a garden without missing any patches is very difficult as you cannot clearly see where you’ve been and it is always best to err on the side of caution. Killing off bits of your neighbour’s lawn is likely to cause a degree of friction! Don’t worry, simply go out and treat any bits you’ve missed. You are probably asking why no bright spark has thought of a solution to this; well I’ve been down that road and every turning seems to lead to a dead end.

Once the weeds are well and truly dead, its time to prepare the ground. Start by clearing anything you can see on the surface such bits of rubble, scaffolding poles or anything else the builders saw fit to file away in the garden. You should now have a clear patch of soil with just the remains of some dead weeds. The next step is to cultivate the ground. Much is said in gardening books about digging, single digging, double digging, etc. Little of it covers the problem that is it is very hard work and very slow. I did once double dig a small area, as much as an experiment as any thing else and I don’t recommend it one bit. To be realistic you are going to have to use a machine. At this point you have to consider how big a machine can you get in the garden, its no good hiring a 600mm wide machine if it has to be taken through a 450 mm wide gate way, and how big a machine is it going to be practical to use in the space you’ve got.

You now have three options:

  • Buy a machine
  • Hire a machine
  • Get someone to do it for you

The problem with buying a machine is what you are going to do with it afterwards and a machine good enough for the job is going to be very expensive. Hiring a machine means you have to operate it yourself and you have to consider getting to and from the hire shop. Any good hire shop will provide you with good instructions on how to use the machine and for a charge will deliver and collect it but using one is still hard work and you have to consider is it for you. Finally you could pay someone to do it for you and I’m sure you will be able to find a selection of people in the local free papers able to provide the service but you have to accept the cost.

You may have noticed I haven’t mentioned what machine to use. In reality this is going to be a rotator cultivator, generally know as a Rotavator. Rotavator is in fact a trade name of the Howard Rotavator Company but has undergone the same transition as Hoover; where a trade name becomes so synonymous with a product it becomes a generic term for it. Rotory cultivates come in two basic flavours: tine driven and rear tined.

Tine driven rotary cultivator
Tine driven rotary cultivator
Rear tined rotary cultivator
Rear tined rotary cultivator

The tine driven ones have a set of rotating tines set under a motor and controlled by a pair of handles. The main problems with these are they tend to be rather light weight and are more prone to running away. This is where the tines rather than dig in run along the ground dragging the operator behind them. The rear tined machines have a pair of wheels under the motor and a set of rotating tines behind them; with the operator standing behind the tines holding the handles. These are heavier duty machines and less prone, though not immune, to running away. Being bigger and more complex machines they are both more expensive and heavier to move from site to site.

 

To sow or turf

Once we have decided to create a lawn one important question has to be tackled – are you going to do it by sowing grass seed or by turfing and each has its pros and cons.

 

Sowing:

  • Cheaper
  • More tolerant of drying out
  • Needs better preparation
  • Can only be done when frost is not a danger
  • The mixture of grasses shown can be tailored according to the use
  • Once the ground is prepared the seed will be fine in the bag for months if the weather makes sowing undesirable
  • Borders have to be cut out after the lawn is established (there is away round this I will come back to)

 

Turfing

  • More expensive
  • Must not be allowed to dry out until it is established
  • Quicker result
  • Water supply aside it can be done anytime of year
  • Physically harder work
  • Less choice regarding the grasses chosen
  • Must be used as soon as it is delivered
  • Borders can be formed as the turf is laid

 

In short turfing will allow you to create a lawn any time of the year so long as you can work the soil but it must not be allowed to dry out until it is properly established and each roll of turf weights about 15 to 20 kg so a small lawn will involve humping about several tonnes of turfs. Seeding is cheaper and you have more control over the types of grasses to end up with –something else I will have to come back to – but needs longer to make an established lawn.