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To Mow or not to Mow? That is the Question

Updated: May 2




It’s No Mow May time again!

I’ve been reading a short article in the newspaper (1) about the initiative by Plantlife (2) about lawns and their benefit to pollinating insects and other wildlife.

In a nutshell, the study showed that how often you mow your lawn, and to what length you mow it, has a direct effect on the variety of plants that will flower, and by extension, the types of pollinating insects you will attract.

It seems that this year, in a survey of more than 2,000 people with lawns, ‘46 per cent said that they will not mow their lawn more than once in May’.

But not all gardeners are going along with it. The majority, by a small margin, are still going to mow the lawn. But why? Surely it’s a good thing to help insects and other creatures? Of course it is. But there is a growing concern that, if lots of lovely bugs take up residence in your longer lawn during May, what happens to them when you get the mower out again in June?

Their habitat is lost and worse still, you might even destroy the very insects that you were trying to help.

Perhaps the answer is to divide the lawn into two sections – one to keep mown and the other to let grow.


That got me thinking about something I wrote a while back, which is still pertinent some 13 years later. Here’s a short extract from my book The Bee Garden, which was published in 2011 in which I, like many others before and since, point out the positive effect of allowing a little chaos to reign, particularly when it comes to giving space to ‘wild’ flowers:

 

GENTLE CHAOS

I would like to make a general plea for gentle chaos in your garden (to paraphrase Mirabel Osler who has written an engaging book entitled A Gentle Plea for Chaos - well worth a read.). I don’t advocate letting your garden go, allowing nature to take over - even apparently ‘wild’ and ‘natural’ landscapes are carefully managed - but I would encourage you to be less fastidious about certain aspects of garden maintenance. The lawn, if you have one, for example. No matter how many times you weed and feed, scarify and roll, cut and rake, the average garden lawn will never reach the exacting ‘bowling green’ standards too many of us try to make it achieve. Why not set the standard a little lower and the cutter blade a fraction higher to allow a few daisies, clovers and - dare I say it - dandelions to flower? As we know, Taraxacum officinale (dandelion) are high on the list of bee-friendly flowers. Why not also tolerate a few wild flowers in the perennial border?  Knautia arvensis (field scabious) and Salvia pratensis (meadow clary) are every bit as good as some cultivated varieties and if you don’t want them to seed themselves everywhere then by all means dead-head before the seed ripens. 

[…]

I have a grassy area beside our garage that I have let run wild, for want of a better description: it’s a patchwork of colours from spring through to autumn and it attracts no end of insects, especially bees. My neighbours (with whom I get on very well) call it my weed patch. It’s all in the definition. One common definition of a weed is that it is a plant growing in the wrong place. Well, my ‘weeds’ are growing in the right place; I have put them there on purpose, so they must be plants. I admit (sometimes grudgingly) that there may be a few specimens that under any other circumstance would be deemed weeds, such as Taraxacum officinale (dandelion) (which I never allow to set seed, by the way), and Ranunculus acris (meadow buttercup), but there are also beautiful wild flowers, such as Leucanthemum vulgare (ox-eye daisy), Centaurea cyanus (cornflower) and Succisa pratensis (devil’s bit scabious). It’s true that sometimes my patch looks as if it’s having a ‘bad hair day’, but what it lacks in attractive order and structure, it makes up for in its attractiveness to insects. Incidentally, I have discovered an ingenious way of making your wayward patch look as if it is tended (and intended!) and hasn’t just been left to its own devices: keep a strip around the perimeter well mown - anything growing within its bounds automatically looks ‘cultivated’.


So what will you do? To mow or not to mow? That is the question.

 

1.      i newspaper; 30 April 2024; p 5

2.       www.plantlife.org.uk

 



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