Gardening Lymington - May in your Garden - Debby Lockey gardening blog

Debby Lockey's Gardening Blog May 2014 - How Green is Your Garden?


How green is your garden ?  The pros and cons of using artificial turf.


The sun has been shining; the trees have come into leaf and the garden beckons.  But to lots of my clients the idea of going out and working in their garden, after a long day at work, is the last thing they want to do.  One of the most common requests I have when I am asked to design a garden is to create a low maintenance garden.


Last year I had such a request from some sprightly older clients who had downsized to a smaller house and garden. Normally such a request would have resulted in me suggesting a garden with lots of hard landscaping composed of different types of materials to provide various textures and colours, plus a few easy to maintain plants probably in raised beds to make gardening easier.  But they were both insistent that they wanted a more traditional looking garden with an area of greenery. 


This led us towards looking into using artificial turf.


As I try to make my gardens as environmentally friendly as possible, using artificial turf just seemed to be against everything I stand for.  But I am also aware that as a designer, one of my jobs is to come up with a garden my clients will enjoy.  So with that in mind I set about considering the pros and cons of artificial turf.


There are lots of reasons for having artificial turf in your garden, some of which are environmentally favourable. Artificial grass in a Lymington garden Debby Lockey May14


Obviously they provide all year round greenness just like grass does, but unlike grass it can cope with difficult locations such as under trees and hedges where it is shady and dry.  It doesn’t scorch, and it can be used in areas that are difficult to mow.  And artificial turf is definitely more low maintenance than a lawn.  You don’t have to weed or feed, which reduces the use of costly weed killers, and fertilisers.  There is no need for mowing, so you don’t have to invest in and maintain a lawn mower.  This could result in fewer pollutants, as some mowers can be eleven times more polluting than a car. And there are no grass cuttings. Artificial grass is more hard wearing than normal grass so it is good in areas where there are high footfall levels or where children or dogs play.  There are no muddy feet when they come in after playing.  And, an added bonus for dog owners, there are no yellow patches from the pets.  All in all having artificial grass means you should have more time to sit back and relax in your garden.


But of course there are lots of reasons for not having artificial grass. 


You may not need to sweep away worm casts, but this is because no worms can live in the soil beneath this ‘grass’.  The plastic used to make the grass effectively kills off all the living organisms in the soil, so it would be difficult to bring the soil back into cultivation should you decide to remove the artificial turf.  There are also fears that the chemicals needed to manufacture the grass may be harmful.  At the moment there is no conclusive evidence that they do as it is still early days, but the debate is there.  The artificial nature of the grass also means that the ‘lawn’ is not self-cleaning like a real lawn.  It must therefore be regularly hosed down or brushed, to remove bacteria, weeds, dirt and debris.  And during hot weather it gets very hot so there are none of the joys of running bare-foot on the grass.  It is also more expensive than real grass although it should last for 15 – 20 years.  Within this time you may have to replace the rubber cushion, which is laid underneath the ‘turf’ to provide softness and bounce.  But the cost of this could be offset against the costs of owning and running a lawn mower, expensive fertilisers and weed killers, which I discussed earlier.  The thought is that laying artificial turf pays for itself in 8 years, but that really depends on how much you would have spent on a natural lawn.


Artificial grass or real grass for your garden?


So, the verdict?   If you are comparing artificial grass to real grass then I think real grass wins hands down every time.  Real grass has a texture and scent that is wonderful and unique and assuming you don’t use fertilisers, pesticides, sprinkler systems, leaf blowers or petrol/electric mowers on your lawn, all of which produce more CO2 than is stored by the grass, then real grass is definitely more environmentally friendly.  A common argument used against the environmental credentials of grass is the amount of water that is needed to keep a lawn looking pristine.  But this water usage can be reduced by ensuring a good amount of compost has been added to the soil before the lawn is laid/seeded.  This holds the moisture so water is available when the grass needs it. Other ways to reduce water usage: by choosing the right grass for the site; not over mowing the grass so it is very short and therefore quicker to dry out; controlling the amount of thatch on the lawn so it doesn’t become too thick to inhibit the exchange of nutrients and water; only watering the grass deeply when it really needs it; and collecting rainwater rather than using tapwater.  If all this were done then I would say grass is better for the environment than artificial turf.


But maybe best is simply not to compare artificial with real grass


But my feeling is that really we shouldn’t be comparing artificial turf with real grass just because they are both green.  Instead artificial grass should be compared to any other hard landscaping material as they are both doing the same job.  So if you compare the environmental impact of fake grass with concrete they are probably on a par.  They both use chemicals in their production, and they both affect the water table.  This is because neither is porous so water is prevented from percolating down to reach the water table and the increased run off goes into drains.  And as last winter’s floods have shown this can have a devastating affect on the environment.  Neither provides any food for wildlife and both adversely affect the soil they are set on.  Natural stone may be a little better as there are fewer chemicals used, but it should be locally sourced.  At the moment Indian sandstone is very popular as it is so cheap, and looks good.  However shipping it all that way impacts on the environment.  You should also check whether the importers have signed up to the Ethical Trades Initiative (ETI) as this ensures that workers are above a certain age and that working conditions are good.


So, if you want a garden that has a more traditional English Country Garden feel to it, but one which is low maintenance, like my clients, then look into using artificial grass, as it has no more negatives than using concrete. However please consider other options like recycled paving, especially recycled Portland stone, as they are a much greener option.

 Artificial turf in a Lymington Garden 1, Debby Lockey gardening blog may 2014

And the verdict from my clients one year down the line?  They are still very pleased with it, especially as it and their garden survived all the winter flooding.   



Debby Lockey garden designer has worked in the New Forest and Hampshire since 2000. She offers design, implementation, and planting services.Her designs are characterized by strong simple lines that reflect the garden’s location, the use of natural materials for hard landscaping, overlaid with plants chosen for their

 ability to thrive in the situation, their contribution to ecology, their colour and their texture. Debby has a degree in Environmental Science, and an honours diploma in Garden Design from KLC London.


Your message here