Perennial Rye Grass: the nation’s first choice for lawns

Lolium perenne, Perennial Rye Grass © Karen Andrews

Lolium perenne, commonly known as Perennial Rye Grass, is the undoubted first choice for the nation’s lawns. Yet, when a gardener reaches for a box of lawn seed from the garden centre shelf, its name is not front and centre. The grass family Poaceae comprises some 11,000 species, grows on every continent in a variety of habitats and is crucial to the world’s diet and economy. Given this wide variety, why does Perennial Rye Grass dominate gardens?

A Deceptive Choice?

Cast your eye over the grass seed shelves of your local garden centre and the choice appears to be much wider, if not overwhelmingly wide. The packaging highlights the modern-day gardener’s preoccupations rather than taxonomy. Take your pick from:

  • Tough, hard-wearing and high-performance grass seed
  • Grass seed for full sun or shady conditions
  • Family, child- and pet-friendly lawn seed for wear and tear of every day use
  • Lawn-thickening grass seed
  • Lawn repair kits for bare or worn patches
  • Dog spot seed with coir and gypsum to repair urine burns in lawns
  • Coated grass seed for bird deterrence
  • Coated grass seed for quick and/or guaranteed growth
  • Super grass seed with feed and soil enricher
  • Finest grade lawn seed for a fine-leaved quality, weed- and moss-free lawn

Grass Identification and Labelling

With the exception of shady lawns, Lolium perenne dominates the grass seed mixes. A close perusal of my local garden centre’s shelves in London last year revealed percentages from 50% up to 75% of every blend. The grass seed contents are often not printed on the original boxes but added at the end of the production line. The almost inconspicuous stamps or labels reveal the names and percentages of hybrids. (If you buy online from leading retailers, the grass may not be identified at all).

Supremacy of Perennial Rye Grass

The following table shows the range of grass seed mixes found reading the small print on the shelves of a London garden centre in mid-October 2018. As you can see Lolium perenne is the major grass in every blend.

Review of Grass Seed Mixes in %
Lolium perenne
Perennial Rye Grass
Lolium multiflorum
Italian Rye Grass
Festuca rubra
Red Fescue
Esquire 75%Maxima 25%
Bokser 74%Maxima 26%
Bokser 71%Maxima 29%
Bokser 50% + Esquire 21% Maxima 29%
Bokser 70%Maxima 30%
Bokser 38% + Ecologic 26%Maxima 36%
Bokser 61%Maxima 39%
Himalaya 60%Caldris 10% + Trophy 30%
Platinum 25% + Ponderosa 25%Corail 30% + Nikky 5% + Trophy 15%

A Versatile Grass

Further research revealed many more seed mixes and hybrids for golf courses, sports grounds, amenity grassland, trade and agricultural use. Disease resistance, weed control, palatability for grazing animals, crop yield and drought, salt and cold tolerance are highlighted as additional considerations. Again, Lolium perenne featured prominently.

A Monoculture better than Concrete?

The hidden monopoly raises potential concerns about the encouragement of a Lolium perenne monoculture. Lolium-dominated lawns are perhaps still preferrable to the modern preference for paving, concreting or adding gravel to gardens? It is now recognised that this trend poses greater flood risks under climate change.

A Resilient Blade of Grass

The resilience of Lolium perenne stood out in the drought conditions of summer 2018. It was the first grass to recover with the first rains. Perennial Rye Grass has earned its hard-wearing reputation. Science is reinforcing its characteristics. Many gardeners seem to agree with the famous lexicographer Samuel Johnson that ‘a blade of grass is always a blade of grass‘. Few have a desire for greater awareness or wish to know its name. Grass is perceived as a boring mowing chore if it is noticed at all.

Lolium perenne, Perennial Rye Grass stage a comeback at margins after summer rain
Lolium perenne is the first grass to stage a comeback with the first rain after summer drought © Karen Andrews

A Growing Change in Public Awareness?

Citizen Science has encouraged gardeners to let wild flowers grow in their lawns this summer. A popular count revealed the number of bees that could be supported by a square of lawn. Cutting grass later and less frequently has been encouraged. Butterfly counts help us all to notice the difference such changes make. The perception of weeds is being questioned in some quarters. Are wild flower meadows for biodiversity on the increase? Will the nation’s focus on neatness, and intolerance of ‘weeds’ and moss change?

Against the changing backdrop will Lolium perenne continue to reign supreme in the nation’s lawns?

Copyright Note

Karen does not seek or receive any commercial interest or advantage from this blog. She is not promoting any business venture. She simply loves to share fascinating facts about plants. These pages illustrate her love of plants, botany, biodiversity, gardens and creative expression. There is always so much to learn about plant diversity. This blog is designed as a showcase for photography, commentary on plants and wildlife, gardens and other places visited, horticulture and related topics. Viewpoints are her own, not those of her employer.

© Karen Andrews 2018 onwards. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Karen Andrews and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

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