Sunday, 30 April 2017

The Wisdom of Solomon

It is Spring, and flowers appear on the earth, the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle dove is heard in our land.[1]

Sadly I expect turtle doves will be in short supply this year, despite the best efforts of bird conservation organisations, Chris Packham et al to explain the catastrophic decline of this species - along with the cuckoo and other precious summer visitors. According to Project Turtle Dove, its numbers have plummeted by 91% since 1995.[2] Cuckoos have declined by 65% since the 1980s.[3]

Instead, the voice of the lawn-mower is heard in our land, as some people strive to achieve uniform, level, striped surfaces. I suppose such lawns are the outdoor equivalent of a plain fitted carpet. The result is just lawn. It is not even 'lawn with flowers', or 'lawn with flowers and bees', or 'lawn with flowers, bees, ants and moles'. Lawn means lawn. It is monoculture.

Here is an example of a lawnista's approach to gardening.[4]

I'm delighted to have some of these species on my lawn. What is a weed?

About 15 years ago, the Bungalow garden was visited by a local TV reporter. Somehow she had discovered a web page I'd made explaining that I have notable biodiversity here, including
Testacella haliotidea, a rare carnivorous, subterranean slug living in the vegetable patch. As we wandered round the garden trying to find the slug I wittered on about the wildlife, for instance the seven species of grass and sedge I have identified on the lawn, and its notable anthills. She then asked why I did not destroy the ants. They are "bad for lawns", she said. I was dumbfounded. I did not know what to say. I didn't say how much I love watching green woodpeckers probing around in the anthills or that all the piled up earth must indicate the existence of a phenomenal network of subterranean tunnels. I fell silent, struggling with my disgust at her question.

I feel a similar disgust when I see uniform lawns. A biodiverse lawn is more useful to birds, mammals, insects and plants; it has more ecological value. From a biosemiotic point of view, a biodiverse lawn is more meaningful than a monocultural one because it intrinsically contains more encoded 'difference', and hence more meaning. In my eyes that makes it more beautiful. Where a card-carrying lawnista might see disorder I see beauty and a wealth of meaning - and my heart rejoices. This wealth is not just there for me to perceive but for many other organisms to thrive in, as they search for home habitat and food. This is a shared world.

I suspect the lawn here is the last remaining fragment of the ancient parkland surrounding Brome Hall. The rest was been ploughed up many decades ago.

Uniform lawns are instances of the tide of biocidal monoculture flooding through the world. Rainforests are being replaced by plantations.[5] Faced with this creeping impoverishment of biological meaning, I invite all lawn owners to cherish their biodiversity in practical ways. For instance, wait a few weeks before first cutting, and see what species are already present. (It was only after doing this that I discovered I had two orchid species.) Don't use fertilisers or herbicides. Use a rotary mower with a grass box. Leave areas uncut until later in the summer and cut other areas in rotation. Don't kill all moles. 

Perhaps we should also go out and buy a kelim or Isfahan rug for the house - one featuring a Tree of Life or floral design !

Lesser Celandine
Spotted Orchid

As a joke currently doing the rounds has it, God and St Francis would surely approve of both designs.


[1] - The Song of Solomon 2.12.
[2] - Project Turtle Dove - [accessed April 2017]
[3] - 'Cuckoo decline' - [accessed April 2017]
[4] - Lawn Weeds website - [accessed April 2017]
[5] - 'The Impact of Industrial Agriculture in Rainforests' -  [accessed April 2017]


Wildtrees said...

I am in agreement with everything you say in your post Tim. My quarter acre garden with fruit trees, pond and meadow grass mirrors yours closely in intent. This year has been my best yet for primroses and cowslips and while it has randomly thrown up orchids in the past, the surprise this year is a number of Grass of Parnassus flowers. It's difficult to decide when to cut the 'meadow' as there are always reasons for and against: early, late, not at all, so I usually do a bit of each. (gca)

Tim Holt-Wilson said...

Dear Wildtrees,
You must be doing something right if your wealth of plant life gives you such dilemmas! I may cut parts this week. I will certainly wait to cut the main part of the lawn until after the blue flowers (speedwells?) have finished.

Games said...

How can you determine what type of grass you have? I want to do more research on my grass's options.

Tim Holt-Wilson said...

Dear Games,
My advice is not to cut areas of your grass then you will be able to find out what plant species you have making up your lawn. You will also improve animal biodiversity. For instance, I have discovered that I have small grass moths breeding in the grass that I leave uncut over the summer; they go to feed the birds and add to the joy of my garden. Let your grass management options be decided by your understanding and knowledge of what plant and animal species it provides habitat for !!