On a recent trip to Edinburgh, just before lock-down, it was noticeable that a number of shop fronts and cafe entrances were clothed in floral decoration. Now I’m not much of a shopper but my horticultural eyes are turned by any greenery or planting.
‘But hang on a minute…There’s no way that plant should be flowering on a cold March day in Old Town Edinburgh!’ ….’And where do its feet go? No pot, no ground for it to grow in’…
On closer inspection the pinks are too pink and the yellows too yellow. The foliage lacks the tonal variation of real fronds and leaves.
But some displays are really quite sophisticated, particularly when seasonal produce is combined with real branches and woven twigs. It takes more than a double take to differentiate the real from the artificial.
All of which leads me to the artificial lawn. Artificial turfs are becoming more sophisticated with a mix of greens, blade height and thatch all part of the overall picture. They may even have a convincing spring underfoot. Apparently the market for artificial grass is increasing. Customers request an artificial lawn for a shady place where grass would struggle to thrive even when shade tolerant species are specified. Maintenance is also cited as an issue that makes it a choice for busy non gardeners. Schools and nurseries see it as an all-weather alternative for lots of little feet.
In some areas it is the only alternative if lawn is truly desired. An example would be a roof garden or balcony space.
I sympathise with all these points but struggle to justify the choice.
What are we losing by specifying an artificial lawn?
The main loss is felt by the natural world. A natural lawn hosts a vast range of invertebrates and insects both above and below ground. Smothering and removing the top soil starves this subterranean world and any insect that burrows into the ground. Birds cannot feed through artificial lawn. Any flowering species in a lawn mix is removed depriving bees and other insects a meal.
The “carbon sink” effect offered by grasslands is also lost. We all know about trees and their importance in fighting climate change however grasses also play a part. In the process of photosynthesis, they grab carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and some of the converted carbon is stored in their roots. When they die and decompose this carbon is transferred to the soil.
It has to be remembered that plastic products are made from fossil fuels and their manufacture also consumes fossil fuels. When the product is exposed to sunlight it slowly breaks down and eventually degrades. This contributes to the problem we have with disposal and micro plastics. A low quality product might need replacing after 10 years and end up in landfill.
It might be argued that a real lawn requires mowing and petrol use. We can mitigate this by using electric lawn mowers or go further with a push mower! The artificial lawn still requires maintenance by cleaning and brushing. Some would even take to vacuuming them clean.
We really need to adjust our mindset over the ‘perfect lawn’. Reduce the number of cuts, allow a few daisies or even dandelions to flower. Feed the bees.
We are ultimately also depriving ourselves of some seriously sensuous experiences a natural lawn offers. There is nothing like walking barefoot over the cooling sward of a dewy grass on a warm Summer morning. And the smell of freshly cut lawns? Transport yourself back to childhood by making a daisy chain, or share the experience with the next generation.
So let’s embrace our less than perfect lawns, and reduce the demand for their artificial interlopers.