Growing the perfect lawn is no easy task, in the days of increasing drought, pest pressures, and higher water bills. As I mentioned in Part I, Elizabeth often remarked about the difficulties of keeping a perfect lawn going at Gaiety Hollow. Prior owner, Dale Strand, used an electric reel mower to preserve the bentgrass lawn very well. Since the Conservancy has managed the garden, we have consulted with renowned turf grass professional and retired OSU professor, Tom Cook, to keep the lawns in top shape. His publication on Colonial and Highland Bentgrass lawns is a great resource for establishing a top quality turf at home.
Now that you have leveled any low spots in the lawn and the grass has come up, it’s time to start your mowing regime. With traditional ryegrass or fescue lawns, the mowing height is quite high – up to 3.75″. However, with Gaiety Hollows’ predominantly bentgrass lawn, the mowing height is much lower – closer to 1″ – to prevent the stoloniferous bentgrass from producing “false crowning.” This happens when the creeping grass is cut too high, producing long shoots that lay over, with the brown stems creating poor turf patches in the lawn over time.
If a mowing service cuts your grass, it is a good idea to ask if they are taking precautions to prevent the spread of boxwood blight as they move between gardens that might be infected. Hopefully, the service has a method for washing the mowers in between gardens to prevent the spread of pathogens and weed seeds.
Getting on your weeds early is a good idea as well. In the next post we will discuss the common lawn weeds and how to deal with them.
Stay tuned for more turf tips before we turn our attention to the rapidly approaching Tulip sho based on the recreated 1956 bulb plan.
“Next spring (1968) we must remake the other two sections of lawn. The front lawn between the Box hedge and the House had a planting of Chewing’s Fescue [Festuca rubra subsp. Commutate]- spring of ’66, tho’ I do not like the variety as it is so wiry. It proved to be dark green and stood the heat well. I have such a mixture of grass seed in the tool [shed] should either throw it all out, or mix them together and just plant it. Might make a sturdy lawn. Nelson has not cut this week at all & the new lawn is very high, a ten day stretch and tomorrow, his day here, rain is promised & surely looks & feels like it. He said he would come Monday, but he did not, nor let us know, but his absence did not stop the grass from growing. We had the rubbish from the trees taken away today.” Elizabeth Lord-1967
The lawn is mentioned at least 27 times in Elizabeth Lord’s 40 years of journaling on the Gaiety Hollow garden. You can tell Lord and Schryver often struggled with the lawn at their home garden. Due to Gaiety Hollow’s low location within the neighborhood, drainage is poor, and the heavy clay soil often stands water for multiple days after heavy rain. The dense shade from the mature oak at the end of the Allee doesn’t help, as thick turf likes sun and moist, but well drained soil. As this is the time of year that the grass is waking up and the mower is getting a tune-up, I thought I would write a series of blogs to help get your lawn in tip top shape this season.
Start by mowing the lawn to a normal height for the first couple mowings of the season. Let it sit a few days to recover and then mow it a bit shorter than you normally would. You don’t want to scalp it at this point, but you want to be able to see the low spots in the lawn. We use a mix of well composted cow manure and sand to fill the low spots at Gaiety Hollow. This is often sold as a lawn blend at your local garden center or bulk soil supplier. Fine sand also works but the addition of some organic material is beneficial. Fill the low spots with the soil/sand blend and use the backside of a rake to level. Overseed with your preferred seed mix. Gaiety Hollow uses a blend developed by renowned OSU turf professor Tom Cook. This mix of colonial bentgrass, rye and fescue does well in the shade and allows us to mow to the low height that shows off the garden with its verdant carpet framed by sheared boxwoods. Lightly rake the seed into the spots that are being leveled. Some folks cover with shredded peat moss or you can use a bit more of your leveling media, rake it smooth, and water lightly or wait for rain if it’s forecasted in the next day or two.
Keep the leveled and seeded areas moist. I like to seed in early spring when the soil is warming up and mix of sun and showers speed up grass germination. I have noticed that Lord and Schryver often remade the lawn in the fall. With its poor drainage, this likely led to the problems they encountered. Grass seed can drown if kept submerged for too long. The North Lawn (which Elizabeth referred to as the Oval lawn) often has standing water even after very short rainfall. We have gone to great lengths to improve the drainage in the turf at Gaiety Hollow. The next big project will be to see if we can finally solve the 100+ years of drainage issues in the North Lawn.
The Turf is an integral part of the Gaiety Hollow garden, often overlooked as visitors awe at the abundance of blooms. Due to the concern over the spread of Boxwood Blight we are now mowing in-house. This will lessen the chances of spores coming in from infected gardens on commercial mowers. The addition of a high-quality electric reel mower will allow the grass to be mowed to its accurate, historical height.
Stay tuned for more tips and tricks on getting that perfect lawn in time for summer.