Robert Gore-Langton

The death of lawn mowing

The death of lawn mowing
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Are we witnessing the slow death of manly gardening? A new government initiative urges us that for the sake of bees and pollinators we should leave the mower in the shed and let our lawns turn into savannahs. Some thirty councils are signed up. King’s College Cambridge has turned its lawn into a wild flower meadow. Monty Don approves. He has piously decreed that mowing is 'about the most injurious thing you can do to wildlife' and a 'male' obsession.

Get this, Monty. Mowing in my garden is only a male activity because my wife won’t do it. So I have to, while she watches your bloody programmes! I can't really complain, mind you. I have a lawn tractor, a pleasure to ride, and generally speaking tasks in our garden are equally divided.

This May — a crucial month in nature’s calendar — I was sweetly asked if I could possibly avoid the tall daisies that had been coming up in patches after I missed three weeks’ mowing due to a machine service. So I now navigate little islets of wilderness on what is still, largely, a stripy lawn. Our bees — we have two hives — love the bonus of the extra pollen for their saddlebags. Flowers, clover, vetch and whatnot stand in high grass where once we played croquet. Even a pyramidal orchid has popped up to see why the mowing has stopped.

I am pretty much converted. The doom-mongering Netflix nature documentaries, the octopus huggers, the badger luvvies, the ill-fated Chinese wet markets and Lord Attenborough — all convince me that a credo of live and let live is the necessary future.

But from a mower’s perspective, what to do with the shed full of hardware should you go down this re-wilding route? What about the strimmer, chainsaw, hedge trimmers and all the other gear gardeners accrue? Look at it this way. If you don’t fire them up you save a fortune on servicing and fuel. By not using them, amateur chainsaw owners will live longer.

With just a quarter of our garden under the new regime, the difference this summer is audible. The place is thrumming with life. There are more moths battering the lampshades, more butterflies in the shrubs, and, thrillingly, a huge uptick in adorable bumblebees (very satisfying as every variety of Bombus is in catastrophic global decline). Insects and their life cycles become weirdly interesting. One wants to know more about everything.

Though there is less mowing, it now takes longer, as I have to constantly dismount to gently coax with a stick any bees or bumblers out of the path of my machine’s rotors. You’d think an old-fashioned scythe might be the answer to mechanical mowing. Well, it is and it isn’t. I recently went on a scything course (the correct action, we were taught, is more like ironing a shirt than playing angry golf). But scythe mowing is not without its own worries. For example, I was Poldarking my way through some long grass at the bottom of the garden when I nearly sliced up a splendid adult grass snake. It hissed and slithered off, back to the compost heap where the thing keeps warm and presumably has its babies.

I may have boiled my last ant colony and sprayed my last wasp nest. But wildlife isn’t all welcome in these parts. The magpies and squirrels are still hateful. And I’ve got my eye on a squadron of fat pigeons — delicious at this time of year — grazing within catapult range of the bedroom window. But it’s no bad thing to give the flora a break: it is amazing what comes up. The 'mowhican' movement will catch on, I think, because it is possible to boost your wildlife quotient without entirely giving up the mower and the summery scent of fresh petrol.