Thursday, 21 November 2013

Cold addled

It would seem that the grass has at last had the decency to stop growing, or at least to slow its rate of growth to a level appropriate for the time of year. This is fortunate: the ground is getting wet and claggy now as our local clay is wont to become at this time of year, and continued trundling back and forth with mower and heavy boots is liable to compact the soil and exacerbate any drainage problems. Some traffic will still be necessary until all the leaves are off the trees – and then off the grass – but for a few weeks over winter it will be good to give the turf a rest. In spring when the risk of ground frost has past we can think about aerating compacted lawns, but it will need to be drier than now or else the clay smears and becomes impermeable, making matters worse.

I welcome the change in routine. Much as I can appreciate a well-tended lawn, there can be no denying that a smooth green sward exerts a kind of tyranny over all gardening activity for at least forty weeks of the year. Having converetd most of the lawn to flower and vegetable beds in my own garden I lose no sleep over a crop of dandelions or the odd patch of bee-friendly clover, self-heal or daisies in what little grass does remain, but even here there is no escape from the weekly cut. I really prefer the longer look of a wildflower meadow, especially if it has an inviting path cut through it, beckoning me to wander between the tall grass and flowers. This is a form of grassland management requiring significantly less input in terms of time, fertilisers and other chemicals – which adds up to significantly less money, all positive benefits which I am keen to point out to anybody who will listen. Not to mention that allowing flowers in your lawn provides a valuable nectar resource for bees and other pollinators – the arguments both environmental and economic are well rehearsed and to hand and, while I haven’t yet succeeded in introducing a meadow in every garden under my care, it’s a work in progress.

But it’s almost winter, and these are matters for spring. Nobody will be thinking about their lawn until the new year, unless it is to bemoan its transformation to quagmire as an ill-judged slipper-clad foray across the garden provides an education of a muddier nature. And because there’s little to be done to the lawn in winter, I spend a few happy moments planning what long-delayed tasks I can at last get around to; building new compost bins and turning the heap, completing the dog proofing of the boundaries, moving and splitting fallen logs. Until I realise that the reason that there’s little to be done to the lawn in winter is not only that it is colder – which slows down those biochemical processes required for the grass to grow – but also that there is less light, as there is, quite literally, less day. And so consequently I come to the understanding that I have no more time than I had before; probably, in fact, less, and these tasks still need to be crammed in to ever shorter daylight hours. Rather obvious really – clearly the neurons are not firing at peak efficiency. I blame the cold.