The horror! Moss in the lawn.

Yes, it’s happened. Yesterday I was having a look at the lawn and to my horror there, hidden away, was a moss. It’s the first time I have seen a moss in any of the trial lawns since my research started. It is only a patch, a tiny patch the size of a two pound coin but its there.

I took a magnifying glass to the rest of the lawn and spent 20 minutes trying to find more. I didn’t find any. It’s just that one tiny patch. I had a much closer look at the patch and there may be an explanation. Firstly, it has been very, very wet indeed. We have had rain, rain, rain for nearly two months, and although unlike the bare soil around it the lawn is not showing any signs of being waterlogged, it has been very moist and unusually mild on site. So much so that there is moss growing on the windows of my car!

Anyway, I think that is just a contributing factor. What I did discover on closer inspection is a little Ranunculus ficaria (Lesser celandine) poking through at the same spot. It jogged my memory. Last autumn I had a half a dozen pots of Lesser celandine that I hadn’t used that were left over from the Chelsea display. The pots were in a shady spot and covered in moss, and since Lesser celandine is herbaceous they were just mossy pots with labels. I have an aversion to throwing plants away, so I decided to do a spot of lawn gardening and randomly add the contents of the pots to the lawn.

I think I may have transplanted more than just the celandine!

Here’s the little lawn horror I’m talking about:

Horror in the lawn

Horror in the lawn

It’s entirely my own fault it seems. I just hope drier weather arrives soon.

January lawns

There’s been a spot of frost on the lawns and a few new flowers have appeared.

Frosty on the lawn 1

Frosty on the lawn 1


Frosty on the lawn 2

Frosty on the lawn 2


The first snowdrop of 2014

The first snowdrop of 2014

The snowdrop is all alone in one of the RHS Chelsea exhibit lawns – the brown and gold foliage one. I don’t have a record of putting snowdrops in that particular exhibit lawn, so I’m a bit mystified as to where it came from. Not that I’m complaining.

Crocus on the way

Crocus on the way


The crocus’ are also showing signs of growth. It has often been pointed out to me that bulbs will probably not do well in a grass-free lawn because mowing will likely take place before the leaves have naturally withered away. In the UK we are used to seeing patches of long grass in parks and gardens in spring where the mower has avoided the daffodils and crocus’s leaves.

I have found that if early flowering spring bulb varieties are used in the lawn, that mowing in late spring has not yet noticeably reduced their performance or their number. In fact the bulbs seem to be spreading outwards from their planting locations, and I notice many new crocus seedlings each spring. The autumn flowering saffron crocus also seems to not mind the spring mowing it receives – again this seems to go against common garden lore. I am beginning to suspect that some bulbous plants are perhaps more resilient than we give them credit for.

Anyway, being a bit of a pragmatist I would probably just replace the bulbs if they started to under perform.

Actually, the more I do it, the more I seem to enjoy ‘lawn gardening’; and tweaking the bulbs a bit is quite a good excuse to get my fingers dirty.


The nicest surprise for me this early in January is the Cyclamen coum flowers that have appeared in the large lawn. I sowed some seed in a rather haphazard manner, by simply scattering them over the lawn just after it was originally laid three years ago. It’s what you do when you’re me and being experimental. It’s taken just three years for the cyclamen to get to flowering size, and here they are in the second week of January – not bad!

It is of real interest that seeds can be used in a grass-free lawn, and that corms such as cyclamen can survive the mower and grow on to flowering size in situ.


Cyclamen coum in the lawn

Cyclamen coum in the lawn

Now I’m wondering what else might do well from seed. Hmmm…possibilities, possibilities….

P.S. Thank you Santa.



Commercialisation of grass-free lawns

I must thank everyone who has contacted me publicly and privately via this blog, or via the Grass-free website, subsequent to the 2 minute mention on the BBC’s Great British Garden Revival on Friday.

The most common question by far has been “Where can I buy one?”

The simple answer is: Watch this space.

I am currently working with two of Britain’s well known plant producers on taking the research from the experimental grounds and into gardens and public spaces.

Inevitably transforming research into practical commercial application takes a little while, especially when using plants. We can only progress as fast as the plants themselves will grow. It is my hope that later this year we will see grass-free lawn ‘plant tiles’ made available to the gardening public.

At this early stage it seems likely that those people who register an interest will be the first to hear about it. So do let me know if you would like to be included on that list.

Blackbird on the Avondale Park Lawn, London

Blackbird on the grass-free Avondale Park Lawn, London

Winter lawns

No snow yet here in Reading, but plenty of wind and rain – really lots and lots of rain.

When compared to a traditional lawn, the higher rate of water infiltration that is found in an established grass-free lawn is proving to be beneficial, especially on the seasonally waterlogged silt loam that we have around the university. Here’s a peek at the preliminary data.

Water infiltration rates by lawn type

Water infiltration rates by lawn type. (Commercial flower lawn is a grass based meadow type lawn with added wildflowers)


As it is January there is not much floral activity on the lawns, but they don’t look too bad. Here’s a look (on a dull, wet and windy day) at the largest study lawn.

The lawn in January

The lawn in January


January lawn close-up

January lawn close-up


I was recently back in London to have a look at the Avondale Park lawn. Some of the gardeners are apparently having a bit of bother identifying the plants that should be in the lawn and those that shouldn’t. I hope we’ve managed to rectify that.

Here’s what it looked like at the end of December 2013:

Winter on the Avondale Park lawn December 2013

Winter on the Avondale Park lawn – late December 2013

There are plenty of leaves on the lawn, but it is still clearly evident that the plants have now become well blended and remain visually interesting.

More leaves on the December Avondale lawn.

More leaves on the late December Avondale lawn.

I’m sometimes asked about what should be done about leaves on the lawn. Since it is not possible to take a rake to grass-free lawns – the diverse structure of the lawn doesn’t allow it, I have generally ignored them. Leaves seem to naturally disappear, often taken down into worm burrows.

There certainly seem to be plenty of worms in grass-free lawns when I’ve looked below ground, but mysteriously I’ve not actually found any worm casts. Where there are extensive accumulations of leaves I imagine a hand held air blower would do the trick, although I have not actually tried it myself.

Last year many people were surprised to discover we used spring bulbs in the university’s exhibit at the RHS Chelsea flower show; particularly since the spring flowers would not be evident at the show. However I was keen to make and use the exhibit as realistically as possible and I’m glad I did, as at last I’m seeing the first green shoots and I’m looking forward to seeing some fresh flowers soon. I’ll add a photo in due course.