The Grass is Always Greener

A world away from the carpet-like AstroTurf of decades ago, a synthetic turf supplier answers growing demand for high curb appeal and low maintenance

Photo: Barry Smith, owner of Greenland Turf

THE NEWEST GENERATION of artificial turf is very different from the short-pile synthetic surface that was first used in sports fields in the 1960s. And as the product has evolved, so too has the scope of its use, and now you’ll find it covering yards, under play equipment, on balconies, around pools—it’s sprouting up just about everywhere.

“The possibilities are endless,” says Barry Smith, owner of Greenland Turf. Smith established Greenland Irrigation in 1986, and in 2011 he launched Greenland Turf to sell and install artificial turf. And although he still considers it a bit of niche business, the demand for artificial grass has grown to the point that Greenland Turf now has four full-time employees in season.

“About 50 per cent of the business is installing private putting greens so people can practice in their backyards,” says Smith, who is an avid golfer himself. But he’s also seeing a growing demand from homeowners who are tired of fighting the seed and sod battle and want an easier way to keep problematic areas looking healthy and green—areas under trees where grass won’t grow, small areas that are difficult to mow or balcony and rooftop patios, for example. Others are concerned about water conservation, but still want a child- and pet-friendly lawn.

“I learned everything I could, then I decided to tackle it. It’s exciting to see it’s a growing market, and the pure delight that people have when we install it is very rewarding” — Barry Smith

Greenland carries 15 different types of artificial turf, with different heights available depending on the application, from a manicured putting green to a playing surface for bocce or tennis to a longer grass-like turf that looks a lot like a uniform, impeccable version of the real thing.

“We get calls from all different demographic, age and income brackets,” says Smith. “The smallest area we’ve done so far is about 200 square feet.”

He notes that while the cost of artificial turf has come down ($9 to $15 per square foot installed), product quality has gone up. It’s friendly on the feet, the fibre is denser and more durable and, he says, “I’ve even poured bleach on it and there’s no discolouration.”

Smith has also seen a surge in demand from do-it-yourselfers, and Greenland sells a variety of turf styles and installation accessories to DIYers from their Hyde Park location, including turf in 15-foot-wide rolls, which require fewer seams than shorter roll options. “Seaming is tricky—blending it so you can’t see it is one of the tricks of trade.”

In addition to residential use, Smith says some municipalities, schools and commercial sites are turning to synthetic turf to reduce maintenance, improve safety and save money.

“All the grass island medians in Windsor are being converted to artificial turf,” says Smith, pointing out that not having to move grass-cutting equipment to median areas is safer for workers and less disruptive to traffic in places that would previously have been blocked off with safety cones.

Smith has also been approached by an architect designing a new office space that may incorporate an indoor grassy area for staff, complete with picnic table.

But the real growth is in the residential market. Over the more than 30 years that he has been installing irrigation systems, Smith says he has always looked to add new products to diversify his business. He followed the evolution of artificial turf for 20 years. “I learned everything I could, then I decided to tackle it. It’s exciting to see it’s a growing market, and the pure delight that people have when we install it is very rewarding.”  Kym Wolfe