Let It Grow

The garden lawn got its first seasonal trim yesterday, weeks after neighboring lawns around our place were abuzz with lawn mowers. Why do I wait so long and leave the lawn so untidy?

Over the past couple of years we redesigned the garden to use less water, so the green lawn area takes up much less space than it used to. The garden no longer a lawn dotted with flower beds, and is now a series of walkways with flower and vegetable beds, accented by a lawn.

Photo: PK Read

The grass cutttings.
Photo: PK Read

A large, lush lawn just uses too much water and is too product-intensive to make it a viable element for a lazy gardener and water miser like me. But laziness is only a small contributing factor to why the unruly lawn of winter and spring doesn’t get the flat-top treatment at the first possible opportunity.

In any case, our lawn is never golf-course perfect. Even mown, it’s a mess of green stuff and low flowers, all cut to the same length, with proper lawn grass in between. Fine by me.

I like seeing bees and other pollinators at work across the entire garden. At a time when many blossoms haven’t yet come out in full force, the various pollinators here are dependent on blossoming trees and small spring flowers. Our flowering lawn is alive with movement just above its surface.

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) Photo: Photo: Bjørn Rørslett

What a bee sees:
A dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) photographed with the light spectrum
visible to humans (left) and bees (right).
Photo: Bjørn Rørslett

Finally, I enjoy the way it looks. I like the bright carpet of small daisies, violets, sundry ‘weed’ blossoms and yes, even the giant dandelions (at least before they go to seed).

When it comes down to it, the lawn is left long because I like working in the garden and walking through ankle-deep flowers. I like being surrounded by the mad life of springtime.

I look out over the lawn, just mown yesterday, and see a scattering of flowers that escaped the blade and are raising their heads. Bees are harvesting pollen. The sun is shining. See you later – I’ll be out working in the garden.

Happy Earth Day 2015.

Roundabout Flowers

Bannockburn High School- 3rd year flowering Photo: On the Verge

Bannockburn High School- 3rd year flowering
Photo: On the Verge

It’s been a trend in recent years to replace the mown grass of urban traffic verges and roundabouts with wild flowers. The flowers require less maintenance, they’re easy on the eyes, and they are thought to provide habitat support for pollinators such as bees, bumblebees, butterflies and hover flies, all of which are under pressure for a variety of reasons, including pesticides, habitat loss and disease.

A University of Sussex study published in Insect Conservation and Diversity has quantified just what kind of impact this kind of wild flower intervention can have in a short time.

An initiative in Central Scotland oversaw the conversion of city areas usually covered in mown grass – roundabouts, road verges, parks, school grounds, the edges of sports fields. The study examined 30 of these sites over a period of two years after the flowers had been sown.

Bumblebee on cornflower.  Photo: Dave Goulson / Univ. of Sussex

Bumblebee on cornflower.
Photo: Dave Goulson / Univ. of Sussex

In just two years, they found 50 times more bumblebees and 13 times more hoverflies in areas that had previously been flower wastelands.

The seed mix used incorporated a variety of meadow flowers from the region. The project and its results show just how simple it can be to provide pollinator-friendly areas within cities.

This has been a trend in my corner of the world, as well. And looking at the lush, lively fields of flowers that fill most of the roundabouts in our area, I’m not really sure why we ever thought putting in mown grass was a better solution in the first place.

Roundabout in Wick, Scotland Photo: Caithness

Roundabout in Wick, Scotland
Photo: Caithness

Dandelion Lawn

Our lawn in its natural state Photo: PK Read

Our lawn in its natural state
Photo: PK Read

I usually wait until the last possible moment to mow the lawn for the first time in spring. People set different lawn priorities – mine has never been a lawn of putting-green pristine uniformity. Every year I swear I’ll dig up our little patch in autumn and give it a face-lift. Every spring and summer, when it bursts forth with all manner of flowering weeds, I think to myself how much I like the random gathering of seeds that have taken up residence here. Then I mow the lot of them into a single level of green carpet. Yesterday was the day, and this was the yellowest corner of the garden, pre-chop. Usually the lawn would have been a-buzz with bees on the prowl – this year I only found one bee and a couple of bumblebees.

Garden snail (Helix aspersa) Photo: PK Read

Garden snail (Helix aspersa)
Photo: PK Read

I found this fat snail, a petit gris, meandering across our flagstones. When we moved here, the garden was in a much wilder state and I used to find dozens of brown garden snails every year. I tried to get rid of them, but one day, my elderly French neighbor saw me pitching them over the hedge into the street and stopped me. “I’ll take them, bring them to me.” For what? First, a round of gorging and hermaphrodite mating in the compost, then a bout of purging in a snail house, and then…the dinner plate. Of course.

I never picked up the habit of eating this particular crop from our garden, but I did start putting the snails into our compost when I found them, and they seemed happy to stay in that corner of the world. I’ve noticed over the past couple of years, however, that there are far fewer snails than there used to be. The snail I found yesterday was the first I’ve seen all season. I let it continue on on its way after stopping for a photo.

On the off chance that you might be interested in cultivating and consuming your garden snails rather than simply eradicating them:

Eating Garden Snails blog