I’ve just listened to Quentin Letts in his fascinating BBC Radio 4 series ‘What’s the Point of…’

Close-mown lawns provide the perfect frame for historic buildings – here the Hogwarts-esque Royal Holloway – University of London, Egham, Surrey

Close-mown lawns provide the perfect frame for historic buildings – here the Hogwarts-esque Royal Holloway – University of London, Egham, Surrey

This week he was digging deep to find out why the British are obsessed with lawns. He actually concluded that there’s quite a lot of points, like they:

  • provide a green canvas for the flower gardener
  • are a place where males can indulge their fondness for gadgets
  • provide football and cricket pitches for children
  • are good to lie on after a good lunch to watch the heavens above
  • are good for the soul
  • can add to the value of property

Not bad – as he says, for a few square yards of grass!

There are 15 million lawns in Britain – and a staggering £54m spent on fertiliser to make them grow – and £127m spent on mowers to cut them short – which seems a trifle counterproductive and mad!

Mr Letts’ guests were split into two main camps – those for whom a pest-free sward mown with a machine that cuts like scissors is the ultimate goal.

Ex-groundsman Mike Seaton, who founded the Grass Clippings website says it’s easy to grow grass – but turning it into a lawn is the hard part. He says it is hard work – but the results are so rewarding.

Lawns can be good for the soul and quiet contemplation

Lawns can be good for the soul and quiet contemplation

Tom Fort – author of the ‘Grass is Greener: Our love affair with the lawn’ suggests our love affair with the lawn started in 13th century monasteries – where the soothing green colour of grass provided a patch of green where monks could commune with God and their souls. Presumably the pristine, perfect squares of grass found within so many college quads, was meant to have a similarly calming effect on students.

I didn’t know about the heritage lawns at Chatsworth House, which have been in place since the 1740s. Known as the Salisbury lawns, possibly after the wide expanse of Salisbury Plains, this five and a half acre sweep of grass is the oldest unchanged lawn in the country. Apart from a bit of aeration and scarification and mowing – nothing else has to be done – apart from enjoy it. It is full of wild flowers – but that makes it more interesting said head gardener Steve Porter.

This type of lawn is more environmentally friendly – at least in the chemical inputs department, and is likely to stand up to drought better than grass monocultures.

Head of horticulture Ben Raskin at the Soil Association said that short lawns with short roots need a lot of additional water to keep green – and a sprinkler uses a staggering 550 litres per hour. He also estimated that the amount of petrol used by even half the gardeners in this country to mow once a month for half an hour, could fuel a car on a journey to the moon and back 23 times!

Short shrift was quite rightly given to the idea that artificial grass could ever replace real grass in our hearts and minds. ‘Plastic grass?’ queried Mr Letts. “That’s not a lawn, it’s a carpet!”

Clover is taking over, but this lawn is alive with the sound of buzzing bees.

Clover is taking over, but this lawn is alive with the sound of buzzing bees.

 

So well done Radio 4 for raising the profile of the humble patch of grass – and I’m now wondering when I can get up north to visit the British Lawnmower Museum in Southport!

whispers in the grass Receive up-to-date news and special product offers