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What are grass-free tapestry lawns?

• Tapestry lawns are a researched turf lawn alternative made by using specific mowing tolerant plants instead of grass.

Tapestry lawn























Why?

There are a lot of turf lawns!

Turf lawns certainly have their place, but in the UK alone a reasoned estimate suggests the area of lawn is one and a half times the size of Greater London. That’s an area big enough to stand in the middle of and see nothing but turf lawn to every horizon.

In places like the USA more accurate satellite mapping indicates turf covers an area bigger than entire countries. More land in the USA is covered by turf than the total area of England and Wales combined.

The common image of the ‘perfect’ lawn is one of a monoculture of just a few species of grass. Monocultures are rare in nature and to maintain one takes substantial amounts of energy and effort.

The ideal grass lawn has been termed the ‘industrial lawn’ due to the amount of fossil fuel, chemical additives and number of management techniques that are continuously required to maintain it to an ideal standard.

The ideal monoculture lawn has also been described as a ‘green desert’ since a regularly mown and highly managed grass monoculture does not provide much in the way of habitat or resources for either other plants or pollinators.


How are tapestry lawns different?

• Grass-free lawns can produce over 20 times more flowers than found in common garden lawns.

Mean annual flowers








• They are visited by, and provide a source of nectar and pollen for, more species of pollinators than grass lawns and commercial ‘flower lawns’.

Grass lawn plant-pollinator web
GF Tapestry lawn pollinator web






• Native and mixed origin species tapestry lawns contain significantly more insect life than turf lawns, providing resources for insect eating predators such as birds and small mammals.

• Plants can be selected for flowers, foliage, scent and novelty.

Ornamental forms of British natives




• There is an immediate increase in plant diversity when replacing a monoculture type turf lawn.

• Mowing is reduced by up to two thirds from the traditional 20-30+ times a year to around 5-9 times annually.

• CO2 emissions are significantly reduced due to the reduction in mowing requirements.

• Moss is very rarely found in grass-free lawns. No need for moss killer.

• No requirement for de-thatching. Thatch is unique to grasses and has not yet been found to occur in grass-free lawns.

• Tapestry lawns do best with no added fertiliser.

Influence of fertiliser on grass-free lawns








• A tapestry lawn is not designed for frequent footfall but can be walked on. Occasional footfall has been seen to be beneficial, acting to press down plants so that they maintain in contact with the soil and helps encourage them to stay low growing. It also releases fragrance from scented foliage.

• The use of many British native plants makes it very easy to grow in the UK and NE Europe.

• Ground coverage in an established grass-free lawn is equivalent to that found in grass lawns even in winter.

Mean % of bare soil in lawns by type








• Tapestry lawns are perennial and do not need to be replaced every year like bedding plants.

• Tapestry lawns show drought tolerance and can remain greener for longer during short periods of drought.

Lawns in drought






• Tapestry lawns are able to absorb rainfall up to twice as fast as common turf lawns and up to three times faster than bare soil.

Rainfall infiltration







• Tapestry lawns are not static features. The internal structuring continually and visibly changes with the years and seasons.

• It is quite possible to add and remove plants as required in a new form of avant-garde horticulture – lawn gardening!


Requirements:

Tapestry lawns require the regular removal of grasses to keep them grass-free.

Like any living and constantly changing garden plant community, tapestry lawns benefit from a little on-going care (lawn gardening) to keep them looking good and species rich.


Further Information:
Peer reviewed journal articles:

Towards a lawn without grass: the journey of the imperfect lawn and its analogues

The grass-free lawn: management and species choice for optimum ground cover and plant diversity

The influence of plant species number on productivity, ground coverage and floral performance in grass-free lawns

Adding ecological value to the urban lawnscape. Insect abundance and diversity in grass-free lawns

Recent article: September 2014. Developing grass-free lawns. The Plantsman. New Series Volume 13, Part 3, 182-187. RHS, Peterborough. Plantsman article

Developing grass-free lawns

Thanks to the following people and organisations that contributed to the research and information sharing:
Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), Garden Centre Association (GCA), Finnis-Scott Foundation, Mr S. Bass, Stanley Smith Horticultural Trust (UK), Gilchrist Educational Trust, Herbiseed, University of Reading, Botanical Garden of University of Valencia, Bosch (UK).