This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V21", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
(Read before the Germantown Horticultural Society).
A lawn, in order to fulfil its proper use of beautifying a place, must be well made at first, and, thereafter, kept in perfect order. While it should have a fair allowance of trees and shrubs, it must not be overcrowed with them, nor be hid from public view by a high wall or fence, nor by a close hedge. With the many fine country seats around the city, it is astonishing how few meet with these requirements. The house will be built where it will show to the best advantage, and the material used for the front will be of better quality than the rest; and then the grounds will be planted thickly, and perhaps a close hedge placed in front, as if in a vain endeavor to hide from the tax collector. This is sometimes carried to such excess that there is merely a suggestion of a dwelling, but whether a log hut or a palace is unknown except to acquaintances, tramps, and the ubiquitous assessors.
In making a lawn, either sod or a good mixture of grass seed can be used. The former is best when an immediate finish is desired, and though it is necessary when making a terrace, or where there is a liability to wash with heavy rains, yet in covering a large surface the cost is a decided objection to its use. It has been said there is more risk from the weeds being introduced than if the ground is seeded; but this has no weight, as clean sod should be selected and it is then no more subject to weeds than if raised from seed. It can be planted whenever it is in good growing condition, except in very dry weather; after being well pounded it will need no farther care, besides cutting and rolling.
Grass seed may be sown any time from April to October, avoiding very dry weather. Before sowing it should be well mixed with earth or coal ashes, previously passed through a fine sieve and then made slightly damp. From three to five bushels of seed will be required to an acre. After planting, rake lightly and roll thoroughly. The cost is much less than for sodding, and it will be quite as satisfactory in its results.
It is usual to mix with the seed either oats or rye, especially in the Summer months, so that the grain shall protect what is supposed to be the weaker growing grass. It would be as reasonable to plant corn to protect the grain. In practice, the grass seed will be quite able to take care of itself, aud if well rolled will soon make a good sod.
Whether to be sown or sodded, the ground should be first properly graded, manured well, dug or ploughed, and raked smooth. Whenever any hollows are found they should be filled in with a light soil, sowed with grass seed and then rolled.
Lawn grass should always be cut before it appears to need it. The cuttings are then too short to rake, and will make a dressing for the sod which will be a decided benefit to it. The mower cannot be used too frequently, from early in the Spring until the last thing in the Fall; in fact, whenever the ground is not frozen, it should be used at least once every week. The roller should also often be used, especially in the Spring as soon as the frost is out of the ground, and again after heavy rains. The grass should be trimmed occasionally around the trees and bushes, and along the edges of paths and flower beds, and wherever the mower will not reach. The ordinary sheep shears is a handy tool for this purpose.
It is a false idea that frequent cutting is expensive. Besides being the only way to maintain a perfect lawn, it will "be found to be the cheapest in the end. The aggregate labor and time required to cut every week in ordinary weather, aud twice a week when the grass is growing luxuriantly in warm, wet seasons, will be less than when cut every three or four weeks. In the former case, after going over the ground with the mower, the work is finished, and with very little labor; in the latter, the grass must be repeatedly cut and raked alternately until an even cut is obtained, and it will not then have a good appearance. The lawn should never need touching with a rake after the first cleaning in the Spring. If the cuttings are ever long enough to gather with a rake, it is certain that the work was not done at the proper time.
Of whatever pattern selected, a lawn mower must be light enough to handle easily, and be able to cut within a few inches of trees and other objects. The ability to cut long grass, claimed for some machines, is of doubtful advantage, as it encourages neglect. If the lower blade is kept well up, so as to just touch the revolving knives, it will keep itself sharp, and be in as good order at the end of the season as at the beginning, and will never require grinding. They should be used to cut not more than two-thirds of their width, and there will then be no unsightly lines of uncut grass. With a little management they will cut on terraces of any slope as well as on a level surface. For cutting weeds there should be a suitable knife, with a sheath attached to the handle of the machine.
Weeds are all unsightly, and yet some will appear in the best kept lawns. Among the most troublesome ones, are the sorrel and wild violet. All kinds should be pulled out whenever seen; it is generally sufficient to cut the root just below the surface of the ground. Sorrel is a very difficult weed to get rid of on account of its underground spreading branches. The violet, when it once obtains a foothold, is exceedingly annoying, and can only be exterminated by constant attention. If overlooked for one season, the ground will be filled with seed, not from its blue flowers, but from inconspicuous ones matured underground. The fall grass with its long creeping stems, is sometimes considered as a weed. It can only be managed by treating it as grass, mowing it frequently and keeping the rake from it. It is at its best when other grasses are burned out with the hot Summer sun, and often gives the lawn a bright green appearance which it would not have without it. When garlic is once introduced it is impossible to eradicate it, but as it is very similar to grass in its color and style of growth, it can scarcely be considered as an objectionable weed. Moles in a lawn are as bad as the most obnoxious weed, and should not be tolerated.
Being exclusively insectivorous it is supposed to be wrong to destroy them. They can be caught with a little patience, and, if it is really desirable to keep them alive, they can be sent to the Zoological Garden, or to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Do not hit them on the nose with a stick, or they will surely die.
Wherever a tree or a shrub can be planted it is customary to put one in, and it has not always a happy effect. Even while the trees are small the lawn is overcrowded; and as they grow, this becomes worse, until it is thought necessary to butcher some of them, and frequently they all share the same fate and are shorn of their limbs until they show the form of some of the letters of the alphabet. The appearance of a lawn is thus disfigured for years, when it would have been at once improved by entirely removing a sufficient number of trees and leaving the others untouched. A better plan of planting would be - wherever a tree can be omitted, leave it out. The nurseryman might dispose of fewer stock, but there would be a greater number of sightly lawns, and many more handsome trees than are now to be seen. Probably the best planted place in this neighborhood, is that of Mr. Redwood Warner, on School lane. The dwelling stands at a considerable distance back, and there is an unobstructed view of it from the road, over a long stretch of a most beautiful and well-kept lawn.
But even here the effect is slightly marred by a few trees badly situated, which suggest the thought that they were left over after the planting was finished, and were put there out of place rather than be thrown away.
How a fine lawn may be abused by neglect and ignorance, is well shown in Independence Square; it was sodded at a great expense, and for the first year it was really handsome, being frequently cut, which at that time was all it needed. Since then it has been gradually getting worse, and bids fair to again become a disgrace to those having it in charge. The money spent on it should have sufficed to keep it in perfect order. The edgings are seldom, if ever trimmed; and the ground is uneven, being full of hollows and hillocks which render it impossible to cut the grass well; and bare spots of earth are interspersed with long tufts of grass which no machine can cut. With the labor which has been expended on it, there should have been a surface perfectly covered with good, smooth, velvety sod.
Manures are as much benefit to grass as to any other plant. After planting of course they can only be used as a top-dressing. Ground bones decompose slowly, and their effect though lasting, is not shown immediately. Slaked lime in fine powder has a tendency to destroy the moss which sometimes appears among the grass. Bones and lime may be used at any season. Guano and other similar concentrated manures should be applied in wet weather; at other times they are hurtful. Liquid manures, used while the grass is growing, is an excellent fertilizer. In the Fall a top-dressing of stable manure may be used, to be raked off early in the following Spring. Always bear in mind, that being entirely ornamental, a lawn is made to be admired; to deserve this admiration it must be well kept; to receive it, it must be seen. Therefore, abandon front hedges and heavy fencing; cut and roll frequently, and after the first Spring cleaning abolish the rake; avoid excessive planting of trees, shrubs or flower-beds; if a tree needs extensive pruning, cut it down at once, and in every possible way encourage the grass and discourage the weeds.
The lawn will then give pleasure to all who see it.