The lawn is where we often entertain friends and family in summer. Unlike me, you may not have goose feathers and crap to mow up, but you’ll still tidy and neaten the edges. But do you need the whole lawn for deckchairs and tables?
It’s reassuring that most gardeners are adopting a more enlightened, environmentally-friendly approach to their lawns. A living lawn, uncontaminated by artificial fertiliser and herbicide, strikes a blow for climate change as it sequesters rather than emits carbon; unlike the manufacture of decking or plastic artificial turf.
By leaving part of the lawn largely unmown, you spend less time chained to a mower on a hot, sunny summer’s day. But any mowings you do have are an invaluable resource for the garden. They’re a great source of nitrogen for compost bins. They increase the working temperature, frizzling some weed seed and stimulating composting bacteria into working faster. The temperature in my New Zealand box the other day was 65℃.
And grass clippings make the perfect mulch, covering bare soil in the fruit and veg garden or round bushes and hedges. I cover sheets of cardboard with clippings, topping up as they wilt. This mulch adds carbon and nitrogen to the soil and prevents weed germination from the ground and the grass.
With a large lawn, you could mow a broad boulevard from the door or patio to a sunny ‘room’, surrounded by freely growing grass and wild flowers or, in a smaller garden, leave an unmown patch. The size and scale obviously depends on the size of the lawn. A small corner, a wee neuk, would also be great.
Any lawn is only as neat as its edges, so for best effect, you need a clear division between the mown and unmown sections.
When sitting on the mown lawn, you’ll find the surrounding lawn endlessly fascinating as the charity, Plantlife, confirmed in a Citizen Science project last year. Volunteers in the ‘No Mow May’ survey were invited to leave one metre square parts of the lawn uncut for the month and to record the number of wildflowers and insects they saw. More than 9000 plots were studied throughout the British Isles, from the Orkney to the Channel Isles.
A total of 632,400 individual flowers were identified at the end of May. The included the more normal daisies and white clover together with many less common ones such as Pyramidal orchids, bee orchids and eyebright.
Not only was there an abundance of flowers but the volunteers counted no fewer than 97 different insect species. These included 26 different species of butterflies and moths and 21 different bees. Bees, especially bumblebees, were the most numerous pollinators, accounting for 63% of the total.
So not only do we find no mow lawns interesting but, much more importantly, they provide invaluable support to our wildlife.
Plantlife recommends 3 different mowing regimes for a lawn. The sitting area gets a weekly mow, avoiding a very low cut as this often results in a scalped lawn which quickly dries out in hot weather and has bare ground perfect for unwelcome weeds like docks.
A second section should get a monthly cut with the final area unmown throughout the year. Monthly mows encourage low-growing flowers like daisies, while longer grass is the ideal for the likes of oxeye daisies and knapweed. Interestingly, the longer the grass, the more insects you’ll see. Researchers found an average of 1.9 insects at one time on a weekly mown plot, 2.4 when cut monthly, and 3 when left alone.
And the less you cut, the lower your CO2 emissions. A monthly rather than weekly mow reduces emissions by 293kg over the year.
Plant of the week
Calendula ‘Indian Prince’ has bright orange petals coloured deep bronze on the back matching the large central boss of stamens. Easy to grow and a winner with pollinators.