Friday, April 24, 2009

Keeping it Green

The Lawn at Cuxa Cloister Clover in the Cuxa Cloister Lawn

Left: A bird’s-eye view of Cuxa Cloister. Each quadrant of the garden contains a grass plot bordered with herbs and flowers. Right: Clover is planted in the lawn to provide several horticultural and ecological benefits.

In the spring of 2008, we began renovating the lawns in Cuxa Cloister by thoroughly removing the old grass with a thatch rake. We then added three inches of a mixture of topsoil and compost and raked them evenly. This was followed with a seeding of grass mixed with white clover (Trifolium repens). A thin layer of salt hay was then laid down to help retain water and protect the seed from birds. During this early stage, it is of the utmost importance to keep the soil evenly moist at all times. (Salt hay is preferable to hay as a mulch because it is free of weeds.) Once a lawn is established, however, it is best to water it as infrequently as possible. Most turf professionals recommend infrequent but deep irrigation to ensure the roots are thoroughly watered. There are many ways to conserve water in the maintenance of lawns. The most effective way is to choose the proper grass for your environment.

In Cuxa Cloister we use a sun-shade mix that consists largely of perennial rye and red fescues. These grasses are often found in the cool season mixes that are recommended for New York state climates. Fescues show good drought tolerance. On the contrary, Kentucky Blue grass requires increased irrigation and general maintenance and should be avoided. Although it is often favored for its fine texture, it is susceptible to numerous insects and disease.

The white clover (Trifolium repens) in the lawn of Cuxa Cloister was seeded at the same time as our grass in order to provide a neat, even appearance. When seeded separately, clover may look messy and weedy. In addition to their pleasing appearance, clover lawns provide numerous ecological benefits. Most important, clovers and other legumes have the ability to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere. Nitrogen in the atmosphere is of no use to plants, but clover—with the aid of bacteria called rhizobia—can transform atmospheric nitrogen into a form that is readily available to plants. This is extremely important, especially in the case of lawns, on which an incredible amount of synthetic fertilizers in the United States is used. Not only does clover help reduce the use of fertilizer, its ability to fix nitrogen also leads to a reduction in the use of pesticides and herbicides as well; pesticides because of the encouragement of beneficial insects, and herbicides because of the reduction of weeds due to competition from the clover. Clover also  greatly improves the soil structure by reducing compaction.

—Kevin Wiecks

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Comments (1)

  1. milton sherman Says:

    Today I was looking at plants located in the Bonnefont Cloister garden and used for dyes in the Middle Ages: madder, woad and weld. I understand that the dyes derived from some or all of these plants were mixed with compounds called mordants to make the dyes longer-lasting. Is that correct and could you identify the substances used as mordants in the Middle Ages and explain how they were combined with the dyes to extend their useful lives? Thank you.

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