One of the pleasures of moving to the Algarve from more northern parts of Europe should be leaving the lawn mower behind in the shed – and leaving the servicing and repair costs and battered smelly petrol can with it.
Sometimes you will have had a lawn thrust upon you and sometimes you will be faced with a site which has been ‘cleaned’ by some well-meaning, but rather brutal, building or landscaping company.
Top soil, small native plants, bulbs and shrubs all shoved aside revealing a barren, dusty and scraped surface ready for the attention of the turf layer or, even worse, a compacted dead area created for the bright green carpets of plastic grass.
The really great shame about this kind of thing is that it also removes the latent seed bank of native plants in the very fragile top layers of the soil.
If you are lucky, the topsoil might just have been pushed into a heap, if you are really unlucky, the topsoil might have been sold and totally removed.
Any lawn thrust upon you will probably include some sort of automatic irrigation system and will represent quite a costly investment. Even plastic grass has to be irrigated sometimes as it gets too hot to walk on in the full sun.
Under these circumstances, you will probably not take kindly to someone like me telling you to get rid of it! If you are new to the mediterranean climate – the warm wet winters and the long hot dry summers you came here to enjoy – maybe you do not know that the minimum water requirements for a lawn are approximately 10 litres per square metre, per day. Doesn’t sound like much, does it? But, if you add it all up for a fair size area of grass over the major part of the year, then your water bill will soon be causing you concern. Every time the water charges are increased, this concern will grow quicker than the grass you are watering. Add to this the toxic mix of herbicides, insecticides and inorganic fertilisers necessary to maintain a monoculture in a totally false environment – is that a good place for children to play?
Also, some of the grass species used to provide a lush green outdoor carpet are unattractive spiky forms which are unpleasant to walk on and impossible for ball games. Those signs on golf courses telling players not to lick their balls are there for a reason – the grassed areas have probably been soaked in chemicals …
Let us be honest about this, children have been playing quite happily in the mediterranean areas of the world for a very long time without having a lawn. The use of lawns in gardens is very much a northern European habit and almost certainly a British invention – now known as “Lawn Imperialism”.
The first lawn in Portugal was made at Monserrate Palace in Sintra, near Lisbon, by a British family. It is still there but now is maintained more as a seasonal meadow with a limited cutting regime of once or twice a year to encourage the lovely range of wildflowers and orchids.
Members of the Mediterranean Gardening Association of Portugal have shared their own experiences of taking the initiative and getting rid of their lawn. Sometimes because boreholes have run dry, sometimes because the water supply has poisonous levels of salt or just because it has become too expensive to maintain. The realisation that there is a whole new area in the garden to be planted can be very exciting.
In the liberation process, they have acquired beautiful low maintenance areas which attract wildlife into the garden, and which contain a diversity of colour and form to give pleasure throughout the year. They have also got rid of huge water bills.
Owing to the current regulation around Covid-19, we have had to cancel our Autumn Garden Fair. Fortunately, we have an amazing range of small specialist plant nurseries in the Algarve and further afield who can supply drought-resistant plants, trees and bulbs. Please contact them with your plant wants, encourage them to grow climate-appropriate plants and ensure their survival through this terrible year.
It is in all our interests to have as full a range of plants as possible for our gardens. There is a list of recommended plant nurseries available on the MGAP website https://www.mgaportugal.org/Nurseries.html or on request to firstname.lastname@example.org
Please contact them to arrange a visit to do your plant shopping and see their full range of plants available. This is the perfect time of year to get rid of your lawn and plant something else instead.
Welcome to the wonderful world of appropriate gardening. You know it makes sense ….
Online Talk by Olivier Filippi on Lawn Alternatives and Drought Resistant Ground Cover https://www.mgaportugal.org/oliv_fil_video.html
By Rosie Peddle