Forget wildflower bombs: ‘No Mow May’ is the way to help Ireland’s bees

Spend It Better: The All-Ireland Pollinator Plan advises doing nothing to our lawns this month

Botanist Dr Noeleen Smyth made a heartfelt plea to resist planting the fake, frothy and entirely unregulated “wildflower” seed mixes in areas where native pollinator-friendly plants would seed naturally

Botanist Dr Noeleen Smyth made a heartfelt plea to resist planting the fake, frothy and entirely unregulated “wildflower” seed mixes in areas where native pollinator-friendly plants would seed naturally

 

A gravel ban in urban gardens might sound radical. But it has happened in one German state. Last summer Baden-Württemberg’s Nature Conservation Act outlawed the landscaping staple for environmental reasons. Education and advice was planned to prevent a wave of “you can take my freedom but you’ll never take my pea stone” protest.

Why is gravel bad? Entombing soil in rock creates pollinator deserts and adds to the heat-island effect where temperatures in cities climb higher than surrounding countryside.

Those of us lucky enough to have outdoor spaces know they morph from one thing to another as circumstances change.

Life without lawn seemed unimaginable when toddlers needed tumbling space. We went to the Longmile Road and bought ours in rolls. A dozen years on we’re still finding the plastic mesh that held the turf together, like snagged fishing net on the spade.

Lawns, as an intense Danish man once explained to me, were a bourgeois status symbol. Kings and gentry manicured expanses of land to show that they did not need food from those acres. From Louis XIV to suburban Dads in Ladybird books, lawns marched across the world.

Lawn-love isn’t going away. But the advice from the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan is to do nothing this month.

Botanist Dr Noeleen Smyth made a heartfelt plea to resist planting the fake, frothy and entirely unregulated “wildflower” seed mixes in areas where native pollinator-friendly plants would seed naturally. Those seed packs are, she wrote, a “made up vision”. Instead, “No Mow May” helps sow what the bees need. Dandelions and clover are richer sources than any fantasy pic’n mix.

Rollout lawn

When we tried a summer of no-mow our rollout lawn turned into what my mother accurately described as “a great silage crop”. It made everything feel smaller. No Timotei ad-style meadow emerged.

In the search for something low-maintenance between a rock and some green baize we’ve turned to wood. Not decking (spoiler alert: it rots, no matter how much toxic gloop you lash on). But bark mulch.

We layered sheets of cardboard on top of the last of the lawn and topped it with a curving bark mulch path lined with skip-dived bricks around our pocket forest and veg patches. Our small space feels bigger with this little meander, and for the first time we have a pair of robins visiting daily. One came every morning to collect dog hairs for nest insulation until she grew a walrus moustache of hair either side of her beak.

Our cheap, low- carbon, local, repurposed waste finish allows us to fit more food and native plants in a tight space. We can Freecycle the lawnmower and be liberated.

Catherine Cleary is co-founder of Pocket Forests

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