Wimbledon grass tennis courts and gardens

By Alex N

While all eyes are on the tennis action on the Wimbledon courts every June, there’s an army of gardeners and groundsmen keeping every blade of Wimbledon grass (and plants) looking perfect all year round.

We were invited on a behind the scenes tour of Wimbledon’s grounds and gardens in March with BALI – and here’s what we found out from Head Gardener Martyn Falconer.

Is the grass more slippery this year?

Every year media and tennis players comment on Wimbledon’s grass – is the grass more slippery?

The gardeners have a lot of pressure on their shoulders to keep the grass courts perfect for play, and the grass courts are carefully regulated and checked throughout the year by Sports Turf Research Institute.

Often the grass is almost too perfect, and of course there’s the athletes shoe grip to consider too.

Who looks after Wimbledon’s grass courts and grounds?

Wimbledon has two teams of people looking after the courts and the grounds all year.

The teams are split into gardeners and grounds people, and every year they double horticulture staff numbers between April and September.

Head gardener Martyn has been working at Wimbledon for over 20 years, and many of the seasonal team come back year after year – where else would you get the magic of Wimbledon?

They’re always looking for seasonal gardeners to join the team - so if you’d love a chance to work on the iconic Wimbledon site then it’s worth getting in touch! (Note you’ll need to love working at height...read on to find out why.)

What are the horticultural challenges at Wimbledon?

Beyond the annual slippery grass debate, Wimbledon presents some unusual horticultural challenges.

There are visitors to the grounds all year (book yourself on a tour outside the Wimbledon fortnight) so the grounds need to look pristine throughout the seasons. The grounds and courts are also used by All English Tennis Club members all year – so the courts need to be play ready. (Although the famous Centre Court is only used during the Wimbledon fortnight).

However the spotlight is literally on Wimbledon’s grass courts and grounds for two weeks every June, when 500,000 people visit, plus the world’s media and 128 of the world’s top tennis stars.

The grounds need to accommodate 500,000 people walking through and for those outside the courts, including somewhere to sit.

The recently added Walled Garden and Rose Arbour and grounds (including Murray Mound or Henman Hill) have space for around 42,000 people to sit and watch or listen to the action from the surrounding tennis courts.

Over 40,000 petunias alone arrive in time for Wimbledon – and with such a volume of plants arriving on site the garden team need to plan when plants should arrive and how they will store plants and get the plants in the ground, on living walls or in hanging baskets.

The iconic Wimbledon buildings are famously covered in Boston Ivy (Parthenocissus Tricuspidaca Veitchii) which requires year-round maintenance to make dure the ivy doesn’t cover windows and doors. Again, the gardeners spend a lot of the time working vertically in harnesses to trim the ivy.

The Wimbledon site is over 40 acres (and about to increase as the All England Club expand into the nearby 80 acre golf course) – so there’s lots of green waste throughout the year.

The gardeners now compost and mulch all green waste, and the mulch is applied back into the gardens – reducing the need for skips for green waste.

The grass tennis courts

While the grass tennis courts aren’t in use they’re being carefully looked after.

The courts are seeded with Perennial Ryegrass, which is sown on top of 1.5 feet of soil which sits on top of a gravel base.

The courts have year-round lighting to ensure consistent grass growth across the court. If half the court is naturally in shade for some of the day, then the lights make sure the grass grows at the same pace evenly across the whole court area. Each court has huge fans which keep the temperature down at grass level – to ensure the grass doesn’t get scorched on hotter days.

During the winter the grass on the courts is 13mm, but for the tournament fortnight it’s mown down to 8mm, for a faster court surface.

Living walls

While the world’s focus is on the courts, many of Wimbledon’s plants grow vertically, and the groundsmen and gardeners are often working on harnesses high above ground level.

The setting for the giant TV screen facing Murray Mount is a huge living wall (the size of a tennis court).

The wall is a soil-less system which is watered and fed automatically 4 times a day. Plants in the All England Club colours are used in the living wall including Hebe ‘Champagne’, Liriope ‘Big Blue’ and Bergenia ‘Bressingham White’.

The living wall is also home to some of the site’s local wildlife including insects, goldfinches and there were reports of kestrels nesting during the pandemic.

Game, set and match?

While you’re watching Wimbledon this year keep an eye out for the hard-working garden and grounds teams – and think about how you could take inspiration from Wimbledon’s gardens into your own garden designs.

Thanks to Wimbledon Head Gardener Martyn Falconer, the gardens and grounds team at Wimbledon and BALI (British Assocation of Landscape Industries).

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Alex N

I'm passionate about online learning, and lucky enough to work for Learning with Experts. Most recent course: The Pie Shop with River Cottage's Tom Morrell. Next course: Container Gardening with Chris Beardshaw.

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