Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 April 2014

Lawn and order

Now is the perfect time to lay new turf

Thanks to the prolonged rain we’ve had in the summer, if you’re planning to lay a new lawn, now is an ideal time to do it, when the ground is warm and moist. Preparations should have already begun, so you should have dug over the site, made sure drainage is adequate, cleared the soil of stones, flattened out any bumps and blemishes and hoed regularly.



You should also have fed the plot with a general lawn fertiliser and lightly raked it into the surface a week before turfing.

The key with turves is to make sure you buy good quality ones. Look at a sample first and buy from a specialist turf grower.

Most specialist suppliers have websites that give useful information on choosing the right turf, ordering the right amount and laying it correctly. Always buy a little more than you need to allow for trimming.

Turves come in different sizes but are usually ordered by the square metre. Standard strips measuring around 100cm x 30cm (3ft x 1ft) will be rolled up when delivered to you. If you choose larger turves you will need to hire equipment to help you lay them, which should be available from your supplier.

You need to lay the turf as soon as possible after delivery because it will deteriorate quite quickly. If you leave it more than three days you should spread out the turves in a shady spot to allow air and light to reach the grass and water them if necessary.

Without walking on the prepared ground, start laying the turf with a single row along the furthest edge. If you have a straight border lay a row along that first, butting the short sides up together but don’t stretch or bend them.

Flatten each row with a plank of wood or pat gently with a rake head to ensure the turf makes contact with the soil beneath. When you lay your second row, stagger the joints, as you would in brickwork.

If you have a curved edge, lay them straight and then trim off the excess later with a half-moon edging iron or kitchen knife, so that the lawn edge follows the shape of your bed.

As you are laying the turves, never stand on the newly-laid turf or the unturfed plot — stand on a plank. If you are moving the turves across a turfed area in a wheelbarrow, make sure you don’t overload the wheelbarrow. Use a plank to stop getting ridges in your newly-laid lawn.

Water the new lawn thoroughly for the first few weeks to help establish it if you don’t have enough rain to do the job for you.

Within a short period of time you will have a wonderful new lawn, even though it may have come at a price. It’s around 10-times more expensive than grass seed. But if you want instant results it’s a perfect quick fix.

BEST OF THE BUNCH

Hydrangea

For some years these late-flowering shrubs have had a rather dated, old-fashioned image, but having just returned from Brittany, which was awash with them, I think it’s time for a revival. In fact, hydrangeas are a valuable addition to the late summer border when most other shrubs are fading. Their big globes of flowers in shades of blue, pink and white can cover almost the whole bush and they can even be grown successfully as hedging plants if you have enough space.

The most popular types are the mopheads, also known as hortensias, which grow to around 1.5m (5ft) and produce the round flowers. I also like the more delicate-looking lacecaps, which have flat flower-heads with large outer flowers and much smaller ones in the middle. If you want blue flowers the plants will need acid soil, although you can buy blueing powder from garden centres.

Hydrangeas are most happy in rich soil in light shade and they like plenty of water. There is also some winter interest from their faded flowerheads, which shouldn’t be cut off until Marchs.

GOOD ENOUGH TO EAT

COURGETTES

I used to think that courgettes were bland, tasteless watery veg until I stopped overcooking them, brushed them with olive oil and seasoning and bunged them on the barbecue. Sliced diagonally, they do really well on the barbecue or griddle. Alternatively, slice them lengthways, make a ridge all the way down the middle and stuff them with fresh tomatoes, garlic and olive oil before putting them in the oven for 20 minutes.

Courgettes are also really easy to grow, although you should give yourself plenty of room as the yellow flowers are enormous and the plants themselves can take up a fair bit of space on your plot.

They thrive in hot summers in full sun and should be sown from April until June and harvested from the middle of summer until the first frosts.

Courgettes need fertile, moist soil and it’s beneficial to add plenty of organic matter to the soil before you start. Seeds should be sown individually in small pots indoors and then hardened off and planted when they have two or three leaves. Leave it later to sow outdoors and sow two seeds per station.

Never let them dry out and feed them regularly with a liquid fertiliser.

Courgettes are best when picked young and thin. Slice them off using a kitchen knife rather than tugging at them.

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