Avondale Park haircut

The Avondale Park lawn has been flourishing during the hot weather. It’s still green and full of flowers and butterflies and bees and seems to have uses beyond anything I could ever have imagined. The pair of handcuffs amid the greenery that I found on my last visit makes the mind boggle.

As you can see the lawn was flourishing really rather well and in need a visit from the mower.

Avondale ready for a haircut.

Avondale ready for a haircut.

You’ll notice in the background the brown grass of the park turf lawn and the green of the grass-free lawn. I’m pleased to get such a useful climatic test and a clear comparison between the two formats. The fine chap standing in the lawn is Leigh Hunt – one of the principal horticultural advisors at the RHS and my RHS PhD supervisor. He’d come to have a look, and being familiar with all my work so far, was in agreement that the lawn was blending well but a haircut was in order.

When the height of the sward reaches about 9cm it begins to look a little too meadow-like to be called a lawn – in my opinion. There is no specific height at which to choose to cut, it tends to be an aesthetic judgement on the overall look of the lawn and the plants that have been used and their purpose. However, myself, Leigh and the good people at the RBKC all agreed – time to get the mower out – for only the second time since the lawn was laid. We waited until the stress on the plants from the 30°C heat had passed – no point stressing the plants with a mowing and heat at the same time.

And lo, it came to pass that the mower was duly applied.

Avondale after the haircut

Avondale after the haircut


The lawn will look a little lack lustre for a couple of weeks before starting to look refreshed and clean.

One of the interesting things (for me anyhow) was how seeds from the meadow plants that occupied the space last year were coming up in the joins between the rectangles of plants. Corn marigold in particular had come up across the lawn. It emphasizes the importance of a ‘seed clean’ ground before laying the lawn.

Avondale was laid directly over the surface of the previous wildflower meadow, with the hope that the soil in the seed trays would act as a barrier. It seems they do, but only partially. The mower has of course resolved the immediate problem but the stems of chopped corn marigolds aren’t that pretty. Some grasses and parkland weeds are also popping through the gaps between the trays – time for a spot of weeding I think. It is only the first year, so some remedial weeding is to be expected, particularly since last year’s wildflower meadow has definitely left a potent seedbank legacy.

I remain amused that the lawn may have naughty nocturnal visitors. I never thought to include scented night-flowering plants in this particular lawn since the park closes of an evening.  Hmm, there’s a little ‘note to self’ I must remember.

I just hope the city-wise local foxes have seen it all before and are completely unfazed by the creative uses the lawn is put to!

Halcyon days

Aaaah, Summer at last. I for one have no complaints!

The experimental lawn here at Reading is three years old. It has seen two cold long winters and temperatures below -10°C. It has also seen two rather dull and relatively cool summers. At last, a summer that looks likely to test the lawn at the other temperature extreme. We have had air temperatures of 30ºC for several days and daily grass temperatures of well over 40ºC. It’s HOT on the grass-free lawn.

No watering has been applied and there are no plans to water the lawn either.

Here’s what the turf lawn adjacent to the grass-free lawn looks like today:

Turf lawn adjacent to the experimental plots

Turf lawn adjacent to the experimental plots

And here’s what the grass-free lawn looks like today:





I for one know which look I prefer!


Internal sward dynamics

The largest trial lawn at Reading has Bugle (Ajuga reptans) growing throughout. Bugle is commonly regarded as a woodland edge plant and garden lore says it does best in moist semi-shade. The Reading lawn is in a mostly sunny spot, on sandy loam; from a traditional viewpoint not the ideal spot apparently.

A light and height modulated, richly diverse sward produces conditions whereby Bugle receives the light it likes in spring – enough to produce flowers, and is then sheltered from strong sun through the summer by the plants that surround it. The dense sward also has the advantage of creating a ground level microclimate .

The grass-free sward is a species rich tangle of plants; tangles slow down air movements and shade the soil surface. Plants also breath, they respire. Respiration, a shaded soil surface and slower air movement can maintain a slightly higher humidity within the sward, allowing the Bugle to grow in a spot that from a traditional perspective garden lore says it shouldn’t.

Ajuga reptans 'Burgundy Glow' shaded by the tangle of the sward.

Ajuga reptans ‘Burgundy Glow’ shaded by the tangle of the sward.

A bit of height modulation (mowing) will bring the light back should it become a bit too shady. As is often the case, traditional perspectives benefit from a little rethinking from time to time!