Lawns are reborn: gardeners want to make grassy spaces smarter, smaller and wilder | Australian lifestyle
Lawns have been a popular feature of Australian gardens since European colonization, providing lush greenery from fence to fence, veranda to street. But herbs have been in more and more demand lately as people question their environmental impact.
First of all, there is the consumption of precious water.
“When I was a baby gardener – think of the millennial drought and water restrictions imposed overnight – there was a bit of demonization of lawns,” says Millie Ross, senior researcher and presenter at Gardening Australia. “How dare you waste water on them!”
“The sports fields have turned brown and the trees in the streets have died, people have laid waterproof paving stones and replaced the living grass with plastic, which is now buried in the point.”
But these depressing scenarios, two decades later, have actually brought out the value of lawns.
“A lot of the time it’s about making a lawn smaller and smarter,” says urban landscape designer Darin Bradbury, director of Mint design. As people turn more to fruit trees and edible plants, he says we still appreciate having an open space somewhere in our gardens, especially people with small children or pets.
Bradbury advises to “green the surrounding areas and filter the neighbors, and bring the lawn a little bit so that it is as big as necessary”. For high traffic areas, he says, there is really no substitute for the lawn.
Ross agrees that a small lawn can be a good thing: “If you want to grow a good lawn, great!”
She says that a healthy, green, vibrant and breathable lawn can cool your home, it can provide feeding habitat for insects and birds, and if you look at it, it will improve your mood and productivity.
“Lawn has a bad reputation,” says Deryn Thorpe from gardening podcast All the dirt, and it is not without reason. Traditional lawns do not tend to promote biodiversity. Lawns are permeable, which is an advantage in many cases, but can be problematic if toxic pesticides, herbicides, and inorganic fertilizers are used to treat them.
However, the turf industry selects more drought tolerant or slower growing varieties, such as buffalo grass, which are durable and require less maintenance.
“If you choose the right lawn for your climate and soil type, you won’t need herbicides and very little fertilizer,” Thorpe says.
Another benefit of these low-intervention lawns is less mowing. Ross suggests that a wilder lawn allows other species – even weeds – to grow and flower to provide habitat and food for insects and birds.
“There is definitely a movement towards less maintained and less tense lawns,” says Tim Sansom of the Diggers Foundation. “Most of them are now considered part of the landscape and they are allowed to be a little more natural.”
In their showcase garden at Heronswood in Dromana, on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, foundation gardeners sow daisies into the mix to give it seasonal interest and texture – and as an added bonus, it needs less maintenance. .
Along with shrinking your lawn and letting it grow wilder, soil preparation is also vital. In addition to using compost, clay should be added to sandy soil, and conversely, dense soil should be helped to drain freely.
“If you cut your lawn and let the leaf bales fall on it, it acts like a natural fertilizer,” Thorpe explains. “I also tend to fertilize with compost, worked between the blades of the grass, rather than using inorganic fertilizers.”
There is no one-size-fits-all solution – although do not to do is very clear.
“If you don’t want to mow a lawn, make sure the alternative is also permeable, like mulch, gravel, patio, or garden,” says Ross. “But promise me, drop the plastic lawn. It’s hot, weeds germinate there easily and in a few years they decompose – don’t!
In general, experts believe that a mixture of lawn and plants is ideal.
Bradbury suggests that in less frequented areas, alternative ornamental ground covers may work well. A popular option is native kidney grass (Dichondra repens), which grows well in shade, unlike most lawns.
Bradbury also recommends the white star creeper (Pratia pendunculata), which has delicate white flowers, provides a nice low ground cover and can withstand some shade. These are also good for growing between individual pavers, he adds.
Really, the sky is the limit. “A mass of flowering ground covers can have a dramatic effect,” says Ross.
“I love bidgee widgee (Acaena novae-zelandiae), and not just for the name. It produces small, spherical seed heads that stick to your socks – or dogs – so it’s not for everyone … Lots of people also use the exotic Star Climbing Jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) but it has caustic sap so use it only where it won’t come in contact with passers-by. Really, there are loads of plants to try … so do it!
“Of course, in a sunny area you can also turn your lawn into a vegetable garden, a deeply satisfying – and fulfilling – thing to do. But this is another story.
Several native grasses can also be used in low traffic areas, Ross says, such as weeping grass (Microlaena stipoides), which is popular in gardens across the eastern states – but it’s worth checking out your local species.
“I harvested local wallaby grass seeds and overseed my border with exotic weeds. Fingers crossed, they can get the hang of it! If you can, always let them grow and plant and deposit the seeds to further strengthen the plant community. “
When deciding what to plant, it should be mentioned that flowering vegetable gardens provide a rich and vital source of energy for pollinators. But whether or not it includes lawns, Australian research has shown that backyard gardens can cool cities by 6C (43F), helping to reduce the effects of the climate crisis.
“Really, there are no hard and fast rules,” says Ross. “Look at what you want from your garden and what time to give it. An organic lawn can be just as useful as any other well-maintained plot. So mix it up or shear it. Just make sure you cultivate something.
In areas that will receive a lot of pedestrians, a lawn is the best solution. But in low traffic areas, gardening experts suggest these varieties.
Bradbury recommends these ornamental ground covers; which are much more shade tolerant than a traditional lawn.
Native kidney weeds (Dichondra repens): a A native drought tolerant groundcover that grows well throughout most of Australia and can endure light frosts.
Native violets (Viola hederacea and Viola banksii): flowering ground cover that can tolerate light frosts. Hereraceous grows best in the shade, while banksii can grow in the sun or light shade. Both prefer humid conditions.
Scleranthus biflorus: A mossy looking ground cover that is good with partial shade and frosts. It is drought tolerant but slow growing.
For low traffic areas that get a lot of sun, here are Bradbury’s suggestions.
Wild or woolly thyme (Thymus serpyllum and Thymus pseudolanuginosus): These grow well in most Australian conditions and can tolerate drought.
Fan flower (Scaevola albida): A drought tolerant Australian native with pretty purple flowers, which can tolerate light frost.
For Ross, “a mass of flowering ground covers can have a dramatic effect.” Here are some of his favorites.
Native Myoporum parvifolium: Drought and frost tolerant, this plant grows well throughout Australia, has pretty white flowers and prefers full sun or light shade.
Snake Vine Scrambling (Hibbertia scandens): Native frost and drought resistant climber with large golden flowers.
Bidgee Widgee (Acaena novae-zelandiae): Native to south-eastern Australia, it is a fast-growing ground cover with fern-shaped leaves and pom-pom flower heads.
At water level
These plants can only withstand minimal foot traffic, but Thorpe says “they’re pretty, water-wise and will grow all over South Australia in well-drained soil.”
Ging gin gem (Grevillea obtusifolia): A hardy grevillea with green foliage and pink to red flowers.
Tar bush (Eremophila glabra): A low growing, drought and frost resistant shrub with silvery foliage and small golden flowers.
Emu bush (Eremophila ‘roseworthy’): A native inland shrub with bright green leaves and orange-red flowers.
Snake bush (Hemiandra pungens): Native to Western Australia, this creeping shrub has slightly prickly foliage and purple flowers.