Gardening Advice

Mowing the lawns

Spring is finding it hard to settle in this year: the rain and the cold temperatures are preventing us from enjoying the gardens as we would like. Leaf growth is late, and the vegetables in the kitchen garden are not making much headway, but the lawns are enjoying the changing weather conditions, making us mow regularly and often.
Centuries of history with our beloved enemies the English have definitely given us a taste for this little square of green in front of our houses. To avoid mowing becoming one of those weekly chores, it is important to know about the annual growth cycle of the lawn and what to do to maintain it.

If you want to make a lawn, it is better to wait until autumn to sow the first seeds. In September the soil is warm, watering happens naturally, and the lawn will have all the time it needs to settle down until the following spring. All you need to do is pull up the weeds as they appear. Remember to tell the sales assistant what your lawn will be used for so that you can get advice on the best lawn mix for your needs. Lawns are made up of a mixture of grasses which vary according to the amount sunshine, and also the amount of use it will get, or if it is merely for decoration.

At Villandry, we use lawn seed by Barenbrug, made of:

  • 40% red fescue
  • 40% English ray grass
  • 20% half creeping red fescue

This mix is designed to ensure that the lawn will last a long time, stand up to a lot of use and repeated mowing, and be lovely to look at, with fine, dense growth.

Our gardens contain two hectares of lawn. We have drawn up a different management plan for the various parts of lawn in the grounds so that we can apply a maintenance programme to suit the quality each part requires. The tennis court and the main lawns near the water mirror receive much more attention than the terraces to the east of the grounds which are less often frequented by visitors. This management plan indicates the number of applications and the kind of fertiliser used, the frequency and height of grass cuttings, and the mechanical work that needs doing (scarification, aerating, top dressing and top-seeding, etc.).

The lawns comprise plants which need feeding if they are to reach their full potential. Without using chemical fertilisers, we still have to add organic matter and trace elements in the form of granules that we spread on the grass. We use the brand DCM which offers a range of fertilisers acceptable for use in organic farming. The proportions of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium (NPK) depend on when the fertiliser is applied.

This is our fertilisation plan with the doses used:

  • 4 March: 7-3-12, DCM eco-mix, 2 50 g/ m²
  • 8 April: Lime, Lime and magnesium, 100 g/ m²
  • 4 June: 7-3-12, DCM eco-mix, 2 50 g/ m²
  • 24 July: 2-0-20, DCM Minigran, 30 g/ m²
  • 24 July: 9-3-3, DCM eco-mix, 1 50 g/ m²
  • 5 September : 2-0-20, DCM Minigran, 35 g/ m²

Spreading dates depend on weather conditions and temperatures which determine the temperature of the soil. This is an important factor in the efficacy of the fertiliser.

The total surface area of your garden will determine what type of mowing equipment you need. Electric mower, robot, self-propelled or riding mower, and you also have a choice in the quality of the cut with a rotary blade or cylinder blades, with or without a bag. Investment in equipment is an important point. Mulching is a mowing technique where the grass cuttings are left in place. The grass is cut finely and remains on the lawn to decompose and form a natural humus that feeds the lawn and therefore eliminates the need for fertilisers. The main advantage of mulching is that it eliminates the chore of collecting the cuttings. But if you want it to be effective, you have to mow regularly. Cylinder lawn mowers give an excellent finish: one blade cutting against a fixed blade cuts the grass cleanly without tearing it. The rollers in these mowers give even lines, like those you see when watching sport on TV.

Remember to adjust the height of the cut depending on what your lawn is used for. To give you an idea, golf course greens are mown to a height of 15 mm, football pitches to 2.5 cm, rugby fields to 3.5 cm, and racecourses to 10 cm.

A word of warning: a lawnmower can be a dangerous machine. After each use, stop the engine and disconnect the spark plug. In very hot weather the grass should be cut slightly longer to reduce watering. In September you can hire a scarifier to remove the excess lawn that accumulates around the stems of the grasses. No need for selective weed killers, just regularly hand weed dandelions, plantain and other perennial weeds which smother the lawn. Daisies and clover can be left as they are, as their small flowers do no harm and even add to the charm of a beautiful lawn.

Laurent Portuguez
head gardener 

The lime trees in the Villandry gardens

The lime trees in the Villandry gardens

The virtues of the lime tree have been known since the Middle Ages. They are planted near hospitals, purify the air and have a calming effect when taken as a herbal infusion. The lime is a ...

Woolly apple aphid

Woolly apple aphid

Looking at the apple cordons planted in our kitchen garden, once the leaves have fallen, we have sometimes discovered whole branches covered with a blanket of cotton as white as snow. Colonies of ...

Hornbeam hedges

Hornbeam hedges

Our French formal gardens are made up of clipped plants that form an architectural structure all year round. In addition to box shrubs and yews, hornbeams became a favourite of 17th century ...

Prune to prevent the rose plant

Prune to prevent the rose plant

Prune to prevent the rose plant from losing its lower leaves and to renew the shoots so as to ensure exceptional blooms all year round. March is the best time of year to prune rose plants, ...

The main enemy, the common garden snail

The main enemy, the common garden snail

Slugs and snails have the same purpose: to devour seedlings, soft leaves, and sometimes fruits and roots. Their gluttony takes place mostly at night and in wet weather; at Villandry, the damage ...

Apple scab

Apple scab

Spring has barely started, but it’s already time to think about the late summer and autumn harvests. To ensure we can enjoy apples and pears picked fresh from the tree, we have to keep a watchful ...

Spring cabbage… and the cabbage fly

Spring cabbage… and the cabbage fly

We starting sowing spring cabbage in our heated greenhouses on 7 February 2012. Two varieties this year, starting with ‘Précoce de Louviers, a traditional variety with an elongated pointed head. ...

Mowing the lawns

Mowing the lawns

Spring is finding it hard to settle in this year: the rain and the cold temperatures are preventing us from enjoying the gardens as we would like. Leaf growth is late, and the vegetables in the ...

The yew topiary at Villandry

The yew topiary at Villandry

When the gardens at the Château de Villandry were created, Joachim Carvallo planted yews (taxus baccata) in order to form topiary according to the French tradition. 162 yews were distributed ...

Roses, Black spot

Roses, Black spot

This disease is caused by a fungus called Marssonina (or diplocarpon) rosae; the symptoms appear quickly starting with black spots on the leaves, followed by yellowing and finally premature leaf ...

Eco-friendly garden

Eco-friendly garden

Villandry Castle, symbol of French style gardens, today shows that carefully maintaining an outstanding garden can be compatible with eco-friendly methods. At the end of 2008, we decided to stop ...

The orange trees

The orange trees

Villandry respects the tradition of the great châteaux by placing 10 clementine trees at the foot of its tower in Versailles planters. The fashion for citrus dates back to the fifteenth and ...