How to spend less time mowing the lawn and more time enjoying the garden this summer…

…Do you really need to mow the whole lawn? I’ve been noticing more and more how amazing wildflowers are, and feeling it’s a shame that many people like to keep their gardens clear of them. I thought I’d look into where the idea of “bowling green” lawns originally came from.

Apparently, people have been striving for “perfect” lawns since the 16th Century. I read an interesting article about the subject, which included the calculation that in the US, over three billion person-hours are spent on mowing lawns every year – comparable to the hours worked on putting men on the moon! According to the article, lawns originally became a status symbol because castle grounds were required to be kept clear to prevent enemies from approaching hidden, amongst trees.

It fascinates me that we all tend to mow the lawn because it’s seen as the thing to do – we associate an unmown lawn with neglect and messiness, things most people don’t want to be associated with, to the extent that even some neighbours resent others for the way gardens are kept. People seem to see wildflowers in gardens as being unwanted because they grow of their own accord, but if you realise the beauty in them and manage them in a way which shows you still care for your garden, it can save tonnes of effort trying to control everything that appears. It can even give you your own little nature reserve.

I was surprised to hear the plans of someone I used to volunteer with, as an “extreme” example of how the appearance of a neat lawn can be perceived as the epitome of desirable gardens. She said that because she didn’t have time to look after her lawn, it had gone wild and she planned to replace it with an artificial lawn. I understand that everyone has different priorities, and would never tell anyone else what to do with their own space, but I struggle to see the benefit of plastic lawn that looks neat but never changes and has no ecological value. I’d see a wild lawn where creatures can forage and shelter and plants can thrive undisturbed as massively preferable, but I am already a keen wildlife-watcher and eager to do what I can to help the environment. I don’t think that the likes of me that are already doing what they can solely for the love of wildlife and concern about the health of the environment need convincing. There are a lot of “How-to” articles out there, but not so many “why-to’s”, so I thought I’d consider six non-wildlife-centric reasons for welcoming wildlife into your garden.

1. Maintenance
The amount of time and energy you spend mowing/strimming depends on the size of your garden, but will add up over the weeks and months. If you spend say, 45 minutes cutting the lawn every weekend from April to October (21 hours total), and cut it down to 15 minutes every other week (1h 45m total) by only mowing certain areas and less frequently, you could be saving nearly 20 hours over the summer. Enough to start a new hobby, learn a new skill, or just spend more time with loved ones and/or get some more rest. That’s not to mention the petrol/electricity that could be saved by giving the mower a rest.

2. Natural pest control
Many people associate “wildness” with unwanted visitors, and it can be a natural reaction to picture garden visitors eating plants/vegetable patches. In reality, it doesn’t seem to work like that. Gardeners that have a combination of wild and more managed areas have reported that the wild areas are (surprise, surprise) more suitable for the wildlife, which means visitors to the garden have left their fruit and vegetables mostly untouched in favour of the wild areas, and have even helped to decrease the levels of the usual pests they have to contend with. The ladybird is one well-known example, as a ravenous aphid-eater. Welcoming invertebrates by letting areas grow wild is unlikely to support the unwanted pests which affect other plants such as vegetable crops, but can support predators of these pests, allowing wildlife to help with protecting your plants.

3. “Happiness as a cause”
Maybe nature and wildlife hasn’t been a particular interest for you, but you like to help a good cause simply for the satisfaction of doing something good. Even if you are not particularly interested that there are Thick-legged flower beetles on your Oxeye daisies (though they are very striking little things), what better cause to contribute to than one which saves you time and energy, supports local wildlife AND helps the environment (which we all rely on). Just as if you give blood you don’t need to know where it ends up to know it’s worthwhile, you don’t necessarily need to have an interest in the species which enter your garden to get the warm, fuzzy feeling that you’re doing something “good”.

Thick-legged Flower Beetle

4. Childhood experiences
If you don’t already watch wildlife for your own interest, why not consider the garden as the most convenient place to explore the natural world with your children/nieces/nephews/cousins/grandchildren… any younger people in your life. (Or, if you’re the youngest, why not try to persuade your parents to let you rewild an area?) It is exciting to have a look outside to see what’s going on – if any new flowers have grown and if any creatures have come to visit. Checking wildlife camera footage if you are able to set one up can help build the anticipation and link the irresistible world of technology with the naturally exciting world of animals. Beyond the enjoyment, a wilder garden could be used to help introduce/reinforce learning about types of animals, different species, food chains, habitats… the list goes on. Having wilder areas doesn’t have to mean no space to run around/play football etc – any changes can be suitable to your personal use of the space. A great idea I have read about is to mow some paths into a maze – kids will love finding their way through it and playing in it, and you’ll end up with a range of grass heights to support different species.

If you take the time to look, you might just get to see a familiar species in a new way. I recently discovered a Ladybird pupa and was intrigued to get to see a stage of its life cycle I’d never come across before.

5. Natural beauty
Most people would agree that wildflowers are beautiful, but this seems to be stored in a completely different area of the brain compared to the idea we seem conditioned to have that anything that’s managed to grow of its own accord is a “weed” and undesirable. Maybe nettles aren’t a great example, as they can be invasive growers and no-one likes being stung, but they can look impressive in their own right and are great for wildlife. If any species do start to spread a little too far, hand-pulling some rather than mowing down the whole lot can allow you to appreciate them in their own right. Even the most common species such as buttercups, daisies and clovers can add a little joyful colour to a garden, and it can be fascinating to watch colours and flowers you’d never have known were there growing through.

6. Daring to be different
Have you ever paused to consider “why” you want to mow the lawn? Maybe the act of mowing itself is the main reason (I agree it can be extremely satisfying), but welcoming wildlife into the garden does not have to mean eliminating mowing altogether, so no worries on that front. It can be even more satisfying (I know from experience) to cut a path or strip and end up with a clean edge up to the wilder area, than to cut down every blade and leaf. One of the reasons lawns became popular in the first place is apparently that wealthy people wanted to create spaces where they could play sports such as tennis and golf on their own land. It seems that having a neat lawn can also be something of a status symbol – we are wowed even now by visiting formal gardens, where the level of control and maintenance of the grounds directly indicates the quantity and quality of money and man-power available at the site. Whilst there are specific sports for which lawns are useful, and for tradition-sake it might be preferred to keep formal gardens in a highly maintained and manicured state, I would question whether we all need to try and replicate this on a small scale in our own gardens.

According to the RHS, “private gardens in Britain cover an area bigger than all of the country’s national nature reserves combined.” This really puts into perspective the difference all garden-owners could make by collectively making a few small changes. To contribute to such an amazing cause as well as getting benefits back, what reason is there not to go for it and go wild? (or at least slightly wilder..)

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