The most essential point being a deep soil, we need not say that in our estimation any person about to lay down a permanent lawn, whether of fifty acres or fifty feet square, must provide himself against failure by this groundwork of success.
Little plats of ground are easily trenched with the spade. Large lawn surfaces are only to be managed (unless expense is not a consideration), with the subsoil plow. With this grand developer of resources, worked by two yoke of oxen, let the whole area to be laid down be thoroughly moved and broken up two feet deep. The autumn or early winter is the best season for performing this, because the surface will have ample time to settle, and take a proper shape before spring.
After being plowed, subsoiled and harrowed, let the whole surface be entirely cleared of even the smallest stone. It is quite impossible to mow a lawn well that is not as smooth as ground can be made. Manure, if necessary, should be applied while subsoiling. We say, if necessary, for if the land is strong and in good heart it is not needed. The object in a lawn, it will be remembered, is not to obtain a heavy crop of hay, but simply to maintain perpetual verdure. Rich soil would defeat our object by causing a rank growth and coarse stalks, when we wish a short growth and soft herbage. Let the soil, therefore, be good, but not rich; depth, and the power of retaining moisture, are the truly needful qualities here. If the land is very light and sandy (the worst naturally), we would advise a mixture of loam or clay; which indeed subsoiling, when the substratum is heavy, will often most readily effect.
The soil thus prepared lies all winter to mellow and settle with the kindly influences of the atmosphere and frost upon it. As early in the spring, as it is in friable working condition, stir it lightly with the plough and harrow, and make the surface as smooth as possible - we do not mean level, for if the ground is not a flat, nothing is so agreeable as gentle swells or undulations. But quite smooth the surface must be.
Now for the sowing; and here a farmer would advise you to "seed down with oats," or some such established agricultural precept. Do not listen to him for a moment! What you desire is a close turf, and therefore sow nothing but grass; and do not suppose you are going to assist a weak growing plant by sowing along with it a coarser growing one to starve it.
* Mr. Downing apparently means to say that subsoiling will bring up some of the clay subsoil and mix it with the more sandy surface soil. Attention should be directed, however, to the fact that subsoiling, a practice not greatly in vogue at the present time, is actually a damage to light sandy soils. In such soils bottom drainage may be too free, and a further opening of the subsoil will only make matters worse. - F. A. W.
Choose if possible a calm day and sow your seed as evenly as you can. The seed to be sown is a mixture of red-top (Agrostis vulgaris) and white clover (Trifolium repens), which are hardy short grasses, and on the whole make the best and most enduring lawn for this climate.* The proportion should be about three-fourths red-top to one-fourth white clover. The seed should be perfectly clean; then sow four bushels of it to the acre; not a pint less as you hope to walk upon velvet! Finish the whole by rolling the surface evenly and neatly.
A few soft vernal showers and bright sunny days will show you a coat of verdure bright as emerald. By the first of June you will find it necessary to look about for your mower.
And this reminds us to say a word about a lawn scythe. You must not suppose, as many ignorant people do, that a lawn can be mown with a brush hook or a common meadow scythe for cutting hay in the fastest possible manner. It can only be done with a broad-bladed scythe, of the most perfect temper and quality, which will hold an edge like a razor. When used it should be set low so as to be level with the plane of the grass; when the mower is erect, he will mow without leaving any marks and with the least possible exertion.
After your lawn is once fairly established, there are but two secrets in keeping it perfect - frequent mowing and rolling. Without the first it will soon degenerate into a coarse meadow; the latter will render it firmer, closer, shorter, and finer every time it is repeated.
A good lawn must be mown every ten days or fortnight. The latter may be assumed as the proper average time in this climate. Ten days is the usual limit of growth for the best kept lawns in England, and it is surprising how soon a coarse and wiry bit of sward will become smooth turf, under the magic influences of regular and oft repeated mowing and rolling.
* We learn the blue-grass of Kentucky makes a fine lawn at the West, but with this we have no experience. - A. J. D. A more modern prescription is the following: Kentucky Blue grass, Poa pratensis, 9 lbs.; Rhode Island Bent grass, Agrostis canina, 3 lbs.; Red Top, Agrostis alba vulgaris, 4 lbs.; English Rye, Lolium perenne, 3 lbs.; White Clover (optional) Trifolium repens, 1 lb. The seed should be put in on a very quiet day, seventy-five to one hundred pounds of "fancy recleaned" seed per acre being used, or about one-half pound per square rod. - F. A. W.
Of course a lawn can only be cut when the grass is damp, and rolling is best performed directly after rain. The English always roll a few hours before using the scythe. On large lawns a donkey or light horse may be advantageously employed in performing this operation.*
There are but few good lawns yet in America, but we have great pleasure in observing that they are rapidly multiplying. Though it may seem a heavy tax to some, yet no expenditure in ornamental gardening is, to our mind, productive of so much beauty as that incurred in producing a well-kept lawn. Without this feature no place, however great its architectural beauties, its charms of scenery, or its collections of flowers and shrubs, can be said to deserve consideration in point of landscape gardening; and with it the humble cottage grounds will possess a charm which is, among pleasure grounds, what a refined and graceful manner is in society - a universal passport to admiration.
* The modern triplex horse lawn mower is one of the most practical tools of the present day, though the lighter motor-driven mowers answer very well. - F. A. W.