Making the perfect English lawn in Italy
For centuries the standard garden has been represented by the presence of a few trees, packed flower beds and a bright green lawn. With the onset of expensive irrigation systems, fertilizers and various chemical potions during the 1970’s the creation of a perfect green lawn has become possible even in hot Mediterranean countries. Huge expanses of almost artificial bright green lawn have now sprung up, as if by magic, in this...the brownest and driest of lands. Deep wells have been dug, lakes excavated and thousands of metres of black plastic piping have been installed in order to suck water from every available source and spray it all over Italian lawns.
I guess it’s one of the biggest faults of the modern human, that of wanting what we can’t have and the green lawn is no exception. The perfect lawn has been adopted as the epitome of good gardening by Italian gardeners, with glossy gardening magazines displaying images of smooth, well-cut and bright-green lawns. In Italy a green lawn is nothing more than a status symbol, a means of displaying to the world that you have the cash and resources (water) to make one. In other words if your Italian garden doesn’t have a bright-green lawn - then a true garden it ain’t!
As a garden designer, based in Italy for the past 13 years I have done my best to use modern horticultural techniques and as much practical common sense to end this nonsense. Even though I am able to save more than 80% of water, along with 80% of general maintenance I still find myself working for Americans, Brits, Northern Europeans and even Russians who are all looking for ecological and practical solutions for creating gardens with dwindling water supplies. When I am invited to reduce water consumption and costs by Italian clients a look of horror comes over their faces at the slightest suggestion of reducing their areas of lawn to a minimum. There are many alternative and eco-friendly ways of reducing lawn space but in Italy, it seems... there is NO alternative to the bright green lawn.
A bright green lawn requires a minimum of between 5 and 10 litres of water per square metre every day to retain a respectable green tone and twice that to attain the deep, artificial green that the Italians are striving for. Therefore it is clear that one needs a rather impressive supply of water to maintain a 10m X 10m lawn for the hot 3 hot summer months from June to the end of August. For a lawn of this size you will need a staggering 140 bath tubs of water every season!
Water Consumption (at 5 litres per square metre of lawn)
Ways to Save Water in Italian Gardens
There are many ways to save water in Italian gardens but one of the most effective yet still rarely used ways is the application of a top dressing. Top dressing is simply an application of a mix of fine sand (max 2mm diameter), good soil and fine organic matter, such as peat. Most golf courses rely on this to dressing to enrich the soil and save water. Peat can be substituted with the new compost that most councils are making from their ‘green waste’, it’s readily available and dirt cheap. Apply this top dressing mix at about 2cm over your entire lawn surface during the autumn and rake it in well. An application of Potassium sulphate or simple potash from the fire will aid root growth and help the lawn remain green all year round.
Always water at night if you have an irrigation system and leave the grass a little longer during the hotter months as this will reduce evaporation. Try to keep your lawn areas to a minimum and transform the remaining areas into wild flower areas or Mediterranean gardens.