The lay of the land: Choose your turf tactics with care to create a perfect lawn

By Emma Townshend
Sunday 23 October 2011 01:49

God, whoever thought that lawn-making was quite so, well, complicated? And I'm not even sowing it from seed like they do in fussy bowls societies or Arsenal Football Club. I just want to lay some turf. You see workmen doing it by the side of the road all the time, and they seem to be able to roll it out at a rate of knots.

This is my first mistake, and it's an amateur one. Never calculate the rate you are going to be able to do something by watching workmen. They might to the untrained eye look like a bunch of lazybones who stand around a hole all day, mainly swearing and watching one slightly more energetic fellow workman dig; but actually they can dig that hole 26 times faster than a normal human being, even when they appear to be doing nothing at all.

And the same goes for laying turf. It's like The Generation Game: you watch the professional give a flick of the wrist to a Swiss roll of green grass and top soil, and imagine you'll be doing the same.

Instead, sorry, it'll be crumbling in your hands and making tears of hayfeverish frustration dribble out the corner of your eyes before you can say "flaming June".

Having ballsed up the first attempt due to excessive over-confidence, I retreat to the cautious position, avidly watching YouTube videos (issued by turf company Rolawn) in which a calm, broad-shouldered horticulturalist talks me through the essentials.

Which is when I start to realise that I have got it really wrong. Matthew (as I have named the broad-shouldered horticulturalist, whom I'm starting to think of as a sort of angelic vicar come to minister to my earthly needs) explains that I should have raked the bare soil to a fine tilth, to increase contact between the grass roots and the earth they will grow into.

Now, "fine tilth" to me is something of a relative concept, and I had been assuming it was probably OK to run with my fairly lumpy surface. But no, Matthew explains, that will never do. So I am back out there for another six or so hours with the rake and the rubble bags redigging the whole thing, trying to make it look as much like it does at Matthew's place as I can manage.

And then there's the laying itself, which is a marathon of fiddling negotiated from the wobbly standpoint of a plank of wood, very much unlike Matthew's careful, methodical advance. Sob.

Best news of all? I'm not actually allowed to walk on it for the next six weeks. My vision of lying on my new lawn eating strawberries and cream while listening to radio coverage of Wimbledon? Pouf, a cloud of smoke and it's gone.

Instead, I am at the mercy of the sward, tiptoeing around it as though it were a sleeping newborn baby, running out to water it at odd hours of the day and worrying incessantly about the colour of its edges. And suddenly a horrible new thought occurs to me: where on earth am I going to keep the lawnmower?

Top turf tips

1. Dig in the manure If the starting soil is at all ropey, dig in a bag of well-rotted manure per car-sized area. Mix thoroughly to avoid burning the new roots, then tread down gently in neat lines to get it as flat as possible. Use a trowel to reapportion soil if needed.

2. Keep it fresh Ring your garden centre and ask when they have their turf delivered. Try to buy it within 24 hours of delivery to the nursery, and lay it within another day.

3. Do not walk on the grass... while laying it – use a plank of wood if you must, to even out the weight distribution. Lay in a brickwork pattern, staggering the joins. Then it's a question of almost daily watering and keeping kids and dogs well away.

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