‘The perfect lawn’? Who are you kidding?

Journalism is a respectable profession that holds its writers to account. But who is holding to account the well-respected gardener whose article about ‘the perfect lawn going out of fashion’ appeared recently in the Daily Mail?

Well here goes – let me have a go….

I have no doubt about the writer’s horticultural expertise, but his article reveals that he is certainly no lawn expert. And while it may be fun to create a debate around trends and fads, it can also be irresponsible; there are two important underlying issues – the dangerous environmental repercussions of careless advice, and the sheer ignorance revealed in the article. You see…

There is – and there never has been – such a thing as ‘the perfect lawn’.

Yes. It’s a commonly-used term but it has no fixed meaning. What may be ‘perfect’ to one person may not be ‘perfect’ to another. Today’s concept of the perfect lawn is a fictitious image created from a mixture of commercial marketing (e.g. seed cartons showing photos of immaculate grass) and lifestyle journalism.

Even your local golf course green keeper will agree that ‘the perfect lawn’ doesn’t exist – and that’s someone who spends tens of thousands on the grass and is out there every single day of the year tending it.

Let’s be honest – we all know what the writer was referring to; he had in mind the pristine front lawn, lovingly tended by an elderly person wielding nail scissors for the final touch. And this does exist in a few front gardens – and all credit to those gardeners. But it is only one of many varieties of lawn – and it is not what 99% of gardeners aspire to; so it has no relevance in any debate about the survival of the UK’s garden lawns.

“But face it – lawns are hard work”…

I get so annoyed when this old chestnut is wheeled out. To suggest that the work behind the rare type of manicured lawn you might find at an Oxford college is representative of the commitment all lawns require is frankly wrong.

It’s time gardening journalists got up to date.

One hundred years ago lawns did certainly look different – but not because of some perfect-lawn-ideal. It was because most of us had to use cylinder mowers that cut very short. And we had more time to spend, so we welcomed an excuse to coiffure the lawn week in week out.

But that nostalgic image is not modern lawn care. We have a lawn care industry in the UK worth in excess of half a billion pounds – and it gives us all kinds of conveniences that reduce the time and effort to levels our grandparents could only have dreamed of. Every single media suggestion that lawns are overly time-consuming is misleading and should be stopped.

And what about the environmental cost of encouraging us to dig up our lawns? We’re a country still reeling from winter flooding; and as research is now showing, the way we’ve hard-landscaped our properties directly worsens the land’s capacity to absorb all this excess rainwater. Quite simply, we need lawns.

So, let me try to redress this journalistic imbalance – and I’ll use my own lawn as an illustration.

I am a lawn expert and I take huge pride in my lawn. But I worked out that it takes me fewer than 24 hours a year to maintain my 250 square metres – 24 hours! What does it get for that? Well, once a year I scarify and aerate, and four times a year I feed it a nice organic feed; as this keeps it healthy I don’t have much trouble with weeds, but any that do establish are quickly dealt with by a little spot-treatment. And of course I mow it properly – something that would transform many a lawn in the UK.

My advice to you is…

Enjoy this style of horticultural journalism, but please don’t take it too seriously. Instead, find out about modern lawn care – and use that to define your own ‘perfect’ lawn, whatever that may be. And with very little effort, you will have a beautiful lawn that plays a vital part in your immediate and further-afield ecosystems.

Now – that IS perfection!