A General Plea for Gentle Chaos
I’ve been reading an interesting article in the newspaper (1) about a study organised by Plantlife (2) regarding lawns and their benefit – or otherwise – to pollinating insects, and in particular bees.
In a nutshell, the study showed that how often you mow your lawn, and to what length, and extent, you mow it, has a direct effect on the variety of plants that will flower, and by extension, the types of pollinating insects you will attract. For more information click here
That got me thinking about something I wrote a while back, which is still pertinent some 9 years later. Here’s a short extract from my book The Bee Garden, which was published in 2011 in which I, like many others before and since, point out the positive effect of allowing a little chaos to reign, particularly when it comes to giving space to ‘wild’ flowers:
I would like to make a general plea for gentle chaos in your garden (to paraphrase Mirabel Osler who has written an engaging book entitled A Gentle Plea for Chaos - well worth a read). I don’t advocate letting your garden go, allowing nature to take over - even apparently ‘wild’ and ‘natural’ landscapes are carefully managed - but I would encourage you to be less fastidious about certain aspects of garden maintenance. The lawn, if you have one, for example. No matter how many times you weed and feed, scarify and roll, cut and rake, the average garden lawn will never reach the exacting ‘bowling green’ standards too many of us try to make it achieve.
Why not set the standard a little lower and the cutter blade a fraction higher to allow a few daisies, clovers and - dare I say it - dandelions to flower? As we know, Taraxacum officinale (dandelion) are high on the list of bee-friendly flowers. Why not also tolerate a few wild flowers in the perennial border? Knautia arvensis (field scabious) and Salvia pratensis (meadow clary) are every bit as good as some cultivated varieties and if you don’t want them to seed themselves everywhere then by all means dead-head before the seed ripens.
I have a grassy area beside our garage that is, for want of a better description, a little less cultivated than the rest: it’s a patchwork of colours from spring through to autumn and it attracts no end of insects, especially bees. My neighbours (with whom I get on very well) call it my weed patch. It’s all in the definition. One common definition of a weed is that it is a plant growing in the wrong place. Well, my ‘weeds’ are growing in the right place; I have put them there on purpose, so they must be plants. I admit (sometimes grudgingly) that there may be a few specimens that under any other circumstance would be deemed weeds, such as Taraxacum officinale (dandelion) (which I never allow to set seed, by the way), and Ranunculus acris (meadow buttercup), but there are also beautiful wild flowers, such as Leucanthemum vulgare (ox-eye daisy), Centaurea cyanus (cornflower) and Succisa pratensis (devil’s bit scabious). It’s true that sometimes my patch looks as if it’s having a ‘bad hair day’, but what it lacks in attractive order and structure, it makes up for in its attractiveness to insects.
Incidentally, there is an ingenious way of making your wayward patch look as if it is tended (and intended!) and hasn’t just been left to its own devices: keep a strip around the perimeter well mown - anything growing within its bounds automatically looks ‘cultivated’.
So why not add your voice and actions, to the growing number who would prefer to see their garden as an oasis, rather than a desert, for bees and other pollinating insects, and take part in ‘No Mow May’.
1. i newspaper; 1st May, 2020; p 26