grass styles - prairies etc?

Discussion in 'Landscape Architecture and Design' started by Laurence, Mar 5, 2007.

  1. Laurence

    Laurence LawnSite Member
    Messages: 3

    Hello to everyone…I’m from the U.K., I’ve been a landscape gardener for a few years, and I’m now researching landscaping at uni at the moment. I thought it’d be helpful to track down some online debates, and see what other people who’re working in landscaping think. Your boards seem really good, very practically minded (a surprisingly rare thing for internet discussion!)

    If this is the design bit of the forums, could I ask what you all think about grass styles? I’ve heard talk that ‘prairie’ and ‘meadow’ styles are getting really popular, in public parks and even some people’s own gardens, and there’s talk that traditional low green lawns aren’t going to be sustainable cos of climate change reducing rainfall all over the place (so they need loads of irrigation). Do you think your customers will go for the alternatives?
  2. PaperCutter

    PaperCutter LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,996

    Unless you've built up a lot of trust with your clients, so that they'll follow along wherever you want to lead them, they're going to go with what they know. It *could* happen, but it's going to be a very gradual process.

  3. Az Gardener

    Az Gardener LawnSite Gold Member
    Messages: 3,899

    There is a guy In Northern Calif. I can't remember his name he is doing a lot of work with various grasses, native varieties and so on. I went to a growers seminar put on by "Proven Winners" a popular grower here in the states. He did a presentation with pictures and I wasn't all that impressed.

    I think you can do very small clusters as a small portion of an overall project almost like a flower bed. I don't think doing 4-5K of prairie grass in someones front yard is just not going to fly.

    It may save some water but people like things clean and tidy for the most part. With a prairie grass landscape every leaf and piece of trash that blows in will either have to stay or be very expensive to remove. Most people for all their claims to want things natural for some reason don't accept the fact that the older blades will die then removing them becomes a issue. Do it cheap and do seasonal cut backs from time to time and have the yard look like hell for 6-8 weeks (at least) or pay the $$ too have things selectively cut back that takes a much more trained and expensive service.

    I like to feature things that are unusual but they must be functional too. Not just unusual for the sake of being unusual.

    Lastly, they may survive on less water but they will look better on more water. So unless the person programing the irrigation controller is committed to conserving water there won't be any savings.
  4. Laurence

    Laurence LawnSite Member
    Messages: 3

    Interesting answers, there; thanks both of you.


    Might it be a matter of perhaps finding out why people like ‘conventional’ planting, and then adapting these ‘new’ styles or selling them according to the benchmarks of client’s terms of reference? For example, if people like lots of flowers then perhaps fill a meadow with a higher proportion, variety, and flowering season of forbs?

    As you indicate, this all depends on perhaps a higher degree of trust than if the client specifies everything in exact terms.
  5. Laurence

    Laurence LawnSite Member
    Messages: 3

    Az Gardener:

    I’ve been reading stuff by a landscape architecture academic, Joan Nassauer, over at the University of Michigan, who did some research in the 90s on possible uses in gardens and suchlike. Also, there’s a guy in my department (James Hitchmough) who’s doing loads of work to try and promote ‘naturalistic’ planting based on ecological principles and aesthetic concerns. They both seem to have made some headway in developing these kinds of grass styles so that people might actually like them on their own home turf (excuse the pun), mostly by trying to simplify management and assimilate some of the aesthetics of ‘conventional’ garden planting.

    As you say, it’d need to have a multi-seasonal interest for people to really go for it – otherwise it's likely to be seen as just a lawn that hasn’t been mown for a long time. I wonder if there’s some cope in educating people, to some extent, about how to manage (and appreciate?) grass other than short bright green turf? Cultural shifts is a tricky thing, though.
  6. PaperCutter

    PaperCutter LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,996

    Laurence- it's all about homeowner education. I think that as designers, as much as we like to think the market is driven by quality and aesthetics, it's in fact driven by the view that the yard is one more chore- curb appeal real only comes up when selling or when hosting a party during daylight hours. People want the easy-to-care-for yard. In reality, while our normal concept of what a yard "should" be is pretty demanding as far as labor and inputs goes, a naturalized landscape looks like a lot more effort. I think that's a prime driver of why people stay with the 1950s suburban American lawn. "I cut my grass once a week, throw this bag on to make it green, this bag on to kill weeds, put little mulch rings around all my trees and shrubs and I can go back inside and watch TV. Done." Now, I replaced a chunk of my front yard with perennials and annuals last spring, and that part of it was the easy part to maintain.

    I actually think this industry could do a lot more to push alternatives to the lawn, and profit hugely from it. Here's why: take my yard, for example. I have 1/4 acre on a city lot. When I have it the way I want it, I'll have approx. 1000 SF of turf in the rear, and maybe 200-300 SF in the front. Most of my herbaceous plantings will be grasses and perennials like perovskia and solidago, stuff that fills in really well. Once things get fired up in late spring, weekly maintenance will be very quick mowing, trimming and edging, followed by perhaps 30 minutes of weeding and plant evaluation- one person. So, a two-man crew with a 21" mower could probably knock this property out in 30 minutes and have it looking good, without the big z mowers, etc. And because it'll require a little more plant knowledge, you can charge a higher hourly rate. When I get too busy to do my own lawn work, I'm definitely not turning it over to the local scrub company.

    The issue is quality design. I've seen front yards eliminated in a way that looks amazing; and I've seen them done in a way that looks like "end of season perennial sale" style. The problem is that there are more bad ones than good ones, so homeowners feel like staying with the standard is the only way to an attractive yard.

    As to the sustainability issue... I don't know how it is in the UK, but water is pretty cheap here. A lot of municipalities act like a summer water ban is the equivalent of killing puppies. So unfortunately, I don't really think that's a driver of consumer choice.

  7. PSUturf

    PSUturf LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 663

    Here in Madison, WI the prairie style has slowly been gaining in popularity. I think one thing that has turned people off to the concept is the misconception that an unmowed yard is a jungle. Far too often I see small city lawns that have been allowed to go 'natural'. People just stop mowing their lawn and whatever grows is what they get. A 15' x 20' front yard on a typical urban street, in my opinion, is not big enough for a prairie style lawn. It is a great place for native plants but design it so that it matches the scale of the yard. As with any design, select plants that will provide color and interest all season long.
    Prairie style lawns are better suited to suburbia or city parks where the feel of a tall grass or short grass prairie can be replicated. A small amount of mowed grass in this setting is reasonable. It helps to provide access to other areas of the property and provide unobstructed views of play areas or ornamental plantings. Landscapes that have a mix of traditional mowed lawns and prairie lawns will help to breed familiarity with the prairie style or meadow lawn. As more people plant part of their yard to the prairie style it will become more acceptable and more people will convert part or all of their yard to this style. The mowed lawn will never go away as long is there is gasoline (petrol for you Brits) to power our mowers and pesticides to kill our bugs and weeds. Having said that I think we will see the average lawn get smaller and smaller as time goes by.
  8. PaperCutter

    PaperCutter LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,996

    I agree that a traditional lawn is a useful element. From a design perspective, it helps unify a space, gives the eye a place to rest in the composition, and leads the eye between focal points. Add to that the utilitarian functions of play space, entertaining overflow, and a good place to shed water and I doubt I could ever argue to get rid of the lawn entirely.

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