Lawns and insects

Posted: Tuesday 13 August 2013
by Richard Jones

My lawn is a disgrace. I am constantly reminded of this by my more horticulturally enthusiastic partner who, I think, would prefer an emerald sward.

My lawn is a disgrace. I am constantly reminded of this by my more horticulturally enthusiastic partner who, I think, would prefer an emerald sward on which she could entertain picnicking guests with cups of Earl Grey and slices of Battenberg. Instead, it is uneven, lumpy, browned and faded in some areas, cracked and bare in others, and generally invaded with creeping cinquefoil, white clover and dandelions. But I like it.

Ordinarily, lush, close-mown lawns (‘utility grassland’ of public parks too) are green deserts. They have biodiversity only marginally higher than plastic grass or tarmac. This is because they are boring. The ecology of a lawn is based around the dominance of a few (perhaps just a single) tough grass species, in effect a virtual monoculture supported on a nutrient-rich soil which is constantly enhanced by the accidental mulching of cuttings, as well as the deliberate feeding and watering of the gardener.

When we first moved into our house, 14 years ago, our back garden was roughly half lawn, half concrete. It was all a bit of a rush, but the first thing we did was to have the concrete dug up and carted away (the front garden concrete car park too). The trouble was that the concrete paths and patio were underlaid with what seemed like tonnes of crushed brick, and although we cleared out most of it, plenty remained. Occasionally our teenagers try a camping sleepover in the garden, and a fair number of metal pegs get bent when they meet the rubble substratum. Then, of course, there is also the dimple where I removed the huge concrete core that anchored the tubular base of the old whirligig clothes drier. All this means that our lawn is unevenly drained, and though we patched it, piecemeal, the subsequent episodes of subsidence reveal its dubious archaeological history.

It will never be featured in any advertorial for lawn-care products or mowers, except perhaps as the ‘before’ picture. But it does have wildlife in it. Now, instead of a mundane bowls green, I have a nature reserve to be proud of. Instead of just the ubiquitous black pavement ant, Lasius niger, I have two very scarce ants as well; Myrmecina graminicola and Ponera coarctata are small, dark and narrow, and perhaps only an entomologist can get excited about them, but they make me happy.

The overly scrappy bits of long grass along the fence and pond supply the caterpillars of five breeding butterfly species: speckled wood, meadow brown, gatekeeper, small skipper and large skipper.

On Sunday morning I heard the familiar short brisk chirps of a field grasshopper, Chorthippus brunneus, singing, like the soft, quiet, rattle of an old sewing machine, beside the oregano clump.

We don’t have an elegant manicured expanse of verdant grass in our garden. No, my lawn is a delight.

Discuss this blog post

Talkback: Lawns and insects
Your comment will appear after a quick registration step

Roy Hill 15/08/2013 at 22:22

Can I just say - I very much enjoyed reading that. Not all lawns need to be bowling greens. What you say about utility grassed areas is so true, and I've watched the change over my lifetime.

happymarion 22/08/2013 at 14:15

Onne of these days I will scan and post some pictures of my karge garden with its professional gardener cared for lawns which over the years I have replaced with a slate scree for alpines, a potager for veg. a butterfly garden with a path winding through it,a bamboo grove and fernery, and, in the front garden, a shrubbery with bulbs and perennials. I do have some grass - in my meadow, in pots as foils for summer bedding, in the Persian runner to set off smaller growing plants - zebrina in the midst of astrantia, stipa tenuissima in the midst of gaillardia but no lawns so no need for a strimmer or lawn mower and the peace of my garden is never disturbed by noise. The insects love it and that brings loads of birds who keep me company right through the year. It is a win-win situation when you get rid of your lawn.

flowering rose 22/08/2013 at 16:31

no,keep it green,too much grit and gravel and these days.