Sward of Honour

A lovely chap by the name of Vernon Davis is putting together a book on (horror of horrors) the culture of grass in England called Sward of Honour. It’s a brave crowd funding venture, and as I may well be going that route myself I’m happy to post the link to Unbound. unbound.co.uk

It’s the kind of material I would have found rather useful at the start of my research.

Summer shorn

Summer, lovely hot and sunny summer. Aaah!

Actually the season seems to be moving faster than usual and the flush of flowers has passed in the lawns (need to find some late flowering mowing tolerant non-natives I suspect – suggestions?), and they were looking in need of a short back and sides. I’m not responsible for the University’s lawns these days and it was the lovely ladies who look after the walled garden who decided time to chop.

Now the lawns are neat and tidy and look, well, like lawns….

Neatened up.

Neatened up.

Almost at eye level.

Almost at eye level.

Top view

Top view

If you look closely, there are still a few flowers in the freshly shorn lawn, but this is where foliage comes into it’s own. I notice this year that the plants that don’t struggle too much in a bit of heat are showing themselves more than ever before. The generally moist and relatively cool summers of the last few years didn’t see them thrive the way they have this year. The value of plants with mixed tolerances and preferences becomes clear. The British weather will be variable – of that we can be sure!

There will be some more flowers again in just two to three weeks (weather depending), and if the heat continues (I SO enjoyed the days at 30C) the lawns may yet show the drought tolerance demonstrated in the mini drought of last July.

My days here at Reading are drawing to a close. I shall still be keeping an eye on the lawns though. Actually, I wouldn’t mind a little help in transforming this proven concept into a format that makes it available to the gardening public. I’m finding commercial horticulture is not as receptive to new ideas as I had hoped.

Fortitude Lionel, Fortitude!

 

 

Solstice lawn

The shortest night has just passed and I popped out to the university’s walled bee garden have a look at the lawns that were moved there a month ago.

The move seems to have been rather successful. The only notable side effects I could find was related to the wood pigeons and their taste for yummy red-leaved clover rather than the move. It’s nice to know that lawns can be moved if required.

The spring flush associated with British native flowers has now largely passed and summer is here. The requirement for mowing lessens with many of the natives (but not all), and the floral stems of Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) and non-native Fox and Cubs (Pilosella aurantiacum) in the lawns grow a little taller than all the rest. Some non-natives are prompted by warmer temperatures to bloom and at the moment the lawns have dozens of little stars provided by the lawn lobelias.

Solstice lawn 1

Solstice lawn 1

The pale pink sparklers at the front of the image are from the plantain I debated pulling out earlier in the year. I’m glad I didn’t!

Solstice lawn 2

Solstice lawn 2

I’m liking the foliage effects produced by the silvers, greys, bronzes and golds. It somehow reminds me of long summers as a child, not that there were lawns like this around back then.

Solstice lawn 3

Solstice lawn 3

The little stars are from Lobelia pedunculata sometimes labelled as ‘Pratia’. Over the last three years they have spread all through the lawn and make a stream of stars where they get good light.

Solstice lawn 4

Solstice lawn 4

The eagle-eyed amongst you will spot the shredded red leaved clovers. The walled garden is next to a woodland and surprise surprise the clover munching wood pigeons like to visit the walled garden too.

Solstice lawn 5 A closer look

Solstice lawn 5 A closer look

Only thyme in flower, Leptinella about to flower and a seed head of Mouse-ear Hawkweed (Pilosella officinarum), but just look at the complexity of ingredients in this mix. Twelve species in an area approximately the size of my delicate gardener’s hand.

Roll on summer!

Palmer Building lawn

I’ve been keeping an eye on Giles’ Palmer Building lawn. Can’t help myself. It’s looking quite lovely.

Palmer Building lawn

Palmer Building lawn

Palmer

Palmer

Palmer 2

Palmer 2

Palmer 3

Palmer 3

Palmer 4

Palmer 4

Looks quite lovely, but as the thyme is showing us, it is also getting a bit tall. I foresee a mowing…

 

 

Avondale

I had the opportunity to pop back to Avondale Park last week.  Thought I’d share a few images:

Early May at the Avondale lawn.

Early May at the Avondale lawn I.

Early May II

Early May II

Early May III

Early May III

Early May IV

Early May IV

I must admit to being quite pleased. There’s a bit of grass that could do with weeding out but otherwise its looking very interesting indeed.

In light of my completed analysis I would probably amend a few of the ingredients in the mix, but all that will all be included in any future lawns.

With the research project now concluded and the crunched data now in final review (and a new research paper due to be published soon) the future is not orange – it’s grass-free!

 

 

 

Mowing mania

There has been a bit of mowing here at Reading. Firstly the newly planted Palmer Building lawn received a haircut.

Mown Palmer Building Lawn

Mown Palmer Building Lawn

and then the large trial lawn had to get its first haircut of the year.

It went from this:

Getting a bit too tall, too crowded, time for the mower...

Getting a bit too tall, too crowded, time for the mower…

To this:

Apres - mower

Apres – mower

What amazes me is that now the lawn is heading toward 4 years old, that whenever its mown, it looks like – well, like a grass lawn I suppose. It even takes the lines of a mower! You’d never know it was so full of different species, even the red leaved clovers somehow blend into the green.

However, I’m not unhappy about it. I confess to rather liking the patchwork quilt effect of the first couple of years, but as the earlier posts show we’ve had 3 months of flowers already. Now its three weeks of grass-like lawn and then the flowers will be back and a whole new set of plants will benefit from the extra light and air.

It is important to remember that this lawn was and is experimental. Since it was created over three years ago I was not able to incorporate all the data I have subsequently acquired, just a lot of theory. I know now that this particular lawn probably had a bit too much buttercup and yarrow at the start and some of the plant forms were not ideal. There was quite a bit of educated guess work involved, but even so, it’s not turned out too bad has it?.

The data is all in now and has been analysed. The thesis has been written. Time to write a book perhaps?

 

 

A bit more foliage

I did say I’d add a few more foliage images.

Foliage 4

Foliage 4

A bit of Selfheal, (Prunella vulgaris), some Acaena microphylla, a touch of Leptinella squallida Platt’s Black, a sprinkle of germander speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys), a smidgin of Polygala vulgaris, a souciant or two of Bellis perennis and Lysimachia nummularia and a splash of Hieracium maculatum ‘Leopard’ and Violá.

Foliage 5

Foliage 5

A simple recipe like this one has a little Erodium castellanum, some Ranunculus repens ‘Buttered Popcorn’, some Silverweed (Argentina anserina) and Acaena magellanica. It’s not enough for a lawn, too few species but looks very tactile.

 

Foliage 6

Foliage 6

I’ll leave you work out the ingredients on this one, but in case you’ve never seen pink bugle, this one is Ajuga reptans ‘Pink Elf’. Cheeky little beauty isn’t it!

Old Whiteknights House gets a new grass-free lawn

The Head of Grounds at the University of Reading, Giles Reynolds, has been beavering away again, and once again I can take no credit.

The old lawn at Whiteknights House

The old lawn at Whiteknights House

 

Disappearing turf.

Disappearing turf.

 

A new grass-free lawn

A new grass-free lawn

It’s the first University of Reading style grass-free lawn on a slope. I look forward to seeing it develop. My congratulations to Giles and his team.

 

 

Countdown

Mowing looms. The large lawn is reaching the 9cm height limit that will trigger mowing. Parts of the lawn I am sure have reached that height already and if I was an absolutist I would have mown already, but the bugle (Ajuga reptans) is just coming in to flower. I shan’t make the same mistake as last year and let the lawn get much over 9cm in places, but I’ve decided that once the bugle has largely finished its show in about a week or two, the mower will come out. No mowing = No grass-free lawn!

Reaching the height limit.

Reaching the height limit.

This years mild weather has given quite a boost to growth and although I’m delaying mowing for the bugle, it might just vanish before the mower is applied. The changeable environmental conditions are one of the reasons that a species rich lawn is best. Last year we had a cold start to the year and a spring moisture deficit – a mini drought of sorts, and growth was much later and much less lush. A greater diversity of plant species means there are always some plants that can respond well to the conditions.

Disappearing bugle.

Disappearing bugle.

 

It is when mowing looms large that I’m reminded exactly how fundamentally important foliage is to a grass-free lawn. Flowers are the cherries on the cake. The lawn should be first and foremost a ground cover of foliage managed by mowing. That is after all what a lawn is.

Here are some examples of lawn foliage in the neighbouring experimental lawns that were planted in late 2012 for my research into pollinators:

Foliage 1

Foliage 1

There’s a good mix here of two types of Leptinella (Dioica and Squallida) , wild type Potentilla reptans, ornamental Ranunculus repens, Mouse-ear hawkweed (Hieracium pilosella), bugle (Ajuga reptans atropurpurea), ornamental red clover (Trifolium pratense ‘Susan Smith’) and ornamental daisy (Bellis perennis).

 

Foliage 2

Foliage 2

 

An eye catching mix of golden creeping jenny (Lysimachia nummularia aurea), silvery Pilosella tardans (which I obtained as Hieracium niveum), germander speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys), white flowered common buttercup (Ranunculus repens ‘Gloria Spale’), pink dandelion (Taraxacum pseudoroseum) and a smattering of Leptinellas.

 

Foliage 3

Foliage 3

I know there are dog violets (Viola riviniana) in the image, but they will soon fade away and its the leaves that will contribute to the mix of foliage for the rest of the year – along with the Viola odorata leaves now the flowers have already faded. The little leaves of the thyme (Thymus serpyllum), the emerging silvery fur of silverweed (Argentina anserina), the (in this case) shiny mouse-ear  Hieracium pilosella, mix with ornamental spotted hawkweed ( Hieracium maculatum ‘Leopard’) and a little creeping jenny and crosswort (Phuopsis stylosa).

I think I will add a few more foliage images shortly, certainly before the blade falls.

Just because..

No specific reason for these images. Taken today and I just like them.

Lush lawn

Lush lawn, the daffodils are faded and there is a bit of height in the lawn.

 

A nice species mix.

A nice species mix.

 

Must remember foliage is THE most important part of a grass-free lawn.

Must remember foliage is THE most important part of a grass-free lawn.

 

Another nice mix of species.

Another nice mix of species.

 

Not bad for an overcast and cool day. Oh I do like my lawns…