David Hedges-Gower's Posts (5)

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UK celebrates that lawns are GREEN!

Everyone knows that lawns are green – but do you know just how green? Great Britain was always renowned as a nation of lawn lovers. Yet in recent decades, the lawn has been regarded as the bête noire of the gardening media. How did this happen? And why is it changing at last?

For centuries we have enjoyed cultivating pleasant green areas around our dwellings . Yet suddenly, by the end of the 20th century, we regarded our lovely green lawns as fossil-fuel hungry and needing copious amounts of chemicals and other resources, making it the enemy of the environment. However, the real problem is that the lawn has never had a spokesperson to correct this misinformation – until now.

Recently the real truth about lawns has been emerging, loud and clear. People are appreciating the true value of the lawn as both an aesthetic and an environmental asset. And it’s all because two myths have been exposed.

There is no such thing as ‘the perfect lawn’.

The first myth is that the perfect lawn exists and is something we all pursue. It isn’t, and if we do it is only because we are told to. The term ‘perfect lawn’ makes great sales copy for all kinds of lawn merchandise but in reality the ‘perfect lawn’ is unobtainable.

During my time at the Oxfordshire golf club, I managed both men and money in unmeasurable amounts, striving for the goal of perfection. And whilst this work in no way resembled domestic lawncare, it made me realise that ‘perfect’ doesn’t and cannot exist even at that professional level. Does this matter?

Of course not. I can remember in my fathers and even my grandfather’s day that in spite of meticulous and obsessive attention to beautifully trimmed edges and a very short cut, there were still no perfect lawns. It didn’t matter. Then, as today, our goals and desires are different in each and every garden and location. And this is the core message in my book, Modern Lawn Care. But what about the other myth?

Lawns are green, one of the greenest parts of our gardens

The gardening media in particular has been responsible during the past 20 years or so for making us believe that the lawn is environmentally very unfriendly. Now, I can understand where this myth first took hold;  remember that this period has seen a great many chemicals being banned from Garden Centres and other sales outlets for very good reasons. But the lawn should never have been dragged into this argument. Lawns really are green.

Yes, throwing chemicals willy nilly onto our gardens can never be healthy. But good lawncare is all about harnessing nature’s power and making things work better naturally. Chemicals are part of everyday life whether we like it or not.But good lawn care – green lawn care – doesn’t need loads of chemicals. Did you know, for example, that of the 38 also chemicals listed on the Royal Horticultural Society’s list of banned chemicals, only three were designed for lawn use? This suggests that the use of chemicals on lawns is not only largely unnecessary but has been exaggerated in the past.

Let’s look at some other facts. Lawns and indeed grasses are a very important part of our DNA. Grass is one of our most resilient plants, covering approximately 20% of the planet. Grass is one of our more efficient systems for storing carbon dioxide. It gives off huge amounts of oxygen and protects our valuable soils from heat and erosion. It’s even in our food chain – we simply could not live without it.

So, we are witnessing a welcome revolution in our gardens as more and more people learn these wonderful facts about grass and green lawns. We are all beginning to see the bigger picture and to ignore ill-given advice from the past. Modern lawncare is all about different values, new values which set a higher benchmark for all of our gardening activities. Instead of focusing on perfection, modern lawncare focuses on healthy and happy plants.

Little wonder then that people are falling back in love with lawns – because lawns are green like never before!

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10 simple tips for a greener lawn

  1. Plan a simple program of work. He who fails to plan, plans to fail…even on lawns.
  2. Learn and note what works for your lawn. A record of whatever works is invaluable.
  3. Begin Spring with a lawn renovation. This helps your lawn to flourish the rest of the year.
  4. Your lawn is a living entity. It needs, food, water and air, just like you do.
  5. You can always improve your mowing technique. We all mow, but less than 5% do it properly.
  6. When tackling lawn moss, attack the spores not the plants. Always spray for moss following lawn.
  7. Scarify lawns to improve grass growth, and then you won’t have such a problem with moss.
  8. Modern weather patterns are having new impacts on lawns. Learn how this happens and remain observant to avoid nasty surprises.
  9. Aerate, aerate, aerate…and when you’ve finished, start planning the next one.
  10. Be practical. For a happy lawn, know why you’re doing it before you do it.

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A perfect match

At the recent Greensleeves conference I had the great honour to meet and talk with many of the franchisees. Their passion for lawn care and for attaining more knowledge was inspiring. And it confirmed what I already knew – that this is the only lawn care franchise company to be involved with. I am delighted to be able to work with the company – but how did I get here?

When I first moved from golf courses to lawn care, people would ask me, “aren’t you a bit over-qualified?” I’d love to think they referred to my expertise but it’s just as likely they were reflecting lawn care’s lowly status as a dull topic, not deserving of much attention. Because that is how it was a few decades ago.

In fact, although things are moving in the right direction, they are still picking up speed. We currently have no governing body to support both the industry and its consumers (but watch this space!); lawn care is still treated like the ‘short straw’ by TV presenters, the topic no one wants to take on because they don’t have a particular expertise (or passion).

And that has been the core of the problem – expertise, or lack of it. Even the best-selling book for many years, Dr Hessayon’s Lawn Expert book, is now so out of date it could almost relate to a different planet. At the same time, gardeners were encouraged to have unrealistic expectations – the pursuit of the ‘perfect lawn’, short cropped and with lovely dark green stripes. Even the best sports turf arenas in the world struggle to achieve and maintain this so it’s little wonder that gardeners pretty soon gave up.

So, all this led me to the conclusion that lawn care has been misunderstood and misrepresented for too long. What was needed is to put the correct information into a simple format, easy to understand and easy to use.

But there still has to be a foundation to this, an underlying principle that governs the entire approach to modern lawn care. Ironically, with the massive growth in lawn care products and services, this has become more not less important. There are products that claim to do anything and everything – and they’re very persuasive; I know – I’ve been completely sucked in by some of the promises!

My own book, Modern Lawn Care, aims to define a modern philosophy, but when I wrote it I did wonder if I would be single-handedly dragging lawn care into the 21st century. Rather than face years of uphill struggle what I really wanted was to find a company that, like me, understood the power of nature and how to work with it; that shared my respect and passion for this plant group that covers 20% of our planet’s surface; and above all that had the same vision for helping gardeners of today and tomorrow to achieve what they really want from their lawns, not what the fashions and ignorance’s of yesterday say they should have.

And of course, that company is Greensleeves, a company I am happy and proud to endorse and support. It may not be the largest franchise company – yet – but I would quite simply say it is the best. And it is going to get even better! Together we will continue to spread the word about natural lawn care in our modern climate and raise the standards of professional lawn care higher than they have ever been.

Anyone who is familiar with my writing and blogs will know how often I repeat the mantra – there is no such thing as ‘the perfect lawn’ – but, thanks to Greensleeves, I can now say that there may well be such a thing as the perfect lawn care collaboration!

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Mowing-its easy isnt it?

At last the sun is beginning to make its presence known and the temperatures are rising – a great excuse to rush out into the garden. And I bet one of the first thing many gardeners did was to pull out the lawn mower, dust off the cobwebs, check the oil and make sure the cables work.

Next thing they did? Well, mow of course. All you need is a functioning mower and you’re off, correct? Well, not quite, as I’ll explain.

Even if you follow a good feeding programme and find time for aerating and scarifying, and even if you keep your moss under control, there is one problem many gardeners experience – patches of yellowing grass. It’s the blight of many a garden once the mowing season arrives.

Now, proper lawn care is easy to achieve when you know what you’re doing. And the good news is that this applies as much to mowing as anything else. To help people understand, I often ask them the same question – “who are the best mowers in the world?” The answer is usually a shrug and “I dunno – Honda? Hayter?

No,” I reply; “I mean which people are the best mowers?” This is usually met by a blank stare so I go on to reveal the answer – sports turf professionals. And we see the evidence of this every weekend on the TV in the splendor and stunning presentation of the sports arenas.

But hang on a minute – surely mowing is mowing? Do the professionals have a secret mowing technique? No, its certainly not a secret (just follow the mowing guide in my book and you’ll be using the same principles they use). Do they have superior machinery? No, they often have the same mowers you and I have. Do they work on superior grass? Well, even if they do, that same grass gets far more abuse than the average garden but still looks so much better!

No, the answer is much, much simpler. It’s all to do with the blade. OK, so they may well have fantastic machines, but it is the blade that cuts, not the surrounding bits and bobs. And turf professionals keep their blades as sharp as possible – at all times. This is the one single biggest difference between professional mowing and everyday mowing.

So, you too can achieve the same results if you do something about your blade. Most people today use rotary mowers, and to get the best results from these you should sharpen your blade every two weeks (or even weekly mid-season).

What? How can I possibly find time for that?” Don’t panic! It’s not time-consuming, and when you understand the benefits, you’ll be much more motivated.

A blunt blade rips and tears the grass. This stresses the plant and makes it difficult to absorb and use food and water. This leads to the yellowing lawns. However, use a sharp blade that makes a good, clean cut, and the grass recovers much more quickly and retains its lush green appearance. So, there’s your motivation covered.

As far as time goes, it takes only a few moments to upturn your mower and remove the blade. If you keep a spare you can simply slip that on and get mowing, and find time during the week to sharpen the other blade. With the right tool, it only takes a few minutes to sharpen a blade. And if your original instructions that came with your mower suggest an annual sharpen, ignore them!

What’s that? You want the stripes as well? Ah, that’s a different story altogether. Why not start by getting into a good blade-sharpening routine. Ten minutes a couple of times a month will give you much healthier and greener grass. Then you can read up on how to create a striped effect!

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The Sustainable Truth About Lawns

I recently read a thought-provoking article which questioned the sustainable credentials of the garden lawn. Whilst I applaud the principle of always looking for new and better ways to maintain our gardens using fewer resources and toxic chemicals, I really worry about the distortion that such articles give to the topic.
Believe me, lawncare IS a complete specialist topic in itself. Therefore it is absolutely essential that any advice given to gardeners by media presenters, landscapers and other horticulturalists must be balanced by solid facts from those with real expertise in the subject. And lets’ start by tackling the bias of information we’re routinely given (or not given) about grass and lawns.
From TV programmes through to events like Chelsea, mere lip service is paid to the subject of lawncare. At best we are told what to do by someone with fantastic knowledge of perennials or vegetables or water-features but only a passing acquaintance with professional lawns; at worst we witness lawns being dug up to be replaced by environmentally-unfriendly concrete or paved areas for reasons unknown (certainly not aesthetic!). And somewhere in the middle we watch the hasty installation of some turf, soon forgotten once laid and destined to die from neglect. Where is the informed, unbiased advice?
Let me state this categorically - the healthy lawn is green in both ways that matter. Indeed, as my book (coming out later this year) will explain, a healthy lawn actually enhances the biodiversity and green credentials of the average garden. What I feel misinforms the non-expert critics of the lawn is an obsession with an out-dated concept - the ‘perfect lawn’. They conjure up an image of water-intensive features, greedy for fertilisers and pesticides. Well, here’s some news - the ‘perfect lawn’ is nothing like that; the perfect lawn is simply the ideal area of grass for YOUR intended purpose - and that purpose can certainly include green or even organic LAWNCARE!
Ah, I hear you say, but what about pesticides and other chemicals?
OK, let’s take a balanced look by popping into your local garden-centre. Add up the modest number of different pesticides you’re encouraged to buy for your lawn - then compare this with the massive array of pesticides alongside the fungicides, ‘pathclear’ and so on that you’re expected to use in the rest of your garden. It all starts to make sense now, doesn’t it?
OK, don’t leave the garden-centre just yet; take a wider look around - at the huge quantities of MATERIALS ready for creating hard, water-hostile landscapes; at the many wonderful plant varieties that still have polymer-coated fertilisers in their compost; and at the millions of plastic pots that all these plants come in.
So, it is fine - and indeed inspirational - to preach green and sustainable gardening - and we should all keep this firmly in mind when making our gardening decisions. But please remember this; lawncare has quietly but confidently been developing its green credentials for decades. I am a lawn expert so my lawn HAS to look good. Yet it receives just four organic feeds each year and, only if necessary, spot-treatment using herbicides (less than one full egg-cup!). Even the mowing is green - the lawn absorbs up to four times more carbon than the mower produces!
If you want a lawn in your garden you don’t have to take a guilt-trip. Lawns ARE and can be, green.

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