Traditional English gardening has been notoriously obsessed with cleanliness and order since at least Victorian times, emphasizing an orderly and luxurious appearance. But that’s not how nature likes it – nature loves chaos. To heed nature’s call, UK-based charity Plantlife has launched a campaign called No Mow May, encouraging those with a garden, local government and businesses to ditch the mowers at this crucial time of year and protect our flora to let do its thing to support our insects and other wildlife.
I did my last spring (and maybe summer) lawn cut at our family home in East Leake, Nottinghamshire two weeks ago. When we moved here four years ago it was just a lawn with a few daisies and dandelions. I spent the first year tending it until I left it uncut for “too long”. Then I left it a bit longer because the daisies looked so pretty. Then came dog violet, buckhorn, timothy grass, forget-me-not, herb Robert, primrose, cat, viola, cowslip, buttercup, scabiosa, wood carnation, fox and cub (the plant), red and white clover and self-healing – and it’s just the ones to which I remember or whose name I know. Best of all, these amazing plants were all already there, waiting for their chance to thrive, feed and reseed.
It really got me thinking: I’ve destroyed all of this food and habitat for the tiny creatures that make our lives possible. So now I’ve left considerable boundaries and areas to sustain themselves, leaving habitats untouched. This means the real gardeners can get to work: the frogs to eat the snails, the hedgehogs to eat the bugs, the worms to eat the fallen leaves, the bees to pollinate the plants, the ladybugs to eat the aphids. Everything creates the perfect balance so that one and the other can survive if we give them space.
With these flowers came all kinds of butterflies and moths, bees and hoverflies, dragonflies and ladybugs. Just a few of the types of butterflies, bees and moths I’ve noticed over the past year are Peacock, Little Tortoiseshell, Holly Blue, Mottled Wood, Ringlet, Gatekeeper, Greater/Little White, Brimstone, Little Magpie, Angular Shadow, Comma, Red Admiral , carpet moths, hawk moths, lesser skipper, red mason bee, white and red tail bee. Then, thanks to these miniature flying wonders, we started finding frogs, toads, and newts. Finally came the birds of prey, the owls and hawks; Nocturnal visitors include hedgehogs and bats, and although I haven’t seen them, I also hear owls.
It also happens Hedgehog Awareness Week now, from Sunday May 1st to Saturday May 7th. Hedgehogs are also in a difficult situation and the UK State’s Hedgehogs Report found that numbers in rural areas have fallen by between 30% and 75% since 2000. The situation is probably worse in urban areas, but animal-friendly gardening can help these prickly, ridiculously cute critters too, and there are great local initiatives – like the charity in Beeston hedgehog pigs – working to make our gardens a more welcoming environment for them.
With a little less effort, all of these creatures can now thrive
I still have what I call my “formal” lawn, but I let any wildflowers that sprout up there thrive and mow until they’re seeded. This is not limited to May either, I often leave it much later, in June/July, when most of the wildflowers and grasses have served their vital purpose for the insects. When I mow, I first go through looking for frogs and toads.
Obviously, every mowing harms some wildlife, but by mindfully managing our gardens—a bit like managing forests according to ancient traditions like coppice—we can benefit wildlife overall by creating more diverse and useful habitats. It’s about finding the right balance of getting our benefit, or you could say yield, while also leaving plenty of room for the wild things. And most of the time I just have to sit and listen and watch and learn all these things, all because I just left the lawn to grow.
Without all the tiny creatures that live on the lawn, none of these wildlife would come and stay here. With a little less effort, all of these creatures can thrive thanks, in small part, to my garden.
Follow East Leake Hedgehog Highways on Facebook and Instagram