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The grass is greener on the small side

Written by  Nikki van Coller
| in Tuin
| October 12, 2015

When you have a large garden, you can see certain elements from a distance and design is less important. But designing a small space is a lot more difficult and requires careful planning and harmony.  

If you have a small garden space, but still want as much greenery and ‘life’ around you as possible, there are many ways to create unique features that are beautiful, inexpensive and easy to maintain. One way is through the use of grass. Traditionally, grass has always been associated with large spaces, where it’s possible to have a large “lawn”, bordered by paving or garden beds. But times are changing and people are recognising the waste involved in large lawns; labour, water and maintenance are arguably wasted simply for the effect of a manicured lawn.  In a small space, it doesn’t seem as if using grass is possible, but we’ve investigated interesting ways to use grass in even the tiniest space.

In a small space, one needs a balance of practicality and beauty. Other things to consider are cost and maintenance. How much time do you want to spend maintaining your garden space? Grass is great, because provided certain elements are in place, and you choose the right type of grass, very little maintenance is required, over and above occasional watering and trimming.

A small courtyard for instance, is traditionally paved. But you could use large paving stones, where every second slab is removed and replaced with a healthy, strong grass to create a checkerboard effect. This brings the area to life and makes the space look bigger.

Another great idea is to create a grass labyrinth using small paving stones. With such a strong feature, you wouldn’t have to do much more to have an interesting, beautiful garden space. Simply measure the space, clear it, place the stones or tiles in a labyrinth (or any other) shape, and fill in the gaps with roll-on lawn.

“If you have a small garden space, but still want as much greenery and ‘life’ around you as possible, there are many ways to create unique features that are beautiful...”

Since recycling and upcycling have become such a big part of our culture, there are also some amazing ideas for using furniture and grass together to create beautiful focal points, which can also be used practically. An old metal bed for instance, can be transformed into a stunning reading space. Simply place a wooden board on the frame, but instead of a mattress, put a layer of about 20cm of good soil and then roll-on-lawn on top. This is easy to keep maintained with a pair of garden shears, is inexpensive to set up and makes for a really unique space.

The same principle can be applied to a wooden chair, wooden box, upside down pallet and almost any other item, provided there is space for the soil. You could even use a book shelf placed on its back, and then plant grass in some of the shelves, and flowering plants in others, for a beautiful, vibrant effect. We have also seen an outdoor dining table, where the top has been given a 6cm border and planted with grass – meaning you have the picnic effect, even though you’re sitting at a table!

Remember to make sure the type of grass you are choosing is right for the soil, and the amount of sunlight the space will receive.  The type of grass you plant will also depend on whether the feature will have any traffic. A labyrinth for instance could be made from a less tough grass, as you would walk on the paving stones, whereas you may want to sit on the bed; this would require a harder wearing, stronger grass that can handle traffic.

These guidelines will help you make an informed choice:

This indigenous grass is perfect for areas that will receive a lot of traffic, however it is not shade tolerant, so be sure the area will be sunny most of the day.

Kikuyu is affordable, grows quickly and needs regular trimming. It is also not suitable for shade and needs direct sunlight most of the day.

Gulf Green
Although this grass is not cheap, it is soft and luxurious, with a deep green colour. It is not really suited to high traffic areas and requires maintenance; so it could be perfect for a small, manageable area.

Buffalo is a broad-leafed grass that grows well in either the sun or shade and is quite hardy, so can withstand light traffic.

LM Berea
This type of grass is also not a cheap option, and doesn’t handle traffic very well as it is quite soft. It is however well suited for shady areas.

Get Creative

If you are tired of a plain old paved courtyard, or have a small space you’d like to landscape, get creative, do some research, plan well and then turn your small garden space into a beautiful and unique space that will provide the kind of natural surrounding you want.

It was not until the early 17th century that the closely cut ‘English’ lawn existed. It was seen very much as a status symbol, as it meant that the owner was in a position to have land not used for the growing of food.  This ‘English style’ of lawn slowly spread across the UK, followed by Europe and then the United States. 

Before the invention of the mechanical lawnmower by Edwin Budding in 1830, the upkeep of lawns was only possible for the extremely wealthy aristocracy, whose servants would use scything and shearing to keep the grass neat – obviously a very time consuming task!

This all changed with the invention of the lawnmower; the idea of a ‘lawn’ began to spread more rapidly over the following decades. Nowadays of course, the trend is once again changing, with growing one’s own food again growing in popularity, as is the manicuring of very small garden spaces.

Aspidistra Nursery owner Willie Schmidt takes us through the steps required to build this little reading corner in a small space.

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