Monday, 10 May 2010

Greenhouse effects: Turf

Tony Juniper

Not all grass is as green as it looks. Some of the most productive farmland in England, in the Fens near where we live in Cambridge, is used to produce turf, rather than food; and, each time another batch is ready and dug up, about 1in of topsoil comes away with it. Turf also has to be transported, usually by road, to where it is to be laid.
That said, it’s an attractive option. Laying it may be heavy work, but turf gives a sense of achievement, as bare areas are almost instantly converted into green space. It can also be put down at pretty much any time of year.
There are, however, advantages in repairing or starting a lawn from seed. First of all, it’s a lot cheaper. You can also decide on the combination of grass varieties that will most suit your needs. For example, you can get mixes that are hard-wearing or do better in shade. You can also make it more wildlife-friendly by adding clover. Clover is a member of the pea family and its roots fix atmospheric nitrogen, fertilising the soil in a way that helps grass grow. The flowers produce food for nectar-feeding insects such as bumblebees. Some turf suppliers offer different mixes, too, but doing it yourself gives more satisfaction.
Get the grass going from seed, then oversow it with clover seed at the rate of about 5g per sq metre. Use the variety ‘Kent Wild White’ and plant during the spring. You can add other wild-flower seeds as well.
We replanted an area of grass destroyed by building works, and itis shaping up nicely. The weeds needto be kept under control, but it isgreen and lush, and we hope it canbe turned into a wildlife-friendly lawn by the time summer is properly under way. (See page 24 for more tips on attracting animals to your garden.)
If you are in any doubt as to the viability of growing grass from seed, take inspiration from Chelsea football club. I visited their training ground in Cobham, Surrey, to learn about the efforts they are making there to go green, and discovered they had decided not to use turf so as to cut down on pollution and save land.
Tony Juniper is an environmental campaigner and former director of Friends of the Earth