LAWNS
Nearly everyone loves a beautiful lawn, even non-gardeners. It's one of the first things most of us think about creating in a new garden, perhaps because it's one of the easiest and often cheapest ways to quickly "finish off" a new home. Once rolls of grass are down or growing strongly from seed it's much easier to keep mud and dust out of the house.  Lawn also makes the property look much neater, and it's not so much of a hassle to let the children out to play, or to invite guests over for a visit.

Along with paving, lawn areas provide the majority of open spaces within a garden. These open spaces contrast with the more solid mass of walls, buildings and plants. As a general rule, the area covered by open spaces should be around three times greater than the area covered by such things as plants, walls and buildings. If a greater area is covered by lawn and paving, the garden may seem to be very open and the sense of privacy or protection may be lost. If the area of lawn and paving is less than 75% of the open space, the garden may feel too imposing or enclosed.

If the aim is to achieve a forest-like garden, then the objective is open spaces less than 10%.

In small patio or courtyard gardens, it is often impossible to maintain an acceptable ratio and it may be a mistake to use both paving and lawn in an 'open' area. The effect of two small areas composed of two different ground coverings can look 'patchy' and often breaks the visual unity. One or the other will normally create a far better effect in a small area.

LAWNS ARE GREAT FOR THE ENVIRONMENT!
Contrary to popular belief, lawns are great for the environment in the following ways:

  • Every 2-3 square metres of grass produce enough oxygen for one person for a day
  • Lawns have a cooling effect on the immediate area
  • Lawns absorb carbon dioxide emissions from nearby vehicles
  • Lawns reduce noise by absorbing and deflecting sound
  • Lawns reduce glare
  • Lawns reduce water runoff through absorption
  • Lawns improve the soil processes and general soil condition
  • Up to 90% of the mass of lawn grass is in the roots (below the ground). This binds the soil and is extremely efficient in stopping erosion.
  • Lawn grasses filter dust and dirt from the air, pollutants from water (making soil water much cleaner), and absorb unwanted gases such as carbon dioxide.
  • Lawns absorb a great deal of water in heavy rain, greatly reducing the chance of flooding.
  • A healthy lawn is a very soft surface (e.g. an egg can be dropped onto 4cm tall lawn grass from as high as 2.5 to 3 metres without breaking).

LAWN SHAPE AND DESIGN

  • A long narrow lawn will draw the eye along the length of the lawn. A feature (such as a large tree or statue) located at the far end of this type of lawn will enhance the overall visual effect.
  • The slope of the lawn surface should relate to the mower   too steep will be difficult for some mowers to negotiate. Too much unevenness in the lawn will cause the mower to shear the grass. On sloping blocks, terracing may be needed to avoid these problems. A slope of 1 in 80 is ideal.
  • Totally flat lawns don't drain well and the grass growth is poor (particularly in heavier soils). If soil isn't sandy, sub surface drainage is necessary for a quality lawn.
  • Don't have paths ending at a lawn   people then step onto the lawn at the same place all of the time which means that point gets more wear than anywhere else. You are better off having a path running alongside a lawn area so that people can step onto the lawn at various spots.
  • All parts of the lawn should receive direct sunlight at some time during the day (even if only briefly) if the grass is to grow well.
  • Low branches of trees hanging over the lawn should be removed   the grass needs light and you need to be able to walk under the tree when mowing.
  • Avoid having grass planted right up to the edge of a building. The eaves prevent rain reaching that strip of grass, so you will end up with one strip of lawn getting a lot less water compared to the rest of the lawn (in this situation it is better to plant a mulched garden bed which doesn't require as much water).
  • Seats, planter tubs or other furniture should not be permanently left on a lawn.  

While lawns are great addition to the garden, they are not always the easiest thing to maintain in top condition. If you love the idea of a perfect lawn, why not establish a few small patches and give them lots of attention, rather than trying to create and maintain a vast area of grass.

WHICH LAWN?
There are many different types of lawns; some are easy to maintain, while others require a lot of work. If you want the perfect lawn you will need to spend a lot of money and time, both to set it up initially, and to keep it looking good with regular attention. If you want to save some money, and you are prepared to accept something which doesn't always look quite as good, you can plant hardier grasses and mow the weeds that appear, letting them become part of the lawn cover. A rough weedy lawn can be quite functional, particularly for a young family, and there's no reason to get too fussed about making it a showpiece if all you need is something green, clean and tidy.

Consider:

  • It is nearly always easier to grow a top quality lawn in sandy soil. Choose varieties that suit sandy soils and also your climate.
  • Good drainage is essential for any lawn, particularly during the wet season. If the area is poorly drained, you will need underground drainage pipes and a good well drained topsoil to be sure of a quality lawn.
  • It is difficult to produce good lawns in shaded areas, so those shaded parts of the garden may be better paved or planted out as a garden bed, or alternatively reduce the shadiness of the area by perhaps removing some of the plants nearby that create the shade, or thin their foliage. Lawn breeders are slowly releasing a range of shade tolerant specimens that will be available over the future years.
  • Weeds will be a problem in any top quality lawn, particularly in rural areas or on new estates where weed seeds blow in from nearby paddocks.
  • Be careful about bringing in contaminated topsoil (containing weed seeds, pests or salt).This is more likely if you buy cheaper soils or from less reputable suppliers.
  • If you buy cheaper sod or instant turf, you are also likely to be buying grass which is contaminated with some weeds, even if you can't see them when you first establish your lawn. They will soon make an appearance.
  • Hardy, thick stemmed creeping grasses (e.g. Kikuyu or carpet grass) are often easier to grow and maintain as a lawn, but they rarely look as good as less hardy finer leaved grasses.