Tasmanian garden wins prize for world’s ugliest lawn | Water

It is not so much a lawn as a moonscape: pitted craters dug by bandicoots, exhausted tufts of withered yellow grass plucked by wallabies and pitiful plants shrivelled brown under the Australian sunshine.

But Kathleen Murray is the proud winner of the first World’s Ugliest Lawn competition after the Swedish contest to encourage water-saving, environmentally-friendly gardening went global.

Murray’s lawn in Sandford, Tasmania, beat competition from parched grass patches in Germany, France, Canada, Croatia, Sweden, the US and the UK.

“It’s pretty shock-and-awe,” said Murray of her lawn. “The bandicoots love digging – that’s how they find their favourite food. Now my back yard looks like a real-life Hungry Hungry Hippo game. I also have an echidna that helps, and some chooks.”

Murray lives in an area without mains water, and so rainwater collected in tanks is too precious to waste on the lawn. If she and her four teenage children run out of water in summer, it can be a two-week wait before more water is delivered via tanker.

“I used to think the bandicoots were wildlife of mass destruction invading my lawn, but now I see that they’ve actually liberated me from ever having to mow it again,” said Murray, who is the proud owner of the inaugural trophy – a commemorative T-shirt. “I’m all for guilt-free weekends, especially since my ex-husband left with the lawnmower back in 2016.”

Animals in Kathleen Murray’s garden
Murray now celebrates the wildlife that comes into her garden, with species knowing they will not be disturbed

The competition began in Gotland, Sweden, two years ago, after the popular holiday island came within hours of running out of water the previous summer.

The contest, devised by the municipality of Gotland, became global news after the Guardian picked up the story. Water consumption in Gotland has fallen by 5% thanks to the competition and other measures.

Mimmi Gibson of the municipality said: “It’s a gentle way to nudge people into action and it automatically turns you into a climate hero by not doing anything. We need to start the conversation on how to save water. It’s a global problem. Sometimes, there’s pressure on people to keep their lawn really green and tidy and lush and it can be easier to say ‘I’m in this competition, I don’t need to water my lawn.’”

Murray previously shrugged off criticism of her lawn by calling it “a paddock”, or claiming she’s waiting for the grass to grow so she can cut hay, but is now happy to talk about the biodiversity benefits of her laid-back gardening style.

Bandicoots in Kathleen Murray’s garden
Murray said she used to think of bandicoots as weapons of garden destruction but now says they ensure she’ll never have to mow her lawn again

Blue-tongue lizards, kangaroos, wallabies and pademelons all visit from the neighbouring nature reserve. “I’ve chosen to make my place an extension of the nature reserve because it is right beside it. That’s another excuse for me not watering my lawn. Do you water Cradle Mountain? No. It just looks after itself. By and large, that’s what’s happened.”

The jury took nearly two hours of deliberations to reach their verdict on the ugliest lawn.

“All of them were hideous and well worthy of winning but the winning entry was really, really bad,” said Gibson.

Diarmuid Gavin, the garden designer and broadcaster who was also a member of the jury, said it was the weirdest competition he had been asked to judge but he hoped it would encourage people to ditch old attachments to green lawns and create climate-appropriate gardens.

“Seeing a lawn in Tasmania like this, wondering why there’s a prize for the world’s worst lawn, really makes people think but with that sense of humour, without lecturing or hectoring,” he said. “The Tasmanian garden was soulful because it had an understanding of what’s happening. If we’re lucky enough to look after a piece of land, we all need to be thinking gardeners now. The moral imperative isn’t so much to fit in, or not let the neighbourhood down, it’s to not let the planet down.”

Murray added: “You’ve got a choice to make – do you want farmers to have enough water to produce food for a growing human population or do you want to play some type of lawn nazi competition with your neighbours to make them jealous of how green your lawn is?”

“It brings me a lot of joy to see all the little creatures who now feel safe to come out during the day in my back yard – they’ve got camouflage, they have happy digging areas. It really enhances my feeling of inner peace knowing that I’m playing a microscopic part to help other things.”