My lawn is looking patchy in places. What could be causing it and how can I combat it?
Richard Coumbe replies: Patchy lawns are normally the cause of wear (from children, pets or outdoor furniture), irregular maintenance, and in some cases insufficient natural light. They can be overseeded in winter using winter rye grass, but this will only last from September until April. Prevention, therefore, is really the only long-term solution.
Regular mowing will keep a lawn compact and dense. Mow at least once a week during the summer and autumn, and once every two or three weeks in winter and spring. Most lawnmowers can be adjusted to create different grass heights and I would suggest 2.5cm for broad leaf grass and 1.25cm for fine leaf. Weeding can cause gaps in a lawn so it should be done at least every week so the problem doesn't get out of control.
Feed your lawn every March and September, spreading 100 grams of granular fertiliser for every square metre, and watering it into the surface. It should also be 'top-dressed' once or twice a year to keep the lawn lush and fill any gaps caused by weeding. Mix together one part peat moss and one part river sand and apply a 5mm layer across the lawn. Water, and once dry, level surface with a rake.
An overhanging tree canopy or large bush can block out sunlight, interfering with lawn growth, so thin the foliage where necessary. Disease can also create patches, mostly in summer when humidity is high, so treat potential problems immediately.
I'm keen to install some sort of master system where all the lighting, air-conditioning and audio-visual equipment are operated by computerised control panels. Can you advise?
Gary Chang replies: Firstly, I recommend restraint as too much technology can have the opposite effect and actually complicate rather than simplify your life. Start by working out how you use your lighting and equipment every day and decide what you actually need to automate. Remember, the less you have, the less there is to go wrong, and any operations should be as simple as possible.
Automation can be useful in creating a variety of moods. A simple dimmer-switch, for instance, can work wonders. At a more advanced level you could control the lights and television from a bedside table, similar to the set-up in hotel rooms. This will involve cutting into walls to create conduits for wiring and then plastering and finishing, so this may only be worth considering if you're renovating anyway. Contact Jenston Technology Corporation for advice (tel: 2723 0306, www.jenston.com.hk).
While browsing through antique shops I've come across a number of Chinese ceramic bowls allegedly salvaged from shipwrecks. Are they a good buy and how much should I pay for them?
Tsang Chi Fan replies: The value of shipwreck ceramics varies but a good background story enhances desirability. Trade in Chinese ceramics reached its height during the late 18th and early 19th centuries with vast quantities coming mainly from Jingdezhen, Hangzhou, in the north; and Shantou and Guangzhou further south.
With bad quality roads, transporting fragile ceramics by sea was considered safer than overland. Merchant ships, heavily laden with porcelain, would sail south to India via the Philippines, Malaysia, Java or Sumatra, collecting spices along the way.
There are many sunken merchant ships scattered along these maritime trade routes, but not every ship is worth recovering. Salvage ventures are time-consuming, require costly diving equipment and are subject to government licences if outside international waters. And there's always the risk of recovering smashed remains.
Ceramics of this type were mass-produced, so bear in mind that their commercial value may not be as sustainable as other antiques. The quality may not be great either - decorative motifs tend to be simplistic and sometimes crudely painted. Porcelain recovered from the sea also tends to have a matt surface as salt water degrades the glaze. High-fired cobalt blue ceramics survive the best. Sometimes they have coral or barnacle encrustation which can add to the value, but this isn't to everyone's taste.
A standard blue and white bowl is worth between $800 and $1,200 and a large dish no more than $2,000.
Tsang Chi Fan
Christie's Hong Kong
Paola Dindo & Associates
RC Landscape Specialists