A lawn can be used for physical activities such as playing games, as a design feature or as a functional path-like form that leads from one area of the garden to another.
Most gardens are likely to have a lawn and the design of your lawn will depend on a number of factors which we have summarized below.
A lawn can have a magical effect on a garden and can be cut to any shape from a simple rectangle to sinuous curves that provide open areas and link seamlessly to other parts of the garden by narrowing into paths.
It is easier to mow and edge a simple shape – if you have awkward corners, you could broaden them with tight curves.
For small gardens, a geometric shape such as a rectangle, circle or oval, often works well.
Small lawns invite inspection so neat edges are important and weeds are more noticeable than they would be in large areas. Tiny lawns (less than 4 square metres) are hardly worth the effort and may be better replaced with paving or some alternative planting.
Larger lawns are easier to manage as weeds are less noticeable and wear and tear makes less impact.
Lawns can be gently undulating but if you have humps, they can be scalped by mower blades and leave patches and also can be unsafe for children and the elderly so it is always a good idea to level.
Grass paths are feasible where wear is light but make them a mowable width – preferably at least 900mm (36”)
Steeply sloping banks can be laid to lawn but you will probably need a hover mower to cut them.
An attractive lawn does not have to resemble a bowling green as this requires a great deal of work and the fine grasses that give the smooth appearance will not tolerate heavy wear.
If your lawn will be well used, coarser grasses cut a little higher and will suit your purposes much better. A neat patch of grass for occasional summer use is probably most people’s idea of a lawn and a few daisies and weeds aren not a problem.
Your lawn does not have to be a uniform height – you could have an area that is higher or grown long with flowers.
If you are looking for a wildlife friendly lawn, allow the grass to grow long and do not feed the lawn. Cut twice in late summer and again before winter with a rotary mower, strimmer or shears and, over the years, flowers will develop and move in (this can be aided by you planting some).
To create a perfect soft green lawn, you will need a high proportion of fine grasses which must be watered in dry periods and paths are essential. Be prepared to work hard or employ someone reputable for regular cutting, feeding and care.
If you are creating a grass path, use coarse hard-wearing grass and it should be wide enough to mow easily.
A lawn should have a crisp edge otherwise it is unlikely to enhance the beauty of your garden.
Keeping the edge neat improves the look of any lawn - even a scruffy one. The edge can be cut sharp where it meets the soil of a border or bed or it can butt up to a hard surface. Ideally the lawn should be higher than the adjacent surface to enable easy mowing.
Hard edges can be trimmed with long handled edging shears or a trimmer. Without a hard edge, the edges of the turf will need to be cut fairly regularly, ideally with a half moon edging tool.
There are many types of edging that can be used, limited only by your imagination. We have listed some of the more common ones below.
There are two main types of lawn – the luxury lawn and the utility lawn which we have summarized below. You may also consider that there is a third type, the ‘second rate’ lawn which is usually the utility lawn that has little care and needs restoring to bring it back to good condition.
This type of lawn is typified with a velvety close pile and a bowling green appearance. The lawn is made up from fine leaved compact grasses, bents and fescues with no broad leaf lawn grasses.
The grass is kept short and regularly mowed at carpet pile length as this prevents coarser grasses taking hold.
The luxury lawn is a thing of beauty but not hard wearing so will not suit the kids playing football on it. It takes a lot of care and the seed and turf are more expensive.
Careful site preparation before seeding or turfing is essential as bumps and hollows will be more visible due to the shortness of the cut.
Bents - browntop (Agrostis tenuis), brown bent (Agrostis canina Montana), creeping bent (Agrostis stolonifera), velvet bent (Agrostis canina canina)
Fescues – chewings fescue (Festuca rubra commutata), creeping red fescue (Festuca rubra rubra), sheep’s fescue (Festuca ovina), hard fescue (Festuca longifolia)
This type of lawn is more for living on than looking at as it will stand up to games and outdoor living activities.
It can withstand moderate neglect without serious deterioration and is made up by a mixture of bents, fescues and coarser grasses.
It grows quicker than the luxury lawn so needs frequent cutting
In addition to the bents and fescues above, these lawns include grasses such as the smooth-stalked meadow grass (Poa pratensis), rough-stalked meadow grass (Poa trivialis), wood meadow grass (Poa nemoralis), Annual Meadow grass (Poa annus), perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne) and creted dog’s-tail (Cynosurus cristatus).
Maintaining a lawn under a dense tree is very difficult. The combination of shade, food and water shortages tend to exhaust the grasses and the drips from the tree canopy can be damaging. This results in sparse grass and moss growth. You can remove lower tree branches to reduce the shade or use shade tolerant grass but our view is that you are better avoiding lawns in these locations. Go for a bed or border with shade loving shrubs. In many gardens, trees and shrubs branches overhang the lawn so either trim the branches or cut back the lawn.
Steep banks can be cut with hover mowers but the topsoil depth must be consistent with the rest of the lawn. The slope should not exceed 30 degrees and, if it does, plant the area with ground cover plants or reduce the slope with a retaining wall.
Try and plant in rough turf or shaded areas as time taken waiting for them to die down may limit your start to mowing (especially in fine lawns).
Make your lawn easy to care for and avoid small and fussy curves and awkward corners.
Try and avoid placing heavy and permanent features such as seats and pots on the lawn as moving them or cutting around them will be time-consuming when mowing.
These should be at least 900mm (36”) wide – avoid narrow ones as they are difficult to mow. Maintain a mowing edge all around the lawn in order to make mowing and trimming easier.
Try and ensure good access to the lawn to avoid excessive wear and compaction in a single area. Paths should run along side the lawn and keep below the lawn level for ease of mowing. Stepping stones should also be lower than the grass level.
If you like the look of these, include them in your lawn area but they can look a bit fussy so restrict them to one or two and make in proportion to the size of the lawn. A large bush or conifer may look better than a mass of bedding plants.