This last couple of weeks parts of my daily walks have been accompanied by, the to me, unwelcome din of motor lawnmowers as lots of my fellow villagers strive to turn their lawns into ecological deserts. One of my neighbours has, to my knowledge, cut his lawn five times since the beginning of March, me I’ve done my spring cut and that’s it until autumn.
An ecological desert 😦
This mania for close-cropped lawns, sometimes ‘artistically’ striped, is, I think, the fault of my grandparent’s generation, which took a municipal park attitude to gardens, especially the bit that the neighbours could see; close-cropped, weed-free grass with regimented flower beds, also equally weed-frees. Out of sight, back gardens could be less manicured, and depending on the space available, might include a vegetable garden (also scrupulously weed-free), and a patch of lawn to be used by children for ball games and other activities. Unfortunately they drummed this philosophy into their children, who in their turn, with only a few exceptions (me for one), passed this fetish on to my generation. Sadly, my father, a keen gardener, also espoused this view as did the parents of all my friends. I spent many a grumpy hour removing dandelions and thistles from our front lawn and flower beds at my father’s behest!
So what are these weeds that so many people seem to hate? To those growing crops of economic value, be they agricultural, horticultural or silvicultural, then I guess the following definitions are very reasonable and relatable.
“Plants that threaten human welfare either by competing with other plants that have food, timber of amenity value, or by spoiling and thus diminishing the value of a product”
“Weeds arise out of the mismatch between the habitats we create and the plants we choose to grow in them”
Begon, Harper & Townsend (1996)
“A plant that originated under a natural environment and, in response to imposed and natural environments, evolved and continues to do so as an interfering associate with our desired plants and activities” Aldrich & Kremer (1997)
There are more tolerant descriptions of weeds available, which are much more in accord with my views:
What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered” (Emerson, 1878)
, “A weed is but an unloved flower!” (Wilcox, 1911)
”A plant condemned without a fair trial” (de Wet & Harlan, 1975)
I have, as I have mentioned several times already, been doing a lot of walking during the covid pandemic, or should it now be referred to as the Covid Pandemic? At this time of year, Spring, the early flowers of the hedgerows and roadside verges are alreday out; cherry plum (Prunus cerasifera), blackthorn or sloe (Prunus spimosa) and closer to the ground, but as equally pretty, daisies (Bellis perennis), dandelions (Taraxacum officinale), Lesser Celandines ( Ficaria verna (although some of you may know it as Ranunculus ficaria), and Wood Anemones (Anemonoides nemorosa). The latter two species, although relatively common, are unlikely to be found in the average garden, as they have fairly specific habitat requirements. Daisies and dandelions on the other hand, are pretty much ubiquitous, although the former do not attract as much opprobrium from the traditional gardener as dandelions do. This is a great shame, as ecologically speaking dandelions are an extremely important resource for pollen and nectar feeding insects.
Given the concerns about the decline of insects in general over the last forty years, we should be celebrating the dandelion, not trying to eradicate it from our lawns. Just feast your eyes on some of the beauties that I have seen over the last few days.
Pollen beetles March 20th 2021
Male tawny mining bee Andrena fulva – Sutton March 25th 2021
Bumble bee, Sutton March 30th 2021
Seven spot lady bird, too early for aphids, Oulton Road March 30th 2021
I’m not alone in my love of dandelions 🙂
We shouldn’t forget the humble daisy either. It provides nectar to many butterfly species, including among others, the Green Hairstreak, the Grizzled Skipper, the Small Copper and the Small White. They are also important resources for honey bees (Raquier et al., 2015), bumblebees and hoverflies (Blackmore & Goulson, 2014).
A nice patch of daisies.
Domestic gardens, if managed correctly, have tremendous potential as reservoirs of insects and other invertebrates of ecological importance (Davies et al, 2009). The easiest thing that you can do to help the insects is to reduce the frequency at which you mow your lawn and grass verges. To sum it up in a nutshell, the less you move, the more flowers you get and the more flowers you get the more nectar and pollen feeding insects you make happy, some of which can be rare and endangered (Wastian et al., 2016).
The less frequently you mow, the more flowers you get. The more flowers you get, the more bumblebees you get (George, 2008).
It is not just flower feeding insects that benefit from reducing your lawn mowing activities; grass feeding insects also benefit from longer grass ( Helden & Leather, 2005) and if, for some strange reason, you are not a great fan of bugs, just remember that the more bugs you have the more birds you will attract (Heden et al., 2012). So do your bit to save the planet, be like me, only mow your lawn twice a year.
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Begon, M., Harper, J,L. & Townsend, C.R. ( 1996) Ecology, 3rd Edition, Blackwell Science, oxford.
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Garbuzov, M., Fensome, K.A. & Ratnieks, F.L.W. (2015) Public approval plus more wildlife: twin benefits of reduced mowing of amenity grass in a suburban public park in Saltdean, UK. Insect Conservation & Diversity, 8, 107-119.
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Requier, F., Odoux, J., Tamic, T.,Moreau, N., Henry, M., Decourtye, A. & Bretagnolle, V. (2015) Honey bee diet in intensive farmland habitats reveals an unexpectedly high flower richness and a major role of weedsEcological Applications, 25, 881–890.
Wastian, L., Unterweger, P.A.& Betz, O. (2016) Influence of the reduction of urban lawn mowing on wild bee diversity (Hymenoptera, Apoidea). Journal of Hymenoptera Research, 49, 51–63.
Wilcox, E.W. (1911) Poems of Progress and New Thought Pastels. London: Gay & Hancock, 1911.