I’d had Hattie – Husqvarna’s entry level auto-mower – for about a year (and not long since removed her from her winter hibernation box) when she suddenly stopped working. I suspected an accidental nick in her vital guiding perimeter wire (perhaps this exonerated her from fault). The trouble was the date: 2nd April 2020; a fierce lockdown had just been imposed, courtesy of the often-deadly Coronavirus sweeping the country, so I was met with a recorded message when telephoning her supplier for assistance.
With options limited, I dragged an old electric corded mower from its retirement at the back of the shed, but it was just too much (for me) so, I gave up on my lawn, well, most of it. And that’s when the magic began to happen – and magic it was to witness the emergence of a white carpet. Oh, there were dots of bright yellow here and there, dandelions mainly and some buttercups, daisies too with their sunny centres and long-held memories of picnics and daisy chains (I could never make them hold together) but the overwhelming picture was a froth of white clover. And bees who suddenly found as much to occupy themselves in my lawn as in my flower borders.
“Isn’t it wonderful”, I gushed to Claire, my gardener, on her next visit, “I love it so much, I think I’ll leave it”. She agreed, but suggested cutting a path through it would make a purposeful feature of this accidental “wilding” thus avoiding any risk of the area appearing totally neglected as well as ensuring easy routes to strategically placed seating. She even invited me round to her (much smaller) garden by way of demonstration and where she also talked to me about ponds. She has three modestly sized ones, each serving a different purpose. “I need ponds too!” I exclaimed excitedly, blushing inwardly at such a sudden outburst of childlike enthusiasm. Two years on, I’m still debating where to site one or more for the best, but growing a garden is a marathon, not a sprint and patience a definite virtue. Meanwhile, I’ve settled on a bird bath.
Creating a path through my cherished meadow was a greater challenge than expected: walking in straight lines can present difficulties as can the ability to follow an even curve. I’d thought it might be easier pushing my new cordless lawnmower (a bargain from the central aisle of a well-known value supermarket) but the process was exacerbated by attempts to avoid murdering clumps of daisies that littered my chosen route. (Even my daughter, whom I regularly feel is only a step away from murdering me without compunction, found it impossible to harm such innocent blooms when wielding the mower on one of her visits.) Consequently, the “wilding” seems to be making a takeover bid for the rest of my garden, the grassy bits anyway.
It seems I’m on the right lines for, according to Sirin Kale in the Guardian (August 2019), “nowadays it’s all about ‘ungardening’ … [or] rewilding, as it’s more commonly known ”. I think I’ll stick with “ungardening”; it appeals to my third age, just-missed-it-first-time-round-wishful-thinking hippy chic – but I digress…
“Ungardening” is a way of doing less to create more. For the gardener – aside from eschewing the use of chemicals – it means relinquishing ideas of neat, sharp-edged, smooth stripy lawns and worrying much less about weeds (especially those in lawns), all by way of attracting pollinators: bees together with other insects and wildlife in the war against ecological decline and its impact on global warming. Global warming – once seen by many as existing only in the minds of eccentrics – has become a frightening reality, increasing with each new meteorological extremity reported or directly experienced.
However, it does seem that “ungardening” requires a bit more effort than one might think.
This became blatantly obvious when, being a rookie gardener, I purchased a large budget box of shake n’ sow wildflower seeds from a local bargain store. Having discussed, with Claire, a desire to do my bit for bio diversity, by growing a wildflower meadow inside my garden, it was she who took the box and shook! Just not where I – in ignorance – had envisaged, in my “meadow”, but in an empty bed.
Grass, it seems, is strong stuff (rye, a common component in your average lawn seed, is particularly tough) and will – in effect – strangle the wild flowers.
That was me told!
Since then, I have learnt that establishing a true wildflower meadow is not for the faint hearted, and certainly not for the impatient as they’re at least 3-5 years in their making. Frustratingly, the process could have began in 2018 following the invasion by an army of arborists and other workers who appeared one June day, at my behest, and snipped, cut, hacked, and felled their way through the dark mix of tangle and matted mess that my garden had become (surely the result of “ungardening”? Hmmm… this was no gardening for two years, and quite different!).
If only I’d known then what I know now: suddenly faced with a scene imagining some post apocalypse Armageddon I had little clue what to do next. What I could have done was to have had another 5-10cm of earth removed to reduce soil fertility, then sown a mix of native grass, perennial and annual wildflower seeds. To the uninitiated (as I was, then) the need to reduce fertility was/is counter intuitive but wildflowers don’t do well in nutrient rich soil. It’s a cliché but hindsight is, indeed, a wonderful thing; besides, the brief then was to create an accessible garden for one part-time wheelchair user (me) and one older, newly adopted greyhound.
But what of Hattie now? She’s gone to pastures new and I confess to having been somewhat dewy-eyed at our parting. This is what comes with bestowing human names on pieces of machinery, but she’s left a fine legacy in her wake – one happy accident no less.