Keep Off The Grass : The Floral Lawn at Avondale Park

A friend of mine protects her tweets. Apparently she doesn’t want “people” reading what she has to say. Bizarre. I always thought that was the whole point of Twitter. It’s like going to a nudist beach and complaining because you have to take your clothes off.

Oh well, something else to add to the list of Life’s Little Paradoxes, up there with alcohol-free wine, trains cancelled to “regulate the service” and instructions to “Keep Off the Grass”. Why?  You don’t get signs at the beach saying “Keep off the Sand”; And like sand, a soft, open patch of grass is just crying out to be walked on. It’s not even as though it’s all that attractive – certainly not by comparison with the glorious Floral Lawn in Notting Hill’s Avondale Park.

The Floral Lawn is the UK’s first grass-free lawn and the brainchild of Lionel Smith, a PhD student at the University of Reading. The inspiration came from his childhood memories of the 1976 drought : “The grass had died in the lawn and all the wild flowers were flowering and it was absolutely beautiful. It stuck in my mind and I thought, ‘I’d like to be able to repeat that’”. After 4 years of research and the support of The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, the dream has become a reality in a 200m2 corner of West London.

Never having seen a floral lawn before, I wasn’t sure what to expect. It doesn’t have a flower-bed’s supermodel glamour, all perfect grooming and the latest technicolours. Its charms are softer, subtler, more girl-next-door. What hit me first and foremost was its greenness. Not the bland uniform green of grass, but a riot of every shade of green you could possibly imagine. Next the textures : plants spongy , feathery, spiky, leafy, some clinging low to the ground, other standing tall and proud. Only then, finally, did I notice the flowers, the patches of burgundy, yellow and pink.

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No matter how many times you visit the Floral Lawn, you’ll always spot something different. There are British natives such as daisies, a host of ornamental cultivars (including four-leafed clover!) and even some foreign specimens. Over 65 different species make up the lawn, each of which will flourish or recede according to the conditions and time of year. Bar the occasional trim and perhaps a water if it gets too dry, the lawn is essentially designed to be self-regulating.

However, the pleasures here aren’t just visual. The Floral Lawn is intended to be an interactive experience. Although a fence helps protect from too much trampling, amazingly you can still walk on it. As you do so, the air carries a waft one moment of mint and then the next, maybe thyme. All the while, there’s a constant, gentle humming of bees because a third more insect life can live here versus a typical lawn.

As Lionel Smith puts it, the Floral Lawn “by being beautiful actually is beautiful in the greatest and widest of senses”

Maybe we should all keep off the grass after all.

For more information about Grass Free Lawns, visit www.grassfreelawns.co.uk

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