Hints & Tips
As the summer of sport continues, tennis fans up and down the UK will be glued to their screens for the first week of Wimbledon.
The sport becomes a national obsession for two weeks out of every year and once again the hopes of the nation will rest on Andy Murray.
Will the Scot be able to mount a successful defence of his title, or will we have to wait another 70-odd years for a British winner?
Organising Wimbledon is a highly complex operation, and gardeners who occasionally feel overwhelmed by the effort of maintaining their plot can take inspiration from the groundsmen and women whose job it is to ensure playing conditions are perfect each year.
The invention of the lawnmower is credited with enabling lawn tennis to develop and spread around the world, so gardening and tennis are linked together quite closely.
Some 16 permanent ground staff are employed by the All England Lawn Tennis Club to maintain the Wimbledon courts, while 28 are employed during the championships. Staff maintain 19 championships grass courts and 22 grass practice courts.
The bounce of a ball on the Wimbledon courts is determined by the soil, not the grass. The soil needs to be hard and dry to allow 13 days of play without sustaining damage to the court sub-surface.
Courts are regularly rolled and covered to keep them dry and firm and to ensure the surface is of an even hardness and consistency. The grounds staff take regular measurements to monitor the condition of the soil.
The grass has to be able to survive in the dry soil, so 100 per cent Perennial Ryegrass has been used since 1991 to improve durability and withstand the wear and tear of the modern game. It was decided this was the best way to improve performance without affecting the perceived speed of the court.
Growing grass courts is a huge task – it can take months to prepare a championships standard court before it can be used.
The courts are seeded in April and cut once the new grass reaches 25mm. During May they are cut three times a week to keep them at 15mm, while during the championships grass is cut every day to maintain a length of 10mm. That's a lot of mowing.
During May, courts are rolled every week with a one-tonne roller to ensure they are firm enough to be played on. At the end of summer, six tonnes of soil is added to the playing surfaces to ensure they remain level.
Grounds staff begin to restrict the amount of water applied to courts in June. When the championships are taking place, a small quantity of water is added at night to ensure the grass survives.
Every year, one tonne of grass seeds is used on the courts, while 3,000 gallons of water are used of the course of the fortnight.
So next time you can't be bothered getting the mower out, spare a thought for the Wimbledon grounds staff – they have quite a task on their hands!