Growing lawn in coastal gardens can be a struggle due to salty winds and sea spray, but consider the challenges of sustaining a healthy lawn on a ship in the middle of the ocean! I’ve just returned from a cruise and am slightly embarrassed to admit that one of the aspects of ship life I found most fascinating was learning how the green keepers tended the 2,130 sqm swathe of lawn!
While I admit to a garden obsession, I was not the only passenger who enjoyed the cool feel of lawn beneath my toes on the Celebrity Solstice ship’s top deck.
Passengers were actively encouraged to use the lawn with scheduled activities including bocce, wine and cheese tastings, golf putting and yoga classes with rugs and towels provided for picnics and sun baking.
My ‘grass envy’ was only tempered by the understanding that an immaculate lawn in a salty environment requires around-the-clock monitoring and pampering. While passengers indulged in cocktails, facials and haircuts, the lawn was undergoing its own beautification and rejuvenation, tended by two full time greenkeepers who previously worked on golf courses in the Philippines. Brothers Edlyn and Christions Bastillo are supervised by the onboard Environmental Officer Nikos (Nick) Asproudas (correct, he signs himself Nick) and all three are understandably proud of their carpet-like swathe.
We chatted while wandering over the lawn where Nick Asproudas explained that the biggest challenge to lawn maintenance was the salt spray that covers the grass when the ship experiences rough seas. Says Mr Asproudas:
“These salt sprays can burn the tips of the grass blades and make the grass change colour from a bright green shade to a yellow or brown colour. To minimise damage, the lawn keepers’ monitor the lawns from dusk until dawn and constantly observe weather conditions, especially keeping an eye out for strong winds. When salt incidents do occur, we isolate the grass for up to a week.”
Staff submit regular reports on the lawn’s pest and weed status to satisfy biosecurity regulations but Mr Asproudas said that in the last two years the lawn had remained pest free but was sprayed monthly with a preventative fungicide and pesticide as specified by the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service and the New Zealand Customs Service.
Granular fertilisers, including a fast released ammonium nitrate fertiliser and micronutrients, are applied every ten days and watered immediately so they don’t burn the foliage. Regular fertilising is necessary because the frequent watering washes nutrients from the planting medium. Deep watering is better for turf as it encourages deep root growth, but this is not possible when the ship is at sea.
The lawn is measured and mowed to a constant height of 35mm, usually daily in warm weather but it may remain unmown for up to three days in cooler climates.
If you want to see the greenkeepers in action you need to get up early as they start at first light, mowing the grass with lightweight electric cylinder mowers. Clippings are collected and bagged the edges snipped with hand-held electric trimmers.
I was unable to spot a single weed in the healthy turf but Edlyn said that if any dare appear they are quickly removed by hand. Areas of the lawn adversely affected by salt or foot traffic are roped off so they get a chance to recover.
The structure supporting the ship’s lawn uses similar technology to roof top gardens with recycled polyethylene drainage boards with built-in water storage and overflow protection. A polypropylene fabric filters the boards from the growing medium of crushed, lightweight calcium clay blended with washed volcanic pumice. They provide perfect drainage and a polypropylene grid stabilizes the area so it can withstand food traffic.
The lawn is watered by 6.4kms of subsurface drip irrigation, supplemented by automated pop-up sprinklers and hand watering for salt removal.
“We tend to water the grass quite heavily early in the morning, before the full heat of the day,” Mr Asproudas said.
“Then, from 10am, we lightly water every two to three hours until the temperature cools outside.”
Small compacted areas are aerating using a manual (foot operated) appliance with solid tines with major core aeration every 3 to 4 months which removes plugs that are filled with top dressing sand. The aeration improves air and water infiltration, nutrient uptake and helps the lawn dry faster. If thatch develops verti mowing is carried out in summer.
Mr Asproudas said that the original soil free (washed) couch turf (Agrostis stolonifera) came from Austria and was installed in 2008 when the ship sailed in tropical regions. However when the ship took a new route to Alaska the couch lawn became dormant in the cooler weather and was over-sown with rye lawn seed (Festuca). This lawn suited to the cool conditions and became the dominant grass.
The ship now sails between New Zealand and Australia and the balance of couch and rye grass is about half and half.
The Celebrity Solstice was the first ship in the Celebrity fleet to have a lawn and its popularity and novelty has resulted in three more ships with a living ‘lawn deck’.
Obviously I’ll need to take a few more cruises, just to compare of course!
[Deryn Thorpe will continue the synergy of plants and cruising when she leads a garden tour in October 2016 that includes a cruise around Canada and the US visiting gardens with spectacular fall colours. Contact Travelrite International or Deryn Thorpe]