Louise Tomlin encourages us to be a bit less tidy and go wild in the garden

Anyone that has read my ‘up the garden path’ contributions over the last few years will know I’ve been trying to encourage fellow gardeners to be more gentle in their approach to what they do in the garden. This advice has touched on small changes in how you do things, like using less harmful chemicals, trying more natural alternatives, considering the impact on wildlife, reducing your carbon footprint and taking a more ‘local’ approach to how you source your plants and gardening products.

I make no apologies for taking an eco-friendly stance, I’m not the only person to feel the need to spread the word and it’s encouraging to see that there is a real groundswell of similar minded people out there, telling us about it in the press and TV gardening programmes. The increasing mentions of ‘No Mow May’ just on news and social media is great to see. For those uninitiated, this is a campaign started by the charity Plantlife that raises awareness of the benefits to pollinators if we all leave our lawns to grow naturally during the early springtime allowing the wild plants that are mixed in with the grasses to flower and do their thing. This increases biodiversity and provides vital food for early pollinators. This idea has definitely gained some traction and it’s not just domestic gardeners that are joining in, many councils across the UK are leaving parks and road verges to grow, so you may have noticed certain areas in your own town looking decidedly more shaggy and un-mowed, which means your local council is goingwith the ‘No Mow May’ flow.

Plantlife is not advocating ceasing mowing altogether, they say May is a crucial month for plants that need to get a foothold and guidance is offered on taking a ‘layered’ approach where shorter grass is complemented by areas of longer grass, which will boost bio-diversity, and nectar and pollen production throughout the year.

At this point, I have a confession, I don’t actually have a lawn. My garden is relatively small and has graveled areas, paving, decking and a sprinkling of small trees and shrubs, but after becoming more aware over the last few years I have encouraged the growth of all sorts of different wild plants, by trying to curb my impulse to tidy up, I now hesitate, leave things to grow naturally and think about the possible benefits that may result.

One such plant I now leave is the humble dandelion. I’m going to hold my hands up and admit that for years I have considered them to be annoying weeds. They pop up with infuriating regularity, even when you’ve repeatedly pulled the blighters up by their roots. Not any more though, I now know that their benefits are surprising. I’ll try to summarise: they grow in compacted soil that other plants cannot survive in and by doing so their roots help loosen it. If the soil is lacking in calcium, they can grow in it and when their leaves die off they replenish the calcium levels and they can also stop it being too acidic. As early bloomers, they are food for insects, like bumblebees coming out of hibernation, and unlike a lot of plants they have both pollen and nectar. Their uses to humans are manifold, they arepacked full of vitamins and minerals. Roasted dandelion roots used to be ground up as a coffee substitute, the flowers are sweet and edible, use them in sauces or jam, the leaves as a lettuce substitute in salads. A word of caution here if you have any health issues, please do some research or check with your GP, don’t just start chomping away at dandelions!

Old wives tale alert here, apparently if you repeatedly use the milky sap from the stems on a wart it will make it go away, I cannot substantiate that folks. And one other gem about them which is not garden related but that comes out of my mine of useless information is the name dandelion is a translation from the French ‘dent de lion’ – toothof the lion, supposedly the shape of leaves resemble the shape of a lion’s tooth. Take a look and decide for yourself next time you see one.

Visit nomowmay.plantlife.org.uk for further info on Plantlife’s No Mow May initiative. 

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