Ian Baylis turns a paddy field into a lawn…!

When we purchased our property even the photos on the estate agents prospectus showed the presence of surface water sitting between the stepping stones. Being a wet autumn the puddles were put down simply to that. Once the seasons had been observed it was apparent that the garden level was lower than some of the adjacent neighbouring sites. Following application for an extension it came to light that there was actually no surface water drainage and that soakaways had been utilised. Now given that we are in a heavy clay zone the concept of a soakaway is more like the provision of a sump.  As with all sumps, when they are full of water they overspill and create delayed flooding.

Solution:  install an up to date form of soakaway,  the crate system which allows for greater water storage capacity.

Next stage of the solution, raise up the level of the site.  Take basic measurements Width x Length and multiply by depth required = M3 of soil required.

My calculations equate to 22M3. Picture to the right shows how much soil that is.

Photo was taken from the roof of my house, soil filled the whole of the front drive and to a height of about 4’. I ordered screened and sterilised top soil from a local reputable company so as to avoid getting the usual builders scrapings that come full of rubble and glass.

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How long does it take to move that quantity of soil through to the back garden?  How many mates can I get to help?

I end up with 2.5 mates plus myself as barrow boys, with my my brother in law (plus my sons, aged 3.5 and 2) loading the wheelbarrows with mini digger.  The half person is my mate Pete who as anticipated arrived late and had multiple breaks, not that I’m a slave driver!

The only access is through a single door, which we had to take off, to the rear of the garage.  A timber ramp was first built to enable us to get the wheelbarrows over the door threshold.

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The site (my back garden) had already been prepared with existing plants lifted/ thrown in the recycling bin, and old turf complete with weeds sprayed off prior to digging over and raking level.

We start work at 8 and finish at 12ish.  It happened to be a rather hot October Saturday so cold drinks were plenty as well as the essential work foods, Mars bars, Kitkat chunky’s, crisps and Pizza. It’s called the labourers diet!!

We moved half the soil, but spread over the full site, and used the roller to compact it down so as to remove air voids.  The rest of the soil was then spread over the site and rolled again, travelling bottom to top of garden and then side to side, to get the soil nice and firm.

Final step was to put a long piece of timber across the site and level the soil across just like screeds get a floor or levelling concrete.

If you are going to do a job then do it well.

I had ordered my turf (80 pieces) from a company I use, called Paynes Turf, prior to the weekend and it arrived on the Monday, ready for me to lay it on the Tuesday which is my usual day off from work.

My wife decided to help out and carried the first 20 rolls through to the back garden and started to lay them. Rather unfortunately, and much to her annoyance, she didn’t know that turf should be laid with staggered joints and so her hard work had to be lifted.

Take two:  I set up my string line to mark where to run the turf from and started laying.

Turf all laid and cut to shape, using my trusty bread knife.

Next comes the roller, and wife!!  Same method as with the soil, roll top of site to bottom (running the roller along the seams of the turf) and then side to side across the site.

After using the roller give the turf a proper water in, making sure all of it gets a soak and pay attention to all the edges and joints.

With new turf you will need to water it every day and ideally in the morning so as to reduce the potential for fungal disease.   I prefer to water by hand using the hose pipe rather than with a sprinkler as you can then make sure all areas are watered evenly and check for any signs of browning or curling of the edges, which also signifies dryness to the turf.

Fortunately the abnormally hot and dry October only lasted for about 10 days before the rain resumed. Great news for my new turf!

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The only downside to having plenty of rain is that the grass puts on a lot of fresh growth.  Ideally you should wait a month before cutting new grass but my wife did the first cut after a fortnight, yes she does the grass cutting in our household.

So long as only a small amount of grass is removed with each cut, about a third of height is the maximum, you shouldn’t have any many problems, little and often is the key.

From experience many turf issues actually arise from the turf being put under stress through infrequent moving, where the turf is allowed to grow too long and then cut too short. A classic example is where no cuts to the turf are undertaken from autumn, through winter, and into early spring despite the turf growing considerably.  Grass will continue to put on growth when temperatures are above 5 degrees C.

Picture of my finished lawn, perfect for the boys to now play on!!

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