Garden wildlife

I mowed the lawn this evening, and scared the daylights out of two frogs. Both emerged from dense vegetation, presumably feeling threatened by the noise of the grass cutter, and hopped off towards the sanctuary of the pond.

As I put some of the grass cuttings into the compost heap, I could feel the heat and see the mass of living things – slugs, flies, beetles, worms… It’s certainly true, as covered in Chris Packham’s excellent program on BBC4 last night ‘Life and Death on your Lawn’, that the domestic back garden can provide the environment for a plethora of wildlife. The large number of birds is testament to this, as well as to the welcome propensity of people to put up feeders. Indeed, it seems suburbia is becoming a haven for wildlife compared to the aridity of much industrial scale farming.

Which of course is why the trend to put more concrete and artificial grass in back gardens, as well as front, is quite deplorable. How disconnected from the real world can you get?

My early experience of gardening largely entailed keeping things tidy. Now I realise that the very process of ‘tidying’ can be quite damaging to the local wildlife. Newts, frogs, beetles, woodlice, millipedes scamper for alternative cover when a supposedly untidy lawn edge is tidied up. So shaggy is the new ‘in’ for our garden.

Even so, we struggle to repeat the mass frog spawning seen here in the early 2000s (pic), much as the above programme showed in Welwyn. Frogs are under so much threat these days, and tidiness is far from the greatest of these.

British Lawnmower Museum

Following my recent post on matches, which was inspired by the British Lawnmower Museum in Southport, I was interested to note that the first lawnmower was actually invented by Edward Budding in Stroud in 1830, just after the perfection of a reproducible striking match in 1825/6. What an inventive time were those days of Great Britain’s industrial revolution.

The Southport museum contains an example of Budding’s invention, and a fine piece of engineering it was, operated by two people, one pushing and one pulling. But extremely heavy because of its cast iron manufacture.

It was interesting to discover from Brian Radam, who established the museum, that this is a true lawnmower. Later modern rotary ‘mowers’ are in fact ‘grass cutters’ that work by shearing and tearing, rather than by cutting.

Altogether, a visit to the lawnmower museum proves rather more interesting than you might think, with a number of rooms full of old machines and stories that Brian, a great enthusiast, will regale you with. And you get to see an old machine once owned by Nicholas Parsons of ‘Just a Minute’ fame!

The Perfect Lawn?

A neighbour’s front lawn is always perfectly manicured, like a bowling green, no weeds. What a shock the other day to see it with a large brown patch in the middle. What had happened?

It turns out he paid good money to get a local company to come and remove the moss. Obviously they used chemicals, something went wrong, and the brown patch was the result.

This reminded me of my late father’s lawns, bless him. He was always feeding and putting on weedkillers promoted to improve the lawn. Often bits got brown, so yet more treatment ensued.

Now, our front and back lawns are green. This is not to boast – if you examine them closely you will find moss, daisies and other plantains along with a fair amount of grass. But at least they look green, and the daisies add interest in my view. Apart from mowing, they get little attention – hopefully an annual scarify to get rid of some moss, a poke with a fork if they’re lucky, removal of the odd dandelion or buttercup that might take over, the odd sprinkle of grass seed on the resulting bare bit, and occasionally leaving the cuttings on to soak in some nutrients. Of course, we live in the north west of England, so watering is not generally needed. As a management method, it seems to work.

Indeed, the method even works for establishing a new lawn. At our first house in Crewe, we simply levelled an area of the back garden and started mowing it from time to time. Eventually it turned into a perfectly acceptable green lawn.

All this leaves me to ponder: what is the point of all those preparations sold in the gardening shops to improve lawns by feeding and killing weeds? Is it just part of our mindset that we have to control nature, rather than largely just letting it get on with things for itself?

And what happens to the herbicides – presumably they just stay in the soil or leach into natural water systems…

The only thing worse is the current peculiar infatuation with artificial grass, which is taking alientation from nature to rather extreme levels…

Feature image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons