Lawn Loses Some Turf Wars

50506thumb
Mow Town

As a landscape feature, lawn and turf are in a distinct category. Just as arborists specialize in arboriculture (horticulture of trees), there used to be horticulturists who specialized in turf. Even though it is just as interesting, and in most regards, much more demanding than other plant material, many horticulturists who are not specialists with turf do not want to bother with it.

Turf is undeniably the most useful of all plant material, which is why there is so much of it. Unfortunately, it is also the most demanding. It requires more water than any other plant material, except only for aquatic plants and some bedding plants. (Small ponds with aquatic plants are actually less consumptive than larger lawns.) Mowing and edging needs to be done almost weekly.

All this work and water is probably worth the effort where turf gets the most use, such as athletic fields and parks. Yet, it is good incentive for alternatives where applicable. Larger patios and decks mean smaller lawns, and are usable ‘hardscape’ areas. Less demanding ground cover plants, and even old fashioned gravel and bark, work nicely over unused areas.

Since it was invented for the athletic field of the Astro Dome, artificial turf has had a bad reputation. It did not feel or look like real turf, and eventually succumbed to wear and tear. Realistically though, it worked. The main problem was that it was constantly compared to real turf, instead of recognized as an alternative to turf, like carpeting for garden space.

Modern artificial turf is much more convincing. It actually looks and feels something like turf, and is more resilient to weathering and wear. It is convincing enough to be used for athletic fields and playgrounds. It would be just as appropriate for landscapes inhabited by dogs if the dogs do not dig. Artificial turf can be expensive, but saves so much in water and labor.

Removing a real lawn and leveling the area for new artificial turf can be stressful to the root systems of mature shrubbery and trees around it, and even in neighboring gardens if the lawn is near a fence. Because artificial turf needs no soil amendment, excavation should be minimal. Because it needs no water, artificial turf can be placed right up against tree trunks.

After artificial turf is installed, some adjacent shrubbery and trees may want to be occasionally watered through the first few summers until they adapt to the lack of watering where the former lawn was. Such plants will not need as much water as the original lawn got, and will only need it temporarily if they get enough water in other areas of their roots zones.

Boulders In Modern Landscape Design

90703thumbIt is hard to say why boulders and sculptural stone are sometimes incorporated into American landscapes. A long time ago, boulders were only left in landscapes if they were to big and heavy to move out of the way or break apart. Early American landscapes were designed to express dominance over nature by replacing as much of it as possible with unnaturally organized landscapes.

Slowly through history, less refined and more relaxed landscapes became more tolerable, and then became popular as an expression of rebellion to earlier formality. Nowadays, most landscapes are inevitably informal, partly because so many believe that informality is more natural, and partly because few landscape designers will design anything else. Simplicity and symmetry are passe.

This informality allowed for the incorporation of various elements from various styles of landscaping, regardless of how incompatible some of such elements were with each other. Boulders and sculptural stone that had been traditional with many Asian styles of landscape design were added to American landscapes in rather nontraditional fashion. It has been a slow process of evolution.

Boulders are obviously nothing like viable and dynamic plant material, although they do contribute form, texture and color to a landscape. Designers might say that bigger and sculptural boulders add drama without even trying. In some situations, boulders are as functional as they are aesthetically appealing. They can obstruct unwanted traffic or hold back soil that is at a higher elevation.

If they need not conform to any of the various Asian landscape design traditions, there are not many rules for the use of boulders and sculptural stone. Exotic stone that might be incompatible to big open landscapes where exposed endemic stone is visible nearby, might be just fine in enclosed gardens where there is no reference for what is natural.

The standard rule of burying as much as two thirds of a boulder to make it seem as a natural outcropping is only valid if it is intended to look like a natural outcropping.