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Lawns, Borders and Low Maintenance.

Updated: Jun 24, 2021

I hear people ask for low maintenance gardens with big lawns and few beds and borders.

It can take some convincing to make them think that actually, the reverse would be much less work for them. Or me come to that.

Lets think seriously about how much time is spent on keeping a formal lawn looking good. Then think about how much time is spent on a shrub or perennial border.

The grass will require mowing at least once a week during the summer months.

How often do perennials need cutting back? That’s right, once a year.

What about shrubs? Well maybe once a year. Some of the slower growing shrubs perhaps less often.

Now I know you’re going to say the time spent weeding borders adds up as well. True, weeds in a border are a problem. But what about when the border is well established and brimming with colour from the plants you actually want? Less room for weeds.

The pros and cons of hoeing and digging weeds against mulching or using organic herbicides will fill another article.

I will slip in the extra lawn care tasks at this point. Aerating, scarifying, top dressing

and seasonal weed and feed routines.

Formal Lawn

I would hope that after some careful thought and reflection, plus some calculations,

you can see how much more work a formal lawn is.

Not only should we take the hours spent on lawn maintenance into account, but also

the cost. Fuel for mowers and strimmers. Servicing of these machines. Oil and spares.

Even electric grass cutters are using fuel, and let’s be honest, they are such a faff to

get out and get switched on. Even while mowing you are constantly trying to avoid the cable.

Can we cut down our reliance on machinery to carry out simple tasks like cutting grass?

I use a scythe with a meter long meadow blade to get a fine cut, on several of the lawns

I manage. I also prefer scything long grass, weeds and rough vegetation.

This picture shows a lawn that was neglected through the Spring Lockdown of 2020 during the Covid outbreak. After so many weeks of growth, the only way to get it back under control was with the trusty, none polluting scythe.

Lawn mowing with a scythe
2020 Lockdown lawn mowing.

Some of the newer breeds of push along mowers from Fiskars, Brill and Al-Ko

are excellent, easy to use and efficient. Not to mention all the benefits to the environment and your health. This picture below, shows a lawn kept in tip top condition with a Fiskars momentum lawn mower. The clippings are not collected, but allowed to drop back into the grass to feed the soil. This is called 'mulch mowing.'

A formal Lawn
Formal Lawn mown using a Fiskars Momentum mower

Now what about the weeding of lawns? Where do I start? Moss, daisies, clover, dandelions, creeping buttercup, and black medic the list is endless. So many of the lawns I see are moss havens. And you know, to be honest it doesn’t worry me. The Japanese embrace moss in all it’s many and varied forms. Why cant we? The reason moss and other so-called lawn weeds thrive is because the majority of British gardeners cut their grass far too short.

Scalping the grass down to the base reveals yellow, chlorophyll free culm.

Not only that but they remove the cut material.

Yup! that's a bad thing. 'Cut and remove' is how you manage a wild flower meadow, to deplete the nutrient levels in the soil. Wild flowers love that! Grass does not!

wildflower lawns
White Clover in a Wildflower lawn.

Bearing all this in mind are you not inclined to agree that maintaining a formal lawn

is an awful lot of work? There is of course an alternative to having acres of stripes.

Sowing an area of native wild flowers and grasses and allowing them to just grow will

save you so much backache and money.

Sit back and enjoy the new encounters you will experience every day as new buds emerge and flower. As the area develops, annuals give way to the perennials. So not only will you witness changes through the season but also from year to year.

The wildlife in your garden will increase with bees, hoverflies, butterflies as well as grass pollinating moths and birds. You can relax admiring your contribution to nature while listening to your neighbours wrestling with their mowers.

After years of filling my garden to the brim with as many exotic shrubs and plants as

possible, my garden has undergone a transformation in the last few years.

After digging out the shrubs and perennials, I have introduced native wildflowers and plants as well as native shrubs.

This photo shows my front garden in the summer of 2014.

The change in how much time I spend working in the garden is amazing.

I spend so much more of my time in simply watching and enjoying what

goes on in the garden around me. Isn’t that how it should be?

I hope this has given some of you food for thought and inspiration to perhaps make

changes in your own gardens. They needn't be huge or budget shattering.

Even a change in how you manage a lawn can make a huge difference to what will grow. Raise the height of cut on your mower, allowing the daisies and clover to flower.

You'll be pleasantly surprised at what will come into the garden as a result of new pollen sources being allowed to thrive.

I would encourage a little caution when choosing what are often called wildflower mixes in garden centres and nursery catalogues.

Many that I have seen often contain exotic species. These are added for their colour or insect attracting qualities. But beware, some exotic flowers act as a narcotic to insects, making them addicted to the flower at the expense of all surrounding, more worthy blooms. Buddliea is guilty of this. I shall write another article in which I'll list naughty foreign types and recommend a native plant or shrub that will easily substitute.

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