‘No mow May’ has been and gone and if, like a friend of mine in the village, you couldn’t wait to tidy up when June came along, your garden will now be pristine and lovely to look upon. Which got me thinking that beauty is still in the eye of the beholder and wondering if our image of what a garden should look like is coloured by our inbred need to be tidy, what the neighbours think or, maybe, by professional gardens which are manicured to within an inch of their lives.
Except that they are not.
Not so much now, anyhow. We’ve just been to Kent, specifically to look at the gardens of so called ‘castles’ and other stately homes. A year or two back, their lawns would be cut short as far as the eye could see and it was not unusual to see man and tractor making sure they stayed that way. Even ‘keep off the grass’ notices were not uncommon to make sure your boots didn’t mess up the stripes. There are still finely manicured lawns but, progressively, gardeners are seeing the benefits of leaving large areas to grow grasses, and other areas to plant wild flower meadows. The result is stunning. Yellow rattle, ox-eye daisies, cornflowers, poppies and more, tossing about in the breeze and playing host to bees and butterflies. It is this sight that stops you in your tracks and forces you to stand and admire the colour and activity. It is this sight that attracts visitors from all over the country to places like Muker in Swaledale, North Yorkshire, to enjoy the ‘riot of colour and abundance of wildlife’ which are the upland hay meadows. These sights are beautiful; not inferior to a well kept garden, in many ways better and definitely different.
I confess to managing only three weeks of ‘no mow May’ until I realised that if I didn’t cut soon, I would have a right job on my hands getting back to some kind of order. However, for three years now, I’ve left large parts of my grass uncut throughout the whole season and I rather like it! The long grass with paths cut through it is an attraction in itself and my plan this year is to plant more wild flowers in and amongst. I have two lawns and for the bottom one, I leave the mower on a high setting which nicely skims over the clover, leaving an attractive food source for the bees – and our tortoises!
This strategy of mine is not just for aesthetics, but for the benefits to wildlife which are enormous.
Plant diversity attracts insects such as butterflies, bees, spiders and millipedes, and birds and mammals. Long grass provides shelter and somewhere to hide. Wild flowers and long grasses add a change of colour to the garden and can bring a little bit of countryside into our urban spaces. Britain’s gardens provide a much greater area than all of our wildlife reserves put together. If we use them wisely, we will definitely benefit the little creatures and, perhaps, reverse some of the trends towards extinction that some of our insects and animals are facing.