I saw grass specialist Neil Lucas the other day at the Hertfordshire Group of the Hardy Plant Society talking about the use of grass in gardens in California and Las Vegas.
I have never been to the west coast of America, but Neil told us that new houses are still being built there with green lawns that need watering every day to stay green – at a time when water is running out rapidly.
But there are signs of change in some areas. Carex – not actually a grass but a spreading western meadow sedge, makes dense cover and stays green longer than other grasses. It can be mown frequently or just once or twice a year and run about on. One family in Los Angeles water their Carex lawn once a week with re-cycled grey water.
Some other gardens in California are growing plants that mimic their surroundings – so that the garden edge merges into the wider landscape. They use grasses that are yellow and brown – mimicking the long summer dormancy of the natural backdrop.
Some housing estates have moved away from traditional lawns to using ornamental grasses, which have an incredible ‘wow factor’ when in flower. But where do the children play? Well, in one place in America, the number of people playing in the ‘traditional grass’ park has trebled – which has to be a good thing for community spirit as well as for the environment.
Neil also talked about the pairing of gravel and grass – as a practical, effective and long-lasting substitute for a classic lawn. Good for the side of motorways and often seen in Las Vegas apparently – but could do so here in the UK too.
Neil finished his talk with a few shots of the High Line – Piet Oudolf’s planting of a former railway line, to produce a ‘garden in the sky’ within New York. This brings grasses right up to the people who can run, walk or skip their way along this beautiful walkway, which snakes its way amongst the buildings.
Of course there are more than just grasses growing here – and possibly wouldn’t look so good all year, but none the less I still feel the need to go and see it for myself some day soon!
So when is a lawn not a lawn? Well, we Brits may hang onto the classic open spaces in our gardens for a bit longer yet I feel.
Even Neil has cut lawns beside his amazing grass borders and the two look amazing together. One sets the other off – as long as the cut grass covers a large enough area to warrant getting the lawn mower out several times during the summer.
But if climate change starts knocking at more of our doors in future – then maybe we will also have to adapt to having Carex lawns and gravel and grass verges!