You'd think that Canadians really love their lawns, because they spend so much on them, but that's not always true.

According to Statistics Canada, lawn and garden product sales totaled C$5.3 billion in 2005, up more than 10 per cent over 2004. Since 2001, sales of lawn and garden products have increased by about 10 per cent each year. Yet, as July rolls on, cutting and re-cutting the lawn can become one of the down sides of our fleeting non-winter season.

Enter a practical solution for Canadians who feel a lawn is a great waste of time and money, but who like that expanse of green.

"Lazy Lawn is for everybody who hates taking care of grass and all the issues in maintaining grass, and who likes the idea of maintenance-free landscaping, rocks and deck, but misses the green," said Randy Steinley, President and owner of Calgary-based Mirage Putting Greens of Alberta Inc. "We have clients who want all this and who want to have their kids play on grass."

Lazy Lawn, the collective name for a series of synthetic grass products, is very much a twenty-first-century innovation, in marked contrast to the eighties' technology known as Astro turf. The new "grass" resembles various types of real plants including Kentucky Blue and Bermuda grasses.

"Over the years, we have seen a progression of improvements and even more over the past two years," said Steinley. "A lot of people do notice that it's artificial, but they think that 'artificial' means 'fake,' so they have to see it and feel it to appreciate it. What we battle the most is that it's not real, but if they see it laying down under natural light, it is very natural. Customers have gone by it and said that they had not noticed it was not grass."

Installation costs vary from property to property, but prices run about C$9 to C$12 a square foot. A significant part of the cost goes to sub-base preparation, which is similar to the crushed-stone base used for laying interlocking brick. Permanently attached, the synthetic grass "carpet" is cushioned so that children can roll and play on the grass as safely as they would on a natural lawn. Occasionally, debris may need to be removed with a hose or leaf blower.

The product, warranted for 10 years, will fade in spite of its heavy UV coating, but in the barely-noticeable, even way that aluminum siding and automobile paint does. When the turf is replaced, the sub-base should still be intact, so the cost should be halved.

"The biggest things are durability and pets -- we say it is pet friendly," said Steinley. "A lot of people battle their [natural] lawns as their dogs do their thing on the grass, but [Lazy Lawn] stands up very well and does not stain like real grass -- just hose it down."

Since Mirage was founded seven years ago, it has successfully completed over 460 projects in Western Canada. According to Steinley, people are sold after they see the natural look of one of their clients' installed lawns. The company also offers do-it-yourself packages.

"The housing boom has been really good," said Steinley. "[Calgary] is a fast city and we don't want to spend our time maintaining what we have. It saves people time. In smaller lots, they don't think it's worth it to put in sod. We have customers who are truly environmentalists and they want to do their part and save water."

Cost can be the biggest issue for those comparing natural and synthetic lawns, since watering restrictions are not prohibitory at this stage.

Steinley says, "You can put in sod for C$500 versus [Lazy Lawn] at C$5000. When you compare, there is a breakeven point for those who feel their time is worth money."

This synthetic product is ideal in heavy shade locations under trees, along fences and between buildings, and in very dry areas where natural grass cannot survive.

"We add value as everyone is looking for maintenance-free," said Steinley. "It is a benefit from a resale point of view, especially with putting greens. If you're looking at 5 or 6 houses that are the same, you'll probably remember the one with the putting green."

According to Steinley, "Today, it's a higher income [decision], but I predict that, over the next few years, more people will see it and acknowledge it on the obvious benefits."

He recently moved into a home with a natural lawn and can't wait to improve his property and free-up his time.

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