I love my job – even at the most prestigious dinner parties, conversations will always come around to some aspect of nature, putting me at my ease. Even a conversation about rugby, for a topical example, can lead to the pro’s and cons of artificial turf. Love it or hate it, artificial grass or turf is a rapidly growing market.
Fake grass first gained substantial attention in the 1960s, when it was used in the newly constructed Astrodome in Huston, Texas. The specific product used was called AstroTurf; this term since then became a colloquialism for any synthetic grass or turf throughout the late 20th century and although the term ‘AstroTurf’ is still widely used, the product itself is now mostly obsolete, as numerous other brands have grown in popularity. The main reason for the increase in sales is maintenance – artificial grass stands up to heavy use, especially in sports, and requires no irrigation or mowing.
And it has certainly changed the term ‘sowing grass’ to ‘sewing grass’. In 2014, Desso installed a new pitch system at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff with two giant sewing machines stitching artificial fibres between the genuine shoots of real grass that has been sprouted on the artificial base. The 20cm deep artificial fibres then intertwined with the grass roots to form a stable pitch, which can take three times as much playing as a normal grass pitch. In total, there were 86,400km of fibre injected into the pitch, more than twice the circumference of the earth.
The former Millennium Stadium pitch was based on a palletised system, with individual squares of turf brought in and out as required, which now like a lot of things, seems positively archaic.
Green Green Grass of Home
Closer to home, I first used synthetic turf for a garden make over we did for our BBC TV programme Hot Plots. A recently widowed 80 year old had found that she had become totally overwhelmed by her small back garden since her husband died. Consequently she had it all slabbed over for ease of maintenance; it kept the space neat but certainly didn’t entice back her outdoors. For the makeover, we laid synthetic turf over the old concrete slabs and added planted pots, keeping it low maintenance but making it more appealing visually.
When the cameras and crew left she was pleased with how it looked but still dubious as to whether or not she would spend any time in it. We returned for a ‘revisited’ programme a year later to find her outside hoovering her lawn. It turned out that she loved it and it had been life-changing for her. And that changed my opinion about the product. If it serves a purpose other than being too bone idle to look after your grass, then it has a place, in my view.
Some people ask about the wildlife aspect but I am a believer that if you use it to cover an existing hard surface, there is no difference to wildlife, and in the few cases where we have used it to replace an organic lawn – in a heavily shaded area, for example – then we have developed planted other areas to compensate.
I have even used it at the cottage to cover a narrow path that is used daily and that always became a mud-slide in the winter. It is only a yard wide by about 10 yards, and I have herbaceous plants flanking it either side to harmonise it and it quickly solved a long-term headache. The path is on a slope, so chippings or bark weren’t an option and it would have been too big an undertaking to construct a slabbed path and steps – which would have also been very slippery in the winter.
A lot of synthetic grass is made from recycled plastic these days and even has brown fibres incorporated to look like thatch. I did joke with one of the suppliers that they would need to include daisies and dandelions in order to make it far more realistic.
Whilst I don’t advice it be used in haste, I do highly recommend it for some situations, including areas that can’t be accessed by a mower. Be sensible and be creative. We have even cut small slits into the laid artificial turf and planted small pockets of thyme and chamomile in it. I’m not sure the suppliers would approve, but I think it is a case of making it work for you.
There are lots of suppliers to chose from, some of which will also install, but it was Easigrass who made history in 2010 as the first artificial grass company to ever showcase at the Royal Horticultural Society Chelsea Flower Show. Until then, the RHS’s most prestigious flower show had forbidden the inclusion of artificial plant material.
With a stunning entry that impressed judges and demonstrated the innovative and progressive thinking of the synthetic grass company, Easigrass showed that their high quality artificial grass need not be seen as out of place in a flower show, and instead can both complement the real plants and be admired in its own right (see pic from last year’s Chelsea Flower Show)