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Lawn Care
The Constructions of Croquet Lawns
by Richard Rothwell

Introduction

1. Early in 1975 I was asked to produce some notes on the construction of croquet lawns, and these were produced so that copies could be sent to those who sought such information through the Croquet Association Office. I have recently (March 1988) been asked to revise it. I retired as a landscape architect and contractor at the end of 1976 to become the C.A. Secretary. Although I have had to make a few alterations to the original text I have taken this opportunity to make some additions. It is now even harder to estimate costs. Where prices are mentioned in text these are operating in 1975, but with continuous inflation in the intervening 13 years 1988 prices are very considerably higher.

2. However, the Laws of Croquet have since been revised, as the 4th edition in 1984. Where Laws are referred to in the text these have been bought up to date as necessary. Dimensions of a court variation known as "Short Croquet" have been added as paragraphs 40 and 41. Some references to costs incurred recently by clubs on lawn renovation or construction have been included in para 42.

3. "How much would it cost to make a croquet lawn?". This is really the $64k question which is impossible to answer. Apart from any other considerations prices tend to go on rising year by year with continued inflation. There are many factors, some or all of which may influence the cost of construction on any one particular site. The initial cost of the land (this may or may not apply): the type and depth of topsoil: the drainage capacity of the subsoil: the present state of the ground (how much clearance is required): the present contours of the ground: the general drainage of the area (can water be got off the site): the access to the area for machinery: the amount of spare ground adjacent to the new lawn (see paragraphs 15 and 16 below): the locality.

4. Below are considered some of the factors concerned, the techniques and quantities involved (those for a full sized lawn only are considered) which I trust may be of some assistance to those considering having a croquet lawn constructed and some idea of the range of costs involved. As labour is one of the major costs these can be kept down if voluntary labour can be utilised even for part of the work involved.

5. Where Laws are mentioned in the text these have been revised where necessary to comply with the which have been revised since 1975 - the 4th edition 1984. Copies of these Laws are obtainable from the C.A. Office at The Croquet Association, C/o Cheltenham Croquet Club, Old Bath Road, Cheltenham, GL53 7DF. T: 01242 242318, E: caoffice@croquet.org.uk, https://www.croquet.org.uk

Playing Area

6. The playing area of a standard full-sized court (or lawn, both terms are acceptable) is defined in Law 1 as a rectangle 35 yards by 28 yards. It will be noted that the ratio of the length to breadth is 5 to 4. These dimensions are the playing area itself measured to the inside edges of the boundary lines. The Laws do not define these lines, only that they should be clearly marked (see Law 1). They are usually of chalk or whiting, but may be string.

7. If the ground available is too small for a full-sized lawn the dimensions can be scaled down keeping to the 5 : 4 ratio (Law 56a1). Since the 4th Edition of the Laws were published in 1984 the C.A. Council has approved laws amended for play on a lawn that can be laid out on the area of a lawn tennis court with its surrounds known as SHORT CROQUET. The official size of this lawn is 24 yards by 16 yards. Half a full-sized lawn is acceptable (28 yards by 17.5 yards).

8. In the Laws the shorter boundaries are referred to as the North and South boundaries. This orientation is purely arbitrary and need bear no relation to compass North. Unlike lawn tennis there is no advantage or merit in croquet in setting the court in any particular orientation in relation to the sun. The only fact that affects the croquet court setting is the space available.

9. It is desirable to have upwards of one yard all round the playing area of similar surface to allow for free backswing of mallets but more important to make possible the moving of the court one way or another periodically to permit the moving of the hoop positions, since wear tends to occur between the uprights of the hoops due to the constant passage of balls through them, particularly in wet weather.

10. In calculations given below the area of the court has been taken as a rectangle 37 yards by 30 yards, an area of 1,110 square yards.

11. The ideal grass surface for a croquet lawn is a dead level area of even, fine and closely mown grass, as one would expect to find on a first class bowling green. A good firm, hard, fast court is preferable to a soft, spongy slow one.

Levelling

12. If the area is basically level, that is if no part is higher (or lower) than any other by about 6"; then, if there is at least one foot of topsoil over the whole area, the chance can reasonably be taken to simply shift the high areas into the low ones to obtain a true level over the whole area.

13. There is always the danger if the above short-cut method is used that it may later be regretted and which is very hard to put right. The outcome may be that what was the high end finishes up with little or no topsoil and what was the low end has more than is necessary. The grass on what was the high end will never make such good growth as at the other end, and what was the lower end will produce richer grass and remain softer. This state may well remain for decades. When considering such elementary levelling it must be borne in mind that grass requires a minimum of four inches of topsoil to grow.

14. Topsoil and subsoil have been mentioned above, and although a definition of the two is a complex subject, in simple terms topsoil which can vary in depth from practically nothing to 2 or 3 feet in alluvial soils such as one would find in the Fens, consists of workable soil in to which air has penetrated, the worms work, contain a reasonably high proportion of humus and is generally a good growing medium in which grass roots thrive. Subsoil is basically inert, airless soil, often heavy clay or gravel which contains little or no humus and which will take many years of cultivation and application of humus to bring it to fertile soil. There is normally no defined line of demarcation between the two, they tend to merge into one another.

15. If the ground is basically not level enough to employ the simple method mentioned above it will be necessary to strip off the topsoil from the entire area to a depth of about 6" and stockpile it off site. This presupposes that sufficient ground is available outside the area of the proposed lawn, preferably as close to it as possible. The subsoil is then levelled by cut and fill, and as a third operation the topsoil is replaced. This sounds simple but involves a lot of soil moving.

16. If spare ground is not available for stockpiling the topsoil as suggested above the same system for levelling can be employed by removing the topsoil from half the court area along the line of the slope and stockpiling it on the other half. The subsoil on the first half is then levelled by cut and fill as before and the topsoil subsequently replaced on the levelled subsoil. The second half is then similarly treated. This method is more complicated and has to be worked out very carefully before work is started.

17. When shifting consolidated soil account must be taken of what is called bulking. When moved it will increase in volume by one fifth, that is 5 cu. yds of consolidated soil when moved will occupy 6 cu. yds. As an example, the calculated volume of soil when a 6" depth of soil is removed from an area of 1,110 sq. yds (see paragraph 13 above) would be 1,110 divided by 6 = 185 cu. yds. (Note 185 is divided by 6 since 6" is 1/6th of a yard). This 185 cu. yds would bulk into 222 cu. yds. This is a lot of soil.

18. To obtain levels over the area from which to calculate the final level so that the cut is equal to the fill, the quickest and most accurate method will be to employ a levelling instrument such as a Dumpy Level. This instrument will give the relative heights of ground expressed in feet and 100th of a foot. For the practical levelling it will be necessary to convert these fractions into inches. The following approximate conversion scale is accurate enough for practical purposes:
 

 0.08 = 1"

 0.16 = 2"

0.25 = 3"

0.33 = 4"
 0.41 = 5"

0.50 = 6"

0.58 = 7"

0.67 = 8"
0.75 = 9"

0.83 = 10"

0.92 = 11"

19. The method of working out the final level so that the cut and fill are equal may seem quite complicated but it is in fact quite straightforward. The area of the croquet court is pegged out on a 7 yard grid as shown in the figure:-

A=======G=======N=======T=======Z

¦   :   ¦   :   ¦   :   ¦   :   ¦

¦...............................¦

¦   :   ¦   :   ¦   :   ¦   :   ¦

B===.===H===.===O===.===U===.===AA

¦   :   ¦   :   ¦   :   ¦   :   ¦

¦...............................¦

¦   :   ¦   :   ¦   :   ¦   :   ¦

C===.===J===.===P===.===V===.===BB

¦   :   ¦   :   ¦   :   ¦   :   ¦

¦...............................¦

¦   :   ¦   :   ¦   :   ¦   :   ¦

D===.===K===.===Q===.===W===.===CC

¦   :   ¦   :   ¦   :   ¦   :   ¦

¦...............................¦

¦   :   ¦   :   ¦   :   ¦   :   ¦

E===.===L===.===R===.===X===.===DD

¦   :   ¦   :   ¦   :   ¦   :   ¦

¦...............................¦

¦   :   ¦   :   ¦   :   ¦   :   ¦

F=======M=======S=======Y=======EE

The 30 pegs being set out at points A to EE. The level of the ground is taken at each peg using a Dumpy Level. A straight edge and spirit level could be used but would be a lengthy business and be very liable to inaccuracies. The level at each peg is feet and 100ths of a foot is multiplied by the relative size of the broken line rectangle of the square in which the peg is situated (it will be noted that these are either in 1, 2 or 4 small dotted squares). The sum total of these calculations is then divided by the total number of dotted squares (80) which gives the level of the court where the cut equals the fill. The start of this calculation would be:

a*1 + b*2 + c*2 + d*2 + e*2 + f*1 + g*2 + h*4 + j*4 and so on to dd*2 + ee*1.

20. Another but more expensive method of achieving a level lawn would simply be to import good quality topsoil to make up the low spots until a level surface is produced. The resulting banks required to retain the soil will take additional land and there will always be the probability of settlement. Soil is difficult to obtain of suitable quality and may at present day prices cost up to £25-30 per cu. yd. without the handling. If ground has to be made up to any degree it should be built up gradually in not applying more than 6" layers, each layer being consolidated before applying another.

[1995 prices: 1 tonne = approx 1 cu. metre is £60 in small bagged quantities, much cheaper in bulk]

21. The cost of moving soil in any quantity will be reduced considerably and much time saved if machinery can be used to do the heavy work. A Drot with a good operator (this is essential) even at the cost of up to £50 a day will shift more soil in a day than many men; likewise a narrow trench digger will get out all of the trenches required for a drainage system (see paragraph 25 below) in a single day. If machinery of any weight is used it must have access to the site and the amount of damage it may cause in getting to and from the road has to be taken into consideration. Again it has to be assessed how much soil has to be moved as to whether heavy machinery is justified commensurate with the damage it may cause through compaction of the soil, especially if it is a heavy wet clay site. Permanent damage to the natural drainage of the ground may result.

Drainage

22. The question of artificial drainage, the pros and cons is a complex one. A lot depends on the natural drainage potential of the subsoil and the normal level of the water table as to whether any benefit would be gained through the installation of an artificial drainage system. If such a system is laid thought must be given beforehand as to how the drained water can be disposed of. Water invariably flows down hill.

23. To take examples of three of our established croquet clubs will illustrate different methods of treatment that may or may not be applicable to other sites. At Cheltenham the lawns are on deep porous sand, an excellent natural drainage medium. No artificial drainage system could improve them from the drainage aspect. Temporary standing water on such lawns after heavy rain might suggest over compaction of the surface which can easily be put right by spiking.

Again the lower lawns at Hurlingham are of alluvial sand but are below the level of the nearby River Thames. Drainage of these could only be improved if surplus water could be pumped away and this could be a costly and recurrent process.

At Parkstone some of the lawns were very waterlogged after rain being in an artificially created basin, but fortunately there is at the correct level a large concrete gully into which the surplus water can be led. A system of drainage has been installed and will eventually produce drier courts, but in the case of any new system it takes several years for the disturbed soil to recover its natural drainage properties and for the new drainage to become 100% effective.

24. Apart from improving existing bad drainage there is another case where artificial drainage may be worth while and that would be to create an ideally drained area on which to grow extra fine grass such as Cumberland sea-washed turf. If this type of grass does not have perfect drainage it will soon deteriorate. Once such a drainage system has been installed it will be necessary to apply constant water in summer. This can be costly and if one relies on the public water authority there is always the risk that the source may be cut off in times of drought - exactly when it is required. Apart from the cost of watering Cumberland turf, it is very expensive to buy, up to £1 per square yard dependent upon the distance from the source.

25. If a drainage system is deemed to be worth installing under a new lawn it should be laid after the subsoil has been levelled and before the topsoil has been replaced. The amount of trench excavation must have been taken into consideration before the final lawn level has been fixed since it will be desirable to dispose of these excavations on the new lawn area (see paragraph 13 above). A main line of 4" diameter porous clayware (unglazed) land drains is installed after the subsoil has been levelled and before the top soil is replaced. These are laid butt jointed either diagonally across the lawn or along the centre of one axis according to circumstances. Leading into this main drain are led a series of laterals in the form of a herring bone at an angle of 60 degrees to the main drain so that the laterals, which should be of 3" diameter drain pipes, are approximately 18-20ft apart. These laterals should be led to the main using specially made angle joints. The distance between the laterals will be influenced by soil conditions. The fall of the lines of drains should be even. If too steep or too shallow silting up may occur. The normal fall is 1:120, 1:80 being the maximum and 1:200 the minimum. The depth of the drains, that is the distance between the top of the drain pipe and the surface, will normally vary from 1'6" to 2'6". The trenches should have a maximum width of about 12" with a base shaped with a special tool into which the drain will lie. The pipes are laid close butted in the trenches and the trench is filled with washed shingle to within 6" of the surface. The remainder of the trench is then filled with topsoil. Both 4" and 3" drains come in 1 ft lengths.

26. For an average drainage system under a full sized court you should allow 120 4" drains and 450 3" drains costing 7-10p each and up to 25 cu. yds of 3/4" washed shingle.

Preparation

27. The preparation of the ground after levelling has been completed is much the same whether turfing or seeding is used to produce the final surface. The time taken for this operation will depend largely on the type of soil, whether it is light or heavy and dry or wet, and the proportion of stones in the soil. This operation is vital and should not be hurried or skimped, nor carried out when the ground is too wet or otherwise not readily workable. It consists of raking over the ground in two directions, lightly consolidating the ground during the process, stones brought up during operations of diameter 2" or over in any direction being removed off the site.

28. Before raking operations are started pointed pegs 1"x1"x12" long are knocked into the ground not more than 10ft apart in a regular grid all over the area (nearly 100 pegs will be required for a full-sized lawn) so that the tops of the pegs are all at the correct final level. A straight edge placed on the tops of two adjacent pegs will be used to ensure that the ground level is true to within 1/4" all over. Depending on the soil conditions and the stone content this operation may take upwards of 15 man/days to complete satisfactorily. In the case of seeding the pegs should be removed at this stage but in the case of turfing left in (but removed later).

29. After the ground has been prepared as above an application of a proprietary pre-seed fertilizer, such as Fison's PS5, should be spread evenly over the ground at a rate of 2oz per square yard (allow 1.5 cwts for a full-sized lawn) and lightly raked in, about half a day's work, when all is ready for seeding or turfing.

Seeding or Turfing

30. Before discussing the merits of seeding versus turfing the time factor should be mentioned. Seeding in this country is traditionally only carried out during two comparatively short period of the year, Spring sowing from early March to late April, and Autumn sowing from late August to the end of September. Seeding can be carried out at other times but in our climate this can be risky, especially with the finer grasses that will be required to make a good croquet lawn, as the weather after the end of September may be too cold for germination before the onset of winter, and sowing after the end of April may result in hot weather shrivel up of young grass roots before they become sufficiently established. Turfing on the other hand can be carried out with reasonable safety at any time of the year providing watering is possible if necessary, except in frosty and drought conditions when it may be impossible to get the turves lifted in the turf fields.

31. Personally I do not favour turfing, not mainly on the ground of expense which is higher than seeding, but because at the present time it is almost impossible to purchase really good quality turves perhaps with the exception of Cumberland turves where the cost may be considered prohibitive (paragraph 24) suitable to make a good croquet lawn. At least if the ground can be cleaned of seed of wild and undesirable grasses, the type of grass can be dictated by the selection of the grass seed mixture used. It will of course be longer in the case of seeding before a lawn can be sufficiently established to permit play and there maybe a seasonal time lag before seeding can be carried out as discussed in the previous paragraph. There could be a case for turfing if the ground is so dirty, in that it contains an unacceptable amount of weed and unwanted grass seed, the time taken after seeding in removing by hand the unwanted grasses as they appear is just not economic, unless voluntary labour is available.

Seeding

32. The seeding operation, once the preparation has been properly carried out, is a comparatively simple operation. Seed should be broadcast over the area (either by hand or by machine) at the rate of 2oz per square yard, a total of 3/4 cwt, half in one direction and the other half in the other direction at right angles to the first to ensure even distribution. Grass seed is light particularly the finer grasses as required for a good class croquet lawn. Sowing should be avoided in windy weather to avoid drift and ease of even distribution. After sowing the seed should be lightly raked in but not buried. It should be checked that the seed has been previously treated with bird repellant. Birds attacking the seed will not only consume it but tend to disturb the soil by dusting themselves in the soil.

33. The constituents of the seed mixture must depend on the soil and locality, and a good reliable seedsman would advise on a suitable mixture given the soil conditions, locality and purpose. The Government sponsored SPORTS TURF RESEARCH INSTITUTE at Bingley, West Yorkshire, BD16 1AU. would willingly give advice or put you in touch with one of their registered approved local seedsmen. A particularly hard wearing mixture is not necessary for croquet as it is for lawn tennis. At 1975 prices you would have to think of about £60 per cwt, but grass seed mixtures are liable to fluctuate greatly season by season as most grass seed used in this country are grown abroad where different harvest conditions can affect prices. The labour involved in the seeding of a full-sized lawn, including the raking in, is in the region of 6 man/days.

[1995 prices: 25Kg Bag of quality seed approx. £80. one to one and a half bags per lawn].

34. The time taken for seed to germinate will depend on the soil temperature, the season and the weather conditions after the seeding and may vary from about a fortnight to a month. As soon as ground conditions permit when the new grass is about 1" tall it should be topped lightly with a sharp mower or flymow to encourage the grass roots to tiller (develop). Unwanted grasses should be removed by hand as early as possible even at the risk of disturbing some of the wanted grasses as no selective weedkiller will destroy them without killing the wanted grasses. This will be a long and tedious task and should not be undertaken in wet weather, but will be well worth while. It is a task that would only be economic if done by voluntary labour. Selective weedkillers to destroy broad leafed weeds (as against grasses or monocotyledons) should not be applied for about 6 months after seeding otherwise the wanted grasses may be damaged or killed.

35. Following a Spring mowing it should be possible to allow limited play in the summer a year later, but following an Autumn sowing it would be wiser to allow no play in the following summer. Over-rolling should be avoided. It is liable to do more harm than good. It should be borne in mind that it is always foolish to try and hurry nature. Playing too early on a newly sown lawn can do damage that may take a long time to make good.

Turfing

36. Turves are normally supplied in the standard size of 3ft by 1ft. They should be of even thickness (1" is preferable but some suppliers reduce this to 3/4"), and cut from purposely sown fields and which have been regularly treated with selective weedkiller. A sample turf should first be inspected to check that the turf is free from weeds and contains a high proportion of finer grasses with no couch etc. Prices vary but reasonably good turves (normally sold as selected cultivated meadow turf) should be obtainable for about £8 per 100. Allowing for 5% wastage for an area of 1,110 sq. yds. 3,500 turves will be required (say £280 at 1975 prices).

 [1995 prices: 80% fescue/20% bent turves cost £1.65 per square yard in bulk, hence £1815]

37. Turves should be laid in a bonded fashion and well butted and beaten. To ensure an even surface it will be desirable to have available several cubic yards of fine sifted topsoil for packing under the turves as necessary to ensure a level laying using a straight edge between pegs to ensure this. Pegs should be removed as the laying proceeds. This operation is much slower than seeding and may well take upwards of 40 man/days if properly and conscientiously done.

38. After laying is complete a top dressing of equal parts of granulated peat and sifted soil should be worked into the joints with a besom broom, about 20 cu. yds. of the mixture will be required. Granulated peat now cost about £6 per cu. yard. and sifted soil is expensive to buy (up to £10 per cu. yard) even if it can be bought. The cost of sifted soil can obviously be kept down if voluntary labour is available to riddle the ordinary topsoil.

39. As the turves begin to knit more beating and a light rolling may be required, also light mowing according to the season - preferably using a sharp bladed rotary mower or flymow for the first few cuts. Given good conditions it may be possible to allow limited play after about 3 months depending on the season of laying and the subsequent weather conditions.

Contractors' Quotations

40. In 1987 I was called in as an expert witness in a court case in which the defendant was claiming damages feeling that the work of the contractor in constructing a new croquet lawn was far from satisfactory, an opinion with which I entirely agreed. Without going into the case in detail I pass on some things to be borne in mind when considering whether or not to accept a quotation.

41. The quotation should be examined very carefully. It should be detailed and not vague. If artificial drainage is reckoned by the contractor to be necessary it should be provided for in the quotation and included in the price and not included as "a possible extra". If additional topsoil will be required the quality and quantity should be specified. The amount of aftercare to be included should be specified. "One cut" should not be acceptable. The first cut is normally a high one carried out with a flymow just to top the grass to encourage tillering of the roots, say 1". Such cutting would pass over many stones the size of which would not be acceptable when lower cylinder mowing is begun. At least one cut of 1/2" with a cylinder mower should be specified. If the ground is naturally stony stones will come up through the surface until the grass roots have become established. Has the degree of restoration of access for machinery been included? has the composition of the grass seed been specified and the amount to be used (normally 2oz per square yard)? Has the final surface been specified as 'weed-free'.

Author: Richard Rothwell
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Updated 28.i.16
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