Example of a manicured lawn at the Reserve.
Lawns contribute a lot to the impressions visitors have of the Reserve. The Reserve has two types of lawn. We have manicured lawns – one example is this lawn at the back of the Visitor Center – and we have native grass lawns.
We have a lot of both. The Reserve has 183,000 square feet – 4.2 acres – of manicured lawns. In addition to these, a significant part of the Reserve’s land area is covered in native grasses. These are called “long” lawns since they’re cut much less often, or, in many cases, never cut at all.
As a major feature of the Reserve, lawns require regular maintenance. The maintenance each type of lawn receives depends on where the lawn is located and its purpose.
Most of the manicured lawns are at the Visitor Center, the Gate House, and the Japanese Garden.
Lawns create visual frames. At the Reserve they guide and orient visitors in different ways:
For the Visitor Center, the objective is to gently guide the visitor on the long path to the front door, without creating a sense of urgency.
For the Gate House, the objective is to connect the visitor to the office. The lawn-lined walk shows visitors where to go to pay their admission after they have parked.
For the Japanese Garden, the objective is to highlight the rock garden by providing a strong visual contrast with the white granite chips.
For the bark path, the mowed area provides visitors unobstructed views. This view is looking up the woodlands trail towards the Gate House from the Sheep Barn.
Thatching is the first task in annual maintenance. The thatching machine removes the dense layer of sub-surface organic matter that accumulates. This includes dead grass, leaves, stems, moss and overgrown grass roots.
Aeration is the second task in annual maintenance. The aerator cuts plugs which are deposited on the surface. This opens up the ground so that grass roots have access to water, fertilizer and oxygen. Aeration is most important for high traffic lawns, because these suffer the most soil compaction.
Fertilization is done using a broadcast spreader four times a year. The standard is to apply one pound of nitrogen per thousand square feet at each feeding. Bloedel uses only organic fertilizers. Chemically derived fertilizers are no longer used.
Irrigation, and irrigation system maintenance, are constant activities. One example of the effort required is that hundreds of sprinkler heads must be kept free of the grass that grows around, and sometimes over, them. They’re kept clear with a tool called a “cookie cutter”.
Weekly mowing is required during the growing season. Here you can see one week’s growth by comparing the mowed part on the left with the un-mowed grass on the right. A rule of thumb is to cut no more than one third of the total grass height in any mowing. During peak growth periods this may require more than one mowing per week.
To minimize the impact of mowing, all manicured lawns are mowed by gardeners walking behind commercial mowers. No riding mowers are used. This improves mowing quality and appearance as mowers strive to maintain straight lines. Lawns are edged in a separate operation with string trimmers.
Grass clippings are composted. Mowing requires a full day. Typically it’s done on Mondays when the Reserve is closed to the public.
The Japanese Garden is mowed in the same way as the flowing lawns. It requires additional work because the grass is planted in squares adjoining pavers. The individual grass squares are trimmed with a string trimmer.
The Gate House walk requires special treatment. To keep grass from growing over the tiles, the grass is cut an inch back from the edge.
Here you can see the gardener edging the tiles.
Here, the gardener and a volunteer are cutting the edge.
The result is an edge that can be easily be restored with a string trimmer.
Some long lawns get irrigation, some don’t, others get it incidentally. This is the Oak Grove, which adjoins the Moss Garden. This lawn is irrigated incidentally because it is on the edge of the Moss Garden,and the Moss Garden must be kept wet. It is mowed to improve the visual sight lines to and from the Moss Garden.
This is a picture of the riding mower and operator. A riding mower is an essential piece of equipment at the Reserve, as it’s the only practical way to cut the long lawns.
High Traffic Areas:
High traffic areas need the most lawn maintenance. This is the area in front of the Visitor Center. It is a high traffic area because Bloedel and vendors use it for the annual plant sale.
Heavy use during the plant sale produced a pronounced wear pattern in the spring.
Thatching, aeration, re-seeding and fertilization restored the lawn by early summer.
This is typical for a summer day. Cars park on the paver/grass matrix six days a week..
Despite the traffic, the lawn stays green. Two factors account for this. The weight of the cars is supported by the pavers so the grass roots continue to thrive. This, combined with extra irrigation, keeps the parking strip looking fresh.
Trimming the long lawns keeps the Reserve neat and improves the sight lines for visitors.
This is the view in late summer looking down the exit road from the Visitor’s Center. The long lawn is mowed so that visitors can see the trees adjoining the road.
Trees planted in long lawns have circles scribed beneath them. Tree circles permit the mower to do a neat job of mowing without having to mow right up to the tree. The circles are covered with mulch for weed control.
This view of the Sheep Meadow is a good example of how a mowing pattern can guide one on a path and be visually interesting at the same time.
The Reserve toward the end of a summer mowing day. The lawn is mostly mowed, but the cut grass has not yet been picked up.
Gardeners — Thatching, aeration, fertilization, irrigation, mowing;
Interns – Mowing: Gabie, Gytano, Jackson, Tatyana
Time Required: Growing season: ~50 hours/week; Dormant season: No time required