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The case against artificial lawns

Why I don’t recommend artificial lawns and turf in my garden designs.

Last week a friend of mine asked me if I use artificial lawns and turf in my garden designs. The answer is no and the reasons for which I’ll go into in a mo’. When I have been asked in the past, I have a conversation about it with my client and discuss the reasons why it’s really not a good idea.

But why? The customer is always right, right?

My job as a Garden Designer is to listen to the client and understand what they want to achieve from their outdoor space and the design. It’s also my job to impart my knowledge and experience so that the client gets the maximum enjoyment from their garden and the best value for money. I suppose there is a bit of education that takes place too – communicating what materials and plants work best in the space whilst considering one’s ethics and values as part of the design for the greater good of my clients, the industry and the planet.

So if a client wants an artificial lawn, what do I say?

I explain (or expose) the real story about fake lawns.

1. The artificial grass is made of plastic. The vast majority of fake lawns cannot be recycled and end up in landfill at the end of their 7-20 year life. Don’t be fooled by artificial lawn companies who sell the ‘eco-friendly artificial lawn’ story. They do this by telling you that it’s made from recycled materials. That may well be true to a point, but that doesn’t mean it can be recycled at the end of its life.

2. We are in a bio-diversity crisis. Worms and insects e.g solitary bees, cannot burrow into the soil. There are no plants that grow on the surface of the grass therefore pollinators do no benefit from the plastic lawn. Installing a fake lawn destroys the natural habitat for the beneficial insects in the eco-system.

3. Fake lawns are not maintenance free. One of the main reasons people want artificial lawns installing is because they believe they don’t have to be maintained. They do. If dogs toilet on the fake grass, this won’t disappear until it is cleaned. If left when there is no rainfall, dog urine will start to smell. Bird droppings get stuck until washed away. Leaf fall will also need removing as per any real lawn. If the fake lawn is in a shaded spot, algae will need removing. When the plastic heats up, it will need cooling down – and this requires water.

4. The plastic lawns contribute to microplastics in the garden which enter waterways and the food chain.

5. Heat resistance. The plastic, sorry, the fake lawn, gets hot. This is bad news for bare feet and pets’ paws. It’s also really bad news for rising global temperatures. Natural lawns are cooler because they are living things – they transpire (i.e they breathe.) Plastic lawns hold onto the heat. And let’s not forget to mention the plastic artificial lawns smell if the dog or cat has done what it needs to do and the fake lawn hasn’t been sanitised (there’s that point re maintenance again.)

6. Impact on the existing landscape. It’s not just a case of laying the roll of artificial lawn on the top of the existing soil in the garden. The garden will need some degree of excavation of existing soil and the laying of underlay. Yes, underlay, which is made of, you guessed it, more plastic… toxic, non-recyclable plastic.

7. Fire risk. BBQs shouldn’t be placed onto artificial grass. Bonkers! BBQs are part of many clients’ briefs – entertaining and eating outside. Some artificial lawns are fire resistant and some aren’t (!) If the fake lawn does burn, it melts, looks awful and costs money to repair.

8. Disposal is costly. If you want to sell your house in the future and the buyer doesn’t want artificial lawns, the cost of removing it doesn’t come cheap. Arguably, this can devalue your property.

9. They do wear . The sales pitch for artificial lawns is that they’re great in gardens where there are footy mad kids playing day in day out. To a degree, yes. But in 12 months’ time the artificial lawn will not look like it did the week it was installed. It is still subject to wearing and where it has had heavy footfall and traffic, it will most likely be noticeable.

10. The cost to the environment of the production of artificial lawn is excess CO2 emissions in the manufacturing, transport and installation, not to mention the plastic lawn does not absorb CO2 or release oxygen (like natural lawns do).

11. It’s expensive. There are different grades of artificial lawn and therefore different price points. It’s way more costly than natural turf and it also takes longer to install. This budget could be better spent elsewhere in the garden, or indeed the money saved

12. They look fake. Artificial lawns, just like plastic plants, just do not look real. They don’t belong in the natural environment in 2023.

If you have been considering an artificial lawn in your garden, I hope this has helped highlight some of the reasons why I choose not to include them in my designs. I always work with my clients to seek alternatives and more sustainable solutions that maybe they haven’t considered before.

If you’re wanting to know more about the garden design process and are looking to make changes in your outdoor place, please contact me to arrange a Garden Design Consultation. I’d be delighted to hear from you.

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