The three-year research project by PhD student Lionel Smith at the Centre for Horticulture & Landscape has a strong emphasis on aesthetic as well as ecological aspects. The research is being supported by £60,000 of contributions and in-kind help from The Finnis-Scott Foundation, The Dick Allen Trust, the RHS, and Herbiseed.
Smith said he was keen to hear from anyone with unusual forms or colour variants of native and non-native lawn-dwelling species that may be incorporated in the study.
"I'm hoping for a new use for lawn space that isn't too different - it's still a lawn of sorts and will still need a rare going over with a mower - but requires fewer inputs, overall less mowing and is a potential aid to biodiversity, as well as being a possible new canvas for gardeners/landscapers and a boost to the horticulture industry."
Smith, who is being supervised by Ross Cameron, said the idea behind the research is that climate change is having an impact on the traditional lawn and its maintenance. He said lawns could be used to act as a buffer to the loss of UK biodiversity. The basic constituent, grass, can be changed to be more climate change tolerant.
He added: "There is also an opportunity to access the growing public awareness of threats to animal and plant life and the increasing openness to 'green' ideas. An unused grass lawn space that's mown once a fortnight now the kids have gone might be something anyone might attempt to makeover to an essentially grass-free insect/bird-friendly environment.
"There is an opportunity to use low-growing/prostrate/plastic forms of relatively common species to achieve this. The need for mowing may therefore be reduced."
- For details, email l.s.smith@ student.reading.ac.uk.