The grass is always greener

... on the other side of the fence, especially when it's fake. Susie Mesure reports as sales take off

The sunniest summer since 1976 has left many gardens resembling the Serengeti plains. But something, at least, is growing. Sales of fake grass are soaring, as gardeners opt for artificial turf to replace their bleached lawns.

And it isn't just the green-fingered who are turning to imitation turf. John Terry will make footballing history today, when he leads Chelsea out to play Manchester United at Wembley in the first match to be played there on a partly synthetic surface.

The controversial pitch, which has been relaid 12 times since the stadium was rebuilt, is now 10 per cent fake after Wembley called in the Dutch company Desso to help it reinforce the turf. Wembley joins six Premier League clubs that also play on partly fake pitches – which have come a long way from the AstroTurf days of the mid-1980s.

Retailers say the recent hot weather has prompted a rush for artificial turf, with some firms reporting sales up by more than a third on last year. Evergreens, Britain's biggest artificial grass supplier, said peak sales this summer had hit 15,000 sq m a week, 35 per cent higher than last year. The DIY giant B&Q has sold 22,000 sq m, more than twice as much fake grass as expected when it launched the product earlier this year. "Initially, it was only a 10-store trial to establish if there was a market for it; it's now in 113 stores and selling well across the country," said a spokesperson for the chain.

Fake grass dates back to the 1960s, but it took a long time to catch on. It appeared at the Chelsea Flower Show this year for the first time, although only to carpet the inside of a cave rather than as an alternative lawn, which remains against the Royal Horticultural Society's rules.

Sales are strongest in London, where it makes a popular covering for roof terraces, and in the North-east, according to Evergreens. Celebrity fans include Amanda Holden and the singer Craig David. Schools are also favouring fake turf: one supplier said it was "completely booked up this month" with demand from schools.

Matthew Spedding, from As Good As Grass, said Cowes Week and Crufts were among those calling on their services. "We even did a snow-themed wedding with white grass," he said.

Fans like fake grass because it takes no looking after and doesn't fade for years. It also provides a soft alternative under children's climbing frames.

But although some gardening columnists are in favour, not everyone is convinced of its merits. Pippa Greenwood, who appears regularly on BBC2's Gardeners' World, is among the detractors. "I hate it from the depths of my heart. It's unbelievably revolting. I cannot imagine why it's popular. It's not comfy to sit on and environmentally it's a disaster zone. There's no way to support any ecosystem under plastic turf," she said.