Renovating The Old Lawn
( Originally Published 1906 )
A cruel answer to an everyday problem—Remaking the best method—Fertilising—Top dressing—Mastering weeds and insects—Futility of half-hearted methods—Why English lawns are impossible—The fallacy of the Newport lawns.
"WHAT can I do to my lawn to make it fresh and velvety again ?" This, in some form or other, is the question that is asked by 90 per cent. of all who take an interest in their gardens and wish to keep the general appearance at par. It is the common question, too, that is asked by everyone as soon as he begins to take an interest in the grounds surrounding his home. As a matter of fact the question is usually more than justified. The lawn does need renovating.
"How to do it ?" Well, the most effective result is attained by the most radical course. The best and simplest way to renovate the old lawn is to make a new one. Nine times out of ten it will not pay to patch, patch, and work interminably over a badly conditioned grass plot, simply because the necessary soil conditions for the good lawn are not there.
If the result that presents itself to the questioner is merely that of recent neglect—that is to say a heretofore good lawn has been allowed to get out of control—it may be recovered in one season without an undue expenditure of either labour or money. In such a case what is necessary is : firstly, a moderate cutting, preferably with the scythe and not going so closely to the roots that they will be unduly exposed to the drying influence of the sun; secondly, rolling and fertilising ; and thirdly, watering and mowing and rolling for the rest of the season.
If, on a good soil, a lawn has become much overrun with weeds it can be brought under control again, and put into good condition, by scratching up the surface with a rake after removing the coarse weeds and seeding with one half the quantity of good recleaned grass seed that would be used for the making of a new lawn.
As a rule, however, it may be taken for granted that a lawn that really needs renovating, because it has gone so far to the bad as to present an appearance of anything in the world but a lawn, should be entirely remade. If the old lawn gave out because the grasses could not find any soil on which to grow, think you then that the new seed will do any better ? Not a bit of it! You may add fertiliser, you may scatter bone-meal and wood-ashes in abundance, you may dress it with air-slaked lime in the fall, or you may top-dress abundantly, running the whole gamut of farm manures, but, believe me, you have a long fight ahead. It takes a great deal more than mere dressings of stable manure or chemical fertiliser to once again put the soil into "good heart."
The quick and sure method of doing this is by the plough. Or, if you only deal with a very small garden, do the work with a spade. It may mean the using up of a great deal of muscular force, but in the long run you will be the gainer. If it's in the fall, top-dress the soil, dig it over two spits deep, and Ieave it roughly heaped—without any smoothing, whatever—for the winter's frosts to act upon it. Frost is a wonderful agent in the mellowing of the soil and in the killing of obnoxious insects. If it's in the spring, and you can afford to wait until the fall before sowing, broadcast cowpeas or red clover, and grow a green crop for turning under in due course.
Whatever you do don't attack the problem in a half hearted manner, don't endeavour to regain control in sections, and for several seasons have a hideously spotty effect on your "lawn." Make a bold stand, attack the problem with a determination to have the best results that your opportunities will afford, and make your lawn the envy of the neighbour-hood!
As the lawn is the foundation of the garden and everything that is in it, the canvas, so to speak, on which the living pictures of the plants and flowers are to succeed each other in the rotation of the seasons, isn't it worth while making your foundations sure ?
ENGLISH LAWNS IMPOSSIBLE
And don't fancy for a moment that you can have an English lawn in an American climate. As well recognise first as last the fact that the world famed lawns of Europe are impossible to the gardens this side of the Atlantic. Over there the grasses grow once they are established and reseed themselves with a facility that is surprising to the New World gardener, Here, with the problems of excessive and brilliant sunshine in summer, often coupled with prolonged spells of exhausting drought; and followed by the extreme cold of our often very rigorous winters, the grasses suffer strains which necessitate an entirely different method of lawn making. Hence the fine art of making lawn grass mixtures has developed almost into a science, and excites an amount of interest that is not paralleled elsewhere.
We may, at different seasons of the year, approach both the colour and the texture of the English lawn, but not with the same grasses. The best we can expect to do is to parallel, not reproduce. Perennial rye grass is not fitted for our lawn conditions, neither will the annual poa survive the winters and reëstablish itself year after year from seed. Therefore discard the notion of renovating the old lawn by importing English or French lawn grass seed, lest the latter stage be worse than the first—and a whole season lost besides.
Because of the extra-trying conditions of the American climate a much greater depth and more thorough preparation of soil are necessary. The price of a good lawn is eternal vigilance and persistent cultivation of the grass, so as to keep out the weeds. Remember the precept of the Sunday school teacher: that the best way of keeping bad ideas and wicked thoughts from crowding into the mind is by occupying it thoroughly with good thoughts.
THE NEWPORT FALLACY
We are accustomed to hear much in praise of the lawns of Newport, but as a matter of fact they will not bear comparison for texture and quality of grasses with many that are found elsewhere. A very careful inspection of a great many of these famed swards has revealed to me that they owe their beautiful greenery just as much to the weeds that occupy the ground as they do to the grasses, and often indeed more so. What is accomplished is the fruit of diligent care, feeding, and watering, for the land is not adapted to an ideal lawn. Unless you are on the same sort of sandy soil, and are willing to work incessantly, don't emulate a Newport lawn, but have something better that can be kept in good condition without a great deal of labour and expense.