A lawn that doesn’t need mowing; a mossy looking landscape without the challenge of growing moss; a brilliant emerald green; a softness so alluring you can’t keep your hands off it: meet Zoysia tenuifolia, the plant that is set to become this decade’s mondo grass. A plant’s common names might be confusingly imprecise, but zoysia’s are revealing: ‘No mow lawn’, ‘Korean temple grass’, ‘Velvet grass’, ‘Petting grass’. Intrigued?
I first noticed zoysia in this garden designed by Nick Kennedy and Ken Pattinson from Art in Green. Strips of it were planted between concrete pavers, creating an electric-green fluffy fringe that made me want to take off my shoes and curl my toes through its softness. The same alluring sensuality was at play in two small ‘islands’ in the courtyard of the same garden where zoysia mounded in undulating lumps of irresistible furriness. I wasn’t the only person visiting the garden who couldn’t resist patting the planting.
“It’s a great, tough little plant,” says Nick Kennedy. “If you let it do its own thing it bubbles up and makes interesting little mounds. We planted it from two different pot sizes to emphasise that effect.” That mounding effect is what makes it look like moss, and like moss it will mound right up to the trunks of trees, undisturbed by root competition.
For those who prefer their green carpets smooth and even, zoysia offers its alias as the no-mow lawn. “It works a treat as a lawn in a small terrace or courtyard garden,” says Nick Kennedy. “You can keep it clipped with hedge shears, or a mower if you like. It’s slower-growing than grass so doesn’t need to be trimmed as often and if you leave it for months it doesn’t look unsightly.” The only reason not to rip out the buffalo and replace it with zoysia is that its slow-growing nature means it doesn’t repair itself quickly enough to respond to the wear and tear of a well-used lawn.
Zoysia as an undulating velvet carpet is used to great effect in the Japanese Gardens at Hunter Valley Gardens. Graeme Fraser saw it there is 2009 and loved its free-form, free-flowing look. So when he found it impossible to buy for his own garden he says he made ‘Note to self: business opportunity.’ He launched Tranquil Havens, an on-line nursery selling dwarf mondo and his true love, zoysia, mail-order. Fraser says his success, despite his lack of horticultural experience, is a guarantee to other gardeners of the adaptability of the plant. It grows in sun and shade and only complains if left in soggy soil.
Between paving and stepping stones, where mature trees prevent grass establishing, in small lawn spaces, as a wavy velvet carpet, and anywhere a light, fluffiness is the perfect texture, expect to see a lot more zoysia.