Grass Clippings

It’s one of those rules that the greatest fools obey
Because the sun is much too sultry
And one must avoid its ultra violet ray

Noel Coward wrote the lyrics to Mad Dogs and Englishmen while driving from Hanoi to Saigon ‘without pen, paper, or piano’. Coward elucidated: ‘I wrestled in my mind with the complicated rhythms and rhymes of the song until finally it was complete’. This last week the sentiment of that wistful tune from 1931 still applied with the amendment that Mad Dogs and Englishmen and Greenkeepers go out in the midday sun.

The peak of the heat wave last week coincided with the green’s renovation programme, which made the operation a more arduous a task than normal. It was already decided to postpone the July renovation programme to give Members the use of the course unimpeded, after 13 weeks of lock down. But our altruistic attitude has meant we have been suffering in the heat as the works were truly necessary.

During last wintertime several of the greens were holding too much water in one of the wettest winters on record. Due to the lock down, we had to cancel the works in March as the contractor could not work freely on site due to the restrictions of movement. We therefore we put the task on hold, in the hope that the restrictions would allow the work to continue. So, it was a relief to see the big boys’ toys arrive on the back of a low loader on Tuesday last, ready for the works to be completed. It is quite the invention as machines go; set of oversized drill bits sink on a block formation 12 inches plus into the greens and literally drill out material from the green profile.

The drills are hollow and allows sand to be forced down them when they are extracted from the soil. From the material that the drills augured to the surface found, they had indeed punched through a layer of material which had probably been laid down within the greens surface in the 1950’s rebuild of the course. The greens created on the course from this process 70 years ago used generically sourced materials that they could find on the site. Ian Vass, our oldest serving member of the team remembers that a seam of sand was discovered around 20 feet below the top end of the course and had been utilized and combined with native soil to create what is known in the trade as ‘push up greens’.

This was well before the days when we had turf laboratories to analyse materials rigorously to ensure their suitability for growing grass upon them and for the drainage potential. It was not until the Untied State Greens Association started field trials in the 1960’s that the whole study of materials selection evolved and became an intrinsic part of turf science.

In the 1970’s and 80’s, the soil transfer theory of coring and adding sand to the surface of the greens became an excepted practice, for the need to improve greens and remove organic matter was accelerated. Over the years the materials in our greens have most likely settled and compacted, as finer particle materials will block the pores between slightly larger particles. Coring and spiking with normal equipment can only reach down so far and the offending material has sat lurking, out of reach to still cause an issue.

Technically, this feature of consolidated material is called a pan and can lead to a situation of perching or perched water table, where free drainage is impeded or compromised, water starts to accumulate in the greens surface instead of draining away. By drilling down and replacing material from the greens with a column of sand, it allows water to freely move through the profile and connect with the drainage below. We eagerly await to see the results of this work this coming winter and an improvement to the greens being a lot dryer during wet weather periods. As the majority of the Roehampton Club greens are push up greens, it is going to be desirable if not a necessity to do the other greens in the future to ensure we are maximizing the movement of water in the greens during winter. Through all our endeavours to improve the surfaces at the Club, perhaps we can recall another of Noels songs from the past, London Pri

A surprise visitor

In sports management, nothing really surprises me these days but when a group of Members begged me to come over to them last week and said that there was a tortoise on the course, I did raise an eyebrow. What was discovered on the 16th hole, under a tree was a large terrapin. Wanting to keep it out of harm’s way, it was taken into custody at the grounds building. After a few phone calls to various organisations, it was agreed that we had a female red-eared slider which is a native aquatic turtle from the Mississippi Valley, a native species from Illinois down to the Gulf of Mexico. It earned its name from its distinctive red stripe found behind the eye and near its ear. The red-eared slider turtle is a subspecies of the pond sliders. There abbreviated name (slider) comes from their habit of free diving into a pond if they feel that they are at risk from a predator.

Moreover, it is considered the most popular and most recognisable turtle pet for decades, their popularity came with the Ninja Turtle cartoon series in the late eighties. However, this fact is tinged with satire as it is also the breed that is commonly released into the wild from captivity. This is due to owners not knowing how large it can grow. Young sliders relatively look small and can be tempting to be kept as pets. The females grow larger than the males, up to 30 cm and at this time of the year they do go walk about. You will be relieved to know that this particular slider is now residing with a lot of new friends at the National Centre for Reptile Welfare, near Tonbridge and shall be transferred to a more permanent wildlife sanctuary in Lincolnshire very soon. Basking in the sun, a little swim before breakfast, then eating and sleeping her afternoons away on the Wolds. Ahhh Bliss!

HS2 and the Euston Arch

The High Speed 2 rail project seems to be still on track and will mean the expansion of the rail network from London to Birmingham and reaching fourth to the north, sometime in the future. Completion dates quoted today are always disappointing for anyone who reads this in the future and questions the validity of the information. Do we need to mention the Elizabethan Line for TfL? It is ironic that this new super-fast rail scheme begins and its first port of call mirrors the destination of the very first intercity joined up link London to Birmingham back in 1838. The instigators of railway building were still refining the technology of engine design and efficiency at this time.
The rolling stock on the first line had to be pulled up into Euston from the Roundhouse engine turning point, via a cable system until the technology of steam engine power and torque was improved. What they lacked in steam power they made up in spades by way of architecture.

The original Euston Station was a symbol for what the railway age was going to be: bold and confident in that it was going to change Britain forever.
The most significant structure that left a lasting impression on any visitor to the terminus was the Euston Arch.
Designed by the architect Philip Hardwick, it was inspired by the Roman architecture Hardwick encountered on his Grand Tour of Italy. Strictly speaking it was not an arch at all, but a propylaeum – a monumental gateway in the Doric style. The sandstone structure was designed for the London and Birmingham Railway (L&BR), complementing Birmingham Curzon Street station, at the other end of the company’s mainline. Fast forward a century or so and the nationalisation of the railways in post war Britain was coupled with the modernisation of the system, which is synonymous with the Beaching Report.
The electrification of the north west mainline was imminent and the expansion of Liverpool, Birmingham and the London station infrastructure was being ploughed through central government. The full story of the fate of the Euston Arch could have been written by Michael Dobbs, the Machiavellian twists and turns of each quango with hopes of saving the arch and repurposing it in a different location rose and fell as demolition date of the main station approached. Sir John Betjeman and the Victorian Society protested vigorously for saving this monument. The last word came from the then Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan who in his best flip-flop manner sympathised but indicated that it was not infeasible to relocate the structure. Francis Urquhart would have been proud of him.
Finally, the arch was repurposed, at least 60% of the stone were used to fill a chasm in the bed of the channel of the River Lea at the Prescott Channel in the East End of London. It is quite the comedy of errors that it takes a sacrifice such as this to garner support for other building causes. The falling of the arch doubled the support to save St Pancras and to some extent Kings Cross, Betjeman was to UK architecture what Jacqueline Kennedy was to the fight to save the New York’s Grand Central Terminus, after the destruction of the original Pennsylvania Railway Station. The 1960 new build of the Penn’ created a subterranean rabbit warren of platforms and feeder tunnels, illustrated how soulless modern architecture can change the stress levels for the process of travel and the city landscape. Hopes abound that with HS2 and the demolition of the 1960’s version of Euston for a new incarnation for the new high speed generation, that a new Euston Arch will rise for a new era of the railways, or so rumoured.
Many luminaries such as the historian Dan Cruickshank are pinning their hopes that the comments by successive Transport Ministers that an arch should be the focal point of the station approach. We shall see if costs will allow for this phoenix to fly. Ironically at the Birmingham end of the new HS2 line, the original Curzon street station with its fine Roman façade closed as a passenger serving station since 1893 remains intact. Forlornly it stands as one of the earliest examples of railway architecture remaining in the world. The latest plans for the new Birmingham HS2 station leaves the building outside the station’s footprint.

Hot, hot, hot

The heat of the last few weeks has made a remarkable change to many gardens over the south east, grass species within lawns inherently has an internal thermostat that regulates its metabolic function. Once it detects the onslaught of a prolonged heat wave it will basically go into dormancy and shut down all green working processes above ground, to help save the lawn from further damage.
The dormancy will last as for as long as the heat spell and only the presence of moisture and a favourably soil temperature will allow grass to recover. New shoots will begin to emerge from the crown, predominantly and in a few species from undergrown rhizomatous shoots. The best practice for a lawn owner to help the plant recover is by removing as much of the older dead material as possible, as invariably this material will only rot off and could help to harbour disease pathogens in the future. Use a springbok or wire rake to thrash out as much debris as possible. It is a very good cardio exercise also and well worth attempting in several directions to ensure you are attacking as much of the dead material from every angle.
To aid recovery, feed the plant to help bolster the new growing structures but use a low nitrogen, high potassium feed which will help cellular development. True to type, as greenkeepers, our mantra is to bang holes into as much of the surface as possible. By whatever method you can employ, from garden fork to mechanical means, aerating and removal of organic material from the soil surface will help the recover again by breaking up the surface and bringing soil to contact with seed. Which is the next part of the process, by over seeding and adding fresh grass into the surface you encourage new plants to fill gaps in the lawn quicker and hopefully with better stains of grass that can withstand heat stress in the future. Generally, fescues are more heat tolerant, but rye grass strains can make a superior lawn sward, in terms of colour and density. There lies the dilemma of a home lawn owner and you will have to use trial and error to find the best combination of grasses for your lawn and location, plus the use of the lawn in terms of function. A lawn which is going to be used as a practice football goal mouth will need a higher rye grass content than one which is used solely to frame borders with nice soft fescue lawn and have to deal with a little light foot traffic. Growing a lawn and getting it to work for you is never easy. I have deliberately avoided the issue of irrigation in domestic settings, that is due to the environmental consequences of watering in today’s climate sensitive times. If you’re looking for an infallible green surface, then the nuclear option may well be going artificial?

Peter Bradburn | Course and Grounds Manager