Monthly Archives: March 2013

3 Tips for a Perfect Lawn

In Ireland that is. The keys to success for a perfect lawn in Ireland are:

1. Squint your eyes

2. Learn to love moss

3. Give up

Im not joking. I could end the post here and be completely content. Moss is green, daisies are pretty. I don’t see what the fuss is all about!

But, I know not everyone feels the same and it is something that is on everyone’s mind this time of year. So, there are a couple of things I would like to highlight to save everyone heartache.

Firstly, a perfect lawn needs a lifetime of commitment.

Secondly, the commonly found Irish soil is really not suited to a perfect lawn. It is suited to green growing things in general, but not specifically lawn.

Why you ask?

The biggest problem for lawn in Ireland is drainage. Here, you have borderline rainforest levels of precipitation combined with naturally heavy clay soil (in many places, not all) or compacted clay ( a result of recent construction) which is far from free draining. The problem lies in how to create better drainage which is a must for a good lawn.

You could aerate. But no one hires them here because there are too many stones and they just end up breaking. You could put in drainage but you really need to go the distance with your drainage layout.

OR, you could smother your bad lawn and start fresh! This is the one I have had the most success with myself so here is how it is done:

1. Cover the entire area to be lawned with cardboard

2. Add at least 50mm of amended topsoil (compost, manure mixed in with regular topsoil)

3. Lay sods on top. You can seed as well if it is too large an area but weeds really do work their way in so sodding is the best

4. Water it in if it isn’t already raining

5. and…say a couple prayers on Sunday.

And a tip for determing what is wrong with your lawn (other than being located in Ireland): Listen to the weeds.

The weeds that are driving you nuts are telling a story about your soil.

Moss, speedwell, daisies – Clear signs of poor drainage as they thrive in damp soil

Clover – low nutrient, compacted

Dandelion – compacted, slightly acidic

Plantains – compaction, low nutrient, poor drainage

Those are the most common and the ones that will tell a good story about your soil. And the most important thing to remember when trying to fix your lawn: don’t take a bad lawn personally.

Oh yeah, and that mosskiller weed and feed stuff is a waste of money! You will be using it every year and in fact will probably have more moss at the end of it all.

Good Luck!

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This is what Heaven smells like….

Wicklow woods by

Wicklow woods by


Heaven smells like dirt.

At least according to my soils professor at University. There I was, in the woods of Quebec, standing directly next to the Professor when he offered up the handful of dirt and asked me to take a smell.  He was one of those rare teachers who can take a potentially unbearably boring subject and turn it into the most fascinating class, purely through oblivious passion for the subject. But, I hadn’t yet discovered this and was, in fact, in a right panic trying to figure what the heck I was supposed to be smelling.

Heaven was not on the tip of my tongue.  But,  now I know what he means…the smell of damp woodland soil is special, even more than special, it is cathartic. Even moreso after a week, breaking my back and close to tears, trying to garden a very typical Irish garden: stone and clay, far from Heaven I can tell you. More like penance as every throw of the spade clatters off a boulder, as I try to make yet another cup of tea with 6″ of clay stuck to my wellies. Wellies that I have not removed for almost a month. Is there anything called Wellie Toe? There must be, I can’t be the only one who has bruised toes from the constant press of Wellie rubber.

Trying to make wild Irish soil into a garden is one of the more trying undertakings you can begin and to do it right takes not just resolve and commitment but the right soil amendments. And a lifetime.


Unfortunately, soil amending is one of the more boring tasks in gardening but the time and attention to preparing your soil will pay huge dividends, I promise. Your plants will thrive, your flowers bloom bigger and better and your foliage will be lush.

The Logistics:

What you are aiming for in Ireland, in your existing garden beds, is a loosening of the heavy clay soil. Heavy clay is the type of soil that tends to water log, restrict root growth and be poor in nutrients (the nutrients are there, they just need to be freed from their clay cations or something along those lines that I remember from my soils class, when I wasn’t busy searching for the scent of Heaven). The best way to do this is adding composted manure, leaves or compost. Mulching every one to two years with fine bark mulch is another fantastic way of improving your soil little by little. The mulch also gives a beautiful finish to the garden. By the way, that black weed gard/mypex stuff is the worst thing you can do for improving your garden soil.

If you are starting your beds from scratch just spread a good layer of your amendments over the top of the bare soil and work in with a tiller or by hand.

How about pH you ask? There isn’t much point in trying to change your pH as it will always revert back to its original state.  It is good to know before you start so pick up a testing kit at a garden centre.

My favorite amendments:

Gee-Up – black gold, mix in with soil or other compost as it can be very, very potent

Celtic Gold – I haven’t used this one yet but it looks fantastic

Dalefoot – Another one that utilizes waste products, sheepswool and bracken! I pretty much love everything about this compost and some English gardeners swear by it. Tough to get in Ireland though but maybe someday

The one thing to remember about amending soil is that it is not a once off undertaking it is a lifelong commitment. And keep in mind that even after you amend your soil, you should still plant for the soil you have and not the soil you want to have. When you finally have that moment, the moment when you have dug a hole for a new plant and the rich, black soil crumbles between your fingers, the moment when you can smell Heaven in your garden beds….that is when you can say: Amended

Plants that do well in clay from my own experience in Ireland: Asters, Rudbeckia, Libertia, Eryngium, Perovskia, Hemerocallis, Cercidiphyllum, Birch, Cornus controversa, Calamagrostis, Hammamelis, Hellebore, Hakonechloa, Persicaria, Astrantia, Astilbe, Rodgersia, Euphorbia (beware though…toxic sap and some can be invaders).

More reading for the academic gardener

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