Taken in mid-October 2019, this photo shows clear lines of new grass growth coming through to replenish the existing sward at High House.

High House Production Park at Purfleet in Essex is home to the Royal Opera House’s production workshop and costume centre, a creative industries hub, artists’ studios, educational facilities and wedding and party venues. The fourteen-acre site, which consists of heritage buildings, ornamental walled gardens, an orchard, fine lawns and play facilities, is maintained under contract by Thurrock Council which employs a full-time gardener at the site and provides additional resources to carry out supplementary work as and when required.

“High House is located on the site of a derelict farm which has been restored to create a beautiful setting for the Royal Opera House’s workshops,” explains Thurrock Council’s Tree Officer, Liz Wood.

The site is south facing and sits on the banks of the River Thames within sight of the M25 Dartford Bridge. The poor soils suffer from extremes of temperature throughout the year, with two hot and dry summers in 2018 and 2019 leaving the lawns in very poor condition and in need of significant renovation.

“Large areas of the lawns had more brown grass than green grass and there was very little new growth coming through,” Liz explains. “I’m an arborist by training and therefore only have a relatively basic knowledge of grass health. I therefore went to the Landscape Show in Battersea Park to seek expert advice on the best way to bring the lawns back to full health.”

It was at the Landscape Show that Liz explained the situation to Sandy Pentecost, Germinal’s technical sales representative for the south east.

“As with any situation like this, the best way to understand the most appropriate course of action is to make a site visit,” Sandy explains. “It was clear when I first visited High House that there was a lot of dead grass which simply wasn’t going to recover. I therefore recommended over-seeding with a suitable seed mixture and designed a bespoke fertiliser plan to give the new seed the best chance of establishing and subsequent survival.”

Germinal’s Sandy Pentecost provided specialist overseeding and fertiliser advice to ensure the sward renovations were successful.

The lawns were overseeded in autumn 2019 with Germinal’s A30 Rapid Sports mixture: a combination of 35% Calico perennial ryegrass, 35% Carnac perennial ryegrass and 30% Zurich creeping perennial ryegrass which provide improved wear tolerance, rapid recovery and excellent green aesthetics.

“We’ve traditionally overseeded in the spring, but with mixed results at best due to the weather turning too hot and dry too soon after the seed was introduced,” Liz explains. “With spring weather patterns being so difficult to predict, Sandy suggested we should try drilling the new seed in the autumn to give it a better chance of survival.”

The seed was subsequently slot drilled in autumn 2019 and fed with an application of Novatec Premium: a 15-3-20 slow release fertiliser with added trace elements and 2% MgO.

“Novatec Premium is a cost-effective fertiliser which releases its nutrients over a period of 12 to 16 weeks,” Sandy describes. “It’s the perfect autumn, winter or early spring starter feed as it disperses rapidly into the sward where its high potassium content stiffens leaf blades to protect the sward from cold weather and disease.”

“The new seed established amazingly quickly,” Liz continues. “Sandy’s advice was spot on, as were his grass seed and fertiliser recommendations. In the space of a few weeks we went from having very little grass to almost having too much. The lawns have been totally transformed and it’s been fantastic to see people using them again, especially as the Covid-19 lockdown has made green spaces such vital resources for the public to exercise and take a break in.”

With weather conditions in late March and early April 2020 once again turning out to be very dry and warm, the sward’s progress was checked a little with some signs of drought stress starting to appear. “In hindsight, overseeding in the autumn was 100% the right thing to do,” Liz continues. “If we’d overseeded in the spring we’d have seen much poorer establishment.
It’s been hugely satisfying to see the lawns looking so healthy again, especially as the entire project has cost very little other than a few bags of seed and fertiliser.”