Artificial grass by Tom Jenner

I drew up some plans recently to turn our micro sized paved back garden at home into something a little softer. I was keen to have some grass for our little boy to play on, but mowing a lawn in this space would involve standing on the spot and swinging a mower out to arms length in every direction. This might be enough room to play diggers on if you’re less than 3 feet tall, but hardly enough to justify even a small bright orange hovering mowing machine.

I turned to artificial grass, having seen an increasing quantity of promotional literature on the subject passing through my inbox. It’s a product that’s rapidly gaining popularity in nurseries, playgrounds and private gardens, for obvious reasons: it’s low maintenance, robust, looks good all year round and is easier on the eye than safety surfacing. Perfect then, for a roof garden on a high rise, the deck of a cruise ship, or the small garden of a mid-terrace…

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Personally I’ve never been that keen and have felt in the past that it stands out a mile, bright green and flawless, out of place amongst natural elements like garden shrubs and trees. But like any other product it has evolved and modern artificial grass can be softer and more ‘lifelike’, available in a range of colours and grades and even incorporating brown strands to simulate the thatch seen in a real sward. Additionally, I had decided it could be laid straight on top of the patio with some clever base design to allow for drainage – definitely a bonus if the alternative is digging out a shocking amount of slabs and concrete in a garden with no level access!

So my mind was made up. Until, that is, I thought back to why I was making this change. I set out to create a play surface. My memories of grass as a play surface are the smell of the clippings, the fun of gathering them up to throw around and make itching powder, digging in the dirt…artificial grass can offer none of these things. It might be more convenient for me, but I weigh the importance of interaction with nature favourably against the need for maintenance. I also believe that by opting for artificial grass, the loss of potential soil resources, real grass and all the microorganisms that accompany them, for the sake of convenience, will bear an environmental cost.

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I’ve decided to have a real lawn, even if it is slightly raised and needs a roof garden inspired drainage solution. I agree that artificial grass is a good product in the right place, but I don’t think our back garden is one of these. As for the mowing? I’ll be trawling auctions sites for a slimline vintage cylinder mower to fix up or, failing that, a small goat.

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