The winter rains brought something amazing to Lanzarote’s rural areas– fields of golden-green grass rippling like the sea in the breeze. But for gardeners, grass can be a complicated business on a subtropical island.
The first thing many visitors from the UK and Ireland notice about Lanzarote is the lack of grass, which springs up everywhere in northern climes. Even though much of the island turned green after the rains, most of it isn’t grass, but other, hardier plants.
There are grassy areas on the island, of course. You’ll often find them in areas sheltered by mountains, and many of the grasses are cereals that were cultivated on the island in the past, or forage crops for goats and sheep.
The only large expanses of the type of meadow grass that’s found in the north are on the island’s two golf courses, while some parks on the island also have grassy areas.
This grass is usually specially developed strains of Agrostis stolonifera, a fairly coarse, hardy variety of the finer meadow grasses that you find on any British roadside, which are just about to survive in Lanzarote’s climate, given regular watering.
There are no grass football pitches, and local kids learn to play on dirt or artificial turf, while tennis always takes place on hard courts and bowls is played on specially prepared pitches of the volcanic ash known as picón.
What this means is that gardeners from the British Isles will quickly have to adjust to the fact that they cannot have a lawn – and this changes our concept of a garden completely.
The lawn is a northern European invention, deriving from areas of grass which were kept short by grazing animals. The village green was originally common land where anyone could take their livestock, and the aristocracy found that expansive lawns made approaching intruders easier to spot, as well as highlighting the magnificence of their buildings.
Modern lawns are more practical and offer an attractive open area where children can play (grass offers a fairly safe landing if they fall) or adults can simply relax, but if you want to do either of these things on Lanzarote, you’ll have to seek other solutions.
Artificial grass is an option, perfect if you want that comforting expanse of green with the added bonus that it needs barely any maintenance at all. It’s also the ideal surface for smaller children to enjoy rough-and-tumble games. Unless you’re prepared to spend huge amounts of time and effort on the project of cultivating a real lawn, it’s the closest thing you’ll get to a classic British-style lawn in Canarian conditions.
Other gardeners will simply have to get used to the idea of living without a lawn, and focus on decking, picón, paving or other options. The use of grass in your garden will be restricted to decorative grasses, such as pampas, blue fescue and cloud grass.
Ornamental grasses can give a stunning effect in your garden, and can offer shelter for more vulnerable plants, but it’s worth finding out exactly what is available from local garden centres. As with many other types of plant, the Canaries has strict rules on plant imports, and many grasses that are common in the UK may not be available here.
Pampas: The swingers choice?
Pampas grass was hugely popular in Britain in the 1970s, but no one quite knows how it became associated with swinging, or “wifeswapping” as it was called back then
TV presenter Mariella Frostrup claimed she had received various salacious enquiries after growing a clump of pampas outside her home, but the grass has recently seen a revival in the UK and the whole swingers thing appears to be a self-perpetuating urban myth. On Lanzarote, pampas grass has absolutely no hidden meanings whatsoever, except that you like big, feathery grasses.
For regular updates, pictures and videos of Lanzarote be sure to like and follow our Facebook page “Gazette Life Lanzarote”.