Artificial Grass: A garden designer’s perspective

 In Garden Design

Artificial grass. It’s one of the most controversial landscaping products of the century. As a garden designer I have mixed views on it. Here’s how I’m thinking…

The pro’s and cons of artificial grass as I see it

  • Doesn’t need mowing, feeding or watering
  • Consistent colour all year round
  • Doesn’t mind shade
  • Properly installed, it lasts up to 25 years
  • Needs regular brushing
  • Can be recycled but often isn’t
  • It’s plastic!
  • None of the environmental benefits of real grass plants
  • Can cause friction burns
  • Can get smelly from pet urine
  • Won’t help to cool the garden in summer

Sustainable garden design

I’m a great one for sustainable garden design. I want my gardens to do least possible damage to the environment. In fact I want them to help the householder, the community and the planet in as many ways as possible.

I prefer to use locally sourced products – ones with a low carbon footprint and whose creation has generated business for local craftspeople. Ditto for plants.

Daniel Richards of SilverBirch Gardens

Any garden design is a balance between the clients needs and wants and the sustainability of the materials and techniques used to create it.

I include as many plants as my customers feel able to care for. And I’m careful in their selection. Perennial plants that won’t need replacing every year. Wildlife-friendly species and plants that resist pests and diseases. That way there’s no need for nasty chemical treatments.

Does artificial grass have a place in sustainable garden design? That’s open for debate. It doesn’t need CO2 emitting lawnmowers for maintenance, neither is there the same risk of nutrient leaching or chemical use as there could be from a natural lawn. On the downside, it’s usually imported and does nothing to sequester carbon, cool the atmosphere or filter pollutants from the air. I could say the same about paving or decking though. It’s a tough call.

Using plastics in the garden

Plastic is by no means my favourite landscaping material. I like timber, natural stone and real plants. However, if a little patch of artificial grass means that my client won’t get frustrated with a mossy lawn and start throwing lawn chemicals around that, in my mind is some kind of compromise. It’s also kind of nice to know that “my” garden will still look neat in a few years- time. No-one likes an unkempt lawn.

Natural lawns are great. They’re awesome and I love them. In some places though, grass either won’t grow well – particularly in the shade. Other times, a tiny lawn will look beautiful and be very functional but won’t withstand lots of foot traffic. Those are the times when I’ll suggest an alternative.

Whenever artificial grass finds its way into one of my designs I aim to offset it with lots and lots of planting.

artificial grass in low maintenance garden

This seating area benefits from low maintenance artificial grass.
Rather than a natural grass lawn we have hedges, trees and lots of perennial plants throughout the garden to offer wildlife and environmental benefits.

Artificial grass for low maintenance gardens

When a client asks for a low maintenance garden, artificial grass is often on their wish list. However, I like to explore the alternatives with them first.

Sedum lawns for example are wonderful. They won’t cope with heavy foot traffic but neither do they ask for lots of care and attention. Price wise, the installation cost is not so different from artificial grass, and there are many environmental benefits.

Gravel gardens. They’re pretty, they’re low maintenance and they’re hardwearing. Wonderful for a retirement garden or a holiday home.

shaded corner of a garden

A shaded corner where a natural lawn would struggle becomes an intimate seating area with the use of natural sandstone slabs

Hard landscaping. Easy to care for, great for seating areas and can be used all year round. Wheelchair friendly too. Pots and planters can be included for colour and interest. Automatic irrigation keeps pot plants happy while you are busy.

Wildflower meadows. A very different look and feel to artificial turf, but a wildflower meadow established in a well -designed garden looks fantastic. It will need trimming once a year but the return on investment in terms of flowers, wildlife and feel good factor is very high indeed.

Artificial Grass – Friend or Foe?

At the end of the day, I help people to design and build gardens that will improve their lives. I aim to be sensitive to the environment and I want to create sustainable spaces. The sustainability of a garden is not just how it is built – it’s how it’s used and maintained too. I do think that when all other options have been explored, artificial grass does have a place in garden design. It just needs to be used sensitively and installed properly so that it lasts for as long as possible.

Case study: A low maintenance garden in Templecombe with artificial lawn

Tips for designing a low maintenance garden

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typical winter garden scene