This section is from the book "Beautiful Gardens - How To Make Them And Maintain Them", by Walter P. Wright. Also available from Amazon: Beautiful Gardens: How To Make And Maintain Them.
Visitors from other countries frequently remark on the beautiful verdure of British lawns. Our humid climate has its part in this, but we should be doing injustice to our insular self-complacency if we did not permit ourselves to believe that a considerable portion of the success is due to rational methods of treatment.
When the making of a lawn is in view, the first question which arises is: Shall we use turves or seeds? Let us consider the pros and cons of both. Rapidity of construction is all on the side of turves. They can be laid down at any time in the autumn, winter, or early spring, when the weather is not very wet or very frosty. Less care need be taken in cleaning the ground, inasmuch as the weeds underneath will be smothered by the thick mat of turf above them. Given a firm groundwork, and vigorous beating of the turves as they are put down, a firm, even sward is certain. If cut from very light soil, however, some cracking may follow if the succeeding summer be dry, and a little filling in and watering may be called for.
The principal drawback to the use of turves is the difficulty of getting them in sufficient quantity, and of acceptable purity. Even in the country turves are not always easy to get, and where they are procurable they are often a mixture of coarse grasses, Daisies, Buttercups, Plantains, and Dandelions. He who proposes to buy turves should carefully inspect them before he gives his order. Provided the turf is reasonably pure, coarseness of grass need not be regarded as a fatal bar, because refinement will come with mowing and rolling. Many excellent lawns have been made from meadow turves.
Turning to seed, our principal pro is comparative purity, provided that the seeds are purchased from a firm which has made a study of, and earned a reputation for, its lawn seeds. This is very important. Grass seeds are frequently greatly contaminated. As the many species differ very considerably in vigour, it is wise for the buyer to describe his soil to the chosen seedsman, and let the latter propose the blend.
But having taken trouble, and paid a special price, to get pure seed, it is all the more necessary to do everything that can be done to give it a chance of succeeding. This is no light task, and brings in one of the first cons of the seed lawn. The ground must be drained if wet, thoroughly dug, thoroughly manured, and, above all, thoroughly cleaned. All weeds must be got out of it, and this may not be achieved at the first working. Ply fork, rake, and fingers persistently until the end is gained.
As regards manuring, three barrow-loads of well-decayed yard stuff per square rod should be dug well in. Afterwards the surface soil should be broken up, and raked smooth and fine. As much as 1 1/2 cwt. of seed per acre, or, say, 1 lb. per square rod (30 1/4 square yards), may be sown, and it should be spread evenly on a windless day, preferably towards the end of March. Immediately afterwards scratch the soil well over it with an iron rake, and put on the roller. Birds must be kept away by netting, threads, or scares until germination has taken place.
The plants will spear through in a few days, and the lawn-maker holds his task completed. No; it is just beginning. We have all heard of the Oxford college gardener's reply to a question about making a lawn: "You mows it and you rolls it for three hundred years." If the staggered questioner had pressed for further details, he would probably have had the time parcelled out for him in two hundred years' rolling, and one hundred years' mowing. Bring out the roller within a fortnight of sowing, and keep it going, on and off, until it falls to pieces at the end of half a century or so, then start with another. You cannot very well over-roll a lawn, so long as you keep off it in very wet and frosty weather. Rolling spreads the root fibres, encourages a close mat, and produces springiness. It tends to refinement of grass.
Mowing should begin when the young grass is between two and three inches high. Set the cutter rather high, so that it skims off the top of the young plants without any risk of pulling them out by the roots; or, better still, use a scythe for the first two or three cuttings. Grass generally wants mowing once a week from mid-April to mid-October; some give an occasional cutting through the winter. See that no stones lie on and foul the mower.
Should patches go bare scratch them over with a rake, scatter on a little fine soil, sow seeds, and roll. Always seize any excuse for rolling.
If there are many birds about they will keep worms in check, but a light brushing over with a besom may be required at times to spread casts. Unfortunately, not all the efforts of blackbird and thrush, robin, starling, and wagtail, will prevent a mole causing eruptions now and then. With gloved hands (for the mole is keen of smell), set a steel spring trap in the principal run, and carefully cover it so that no light can penetrate.
If lawns become worn through much usage in a dry season, spread on a coating of fine soil and decayed manure in mixture during the autumn, and leave the winter rains to wash it in. Or two ounces of bone meal per square yard may be used.
Never allow weeds to spread. If a Dandelion shows itself spud it out to the last particle without delay.
One last word. It is often advised to remove the box when mowing, and let the cut grass lie where it falls, on the ground that it serves as a mulch. It does, but in turning brown it mars the soft verdure. Well made, well kept lawns will thrive without this unsightly mulching.