Leave the lawn alone

A recent global scientific review has painted a bleak picture of biodiversity loss, especially in regard to insects. Some 40% of insect species are in decline, with a third endangered.

Insects may be small, but they are profoundly significant to ecosystems. From pollinating plants that we and other animals depend on for food, to being a key food source for birds, amphibians and small mammals, insects are the keystone of the global ecosystem.

Climate change and global disasters often seem so big, so overwhelming, so distant, that we in our smallness wonder what if anything we can really do to help. We can always do something and any action is better than no action, but here especially is a cause we can help with in a very real way.

As Druids and Pagans, if we claim to have a spiritual relationship with the earth, we need to put that into action for it to be meaningful.

I was deeply inspired by the concept of “Refugia” discussed in an excellent article on The Druid’s Garden; Druidry for the 21st Century: Druidry in the Anthropocene. Refugia are:

“small spaces of intense biodiversity, critically important during this time of mass extinction and habitat loss. Cultivating refugia allows us to put more of the building blocks back into nature’s hands for the long-term healing of our lands. That is, refugia are little arks of life, that is, little places where biodiversity and life can spring forth once again. A network of refugia created by 21st century druids may be the difference between extinction and thriving for many diverse species.  What you do can make an incredible difference–it could save a species.”

Looking at most UK gardens, you cannot fail to notice one thing: grass. Grass in itself is a great plant, hardy, seed-bearing and home to many small creatures, but not this grass. This grass, this lawn, is unnaturally green and unnaturally short. Kept trimmed by the blades of petrol-powered lawnmowers, kept pristine by life-killing chemical sprays and pesticides, this is not the grass of the field or meadow. This is a green desert.

I once read that lawn grass is the single largest “crop” commerically grown in the UK, if you add up the total land area of gardens devoted to it. And yet, we don’t eat it, or use it. We grow it, manicure it, kill off any flower or leaf that dares to poke its head above the flat plane of green, and throw the cuttings away (there is, of course, no such place as “away” – how much of this compostable material ends in landfill?). What is the point?

Want to help insect populations? Leave the lawn alone!

Leaving the lawn uncut can create a refuge, a mini wildlife reserve, in your own garden. Insects can shelter in the long grass, which provides an excellent nesting site. Not only that, but an uncut and un-sprayed lawn will soon, inevitably grow a cornucopia of new plants.

“Weeds” we call them. But a weed is just a plant growing where a human decided they don’t want it to grow. Let them grow, and they will provide flowers for pollinating insects like bees and butterflies, seeds for small birds, shelter for tiny creatures of all sorts.

The website Little Green Space says:

“Dandelions are often not tolerated in lawns, but they are brilliant for bees. The bright yellow flowers start appearing in early spring, and continue right through to autumn, so are a readily available year-round source of nectar. Butterflies and hoverflies like them too, and goldfinches feed on the seeds.

Other lawn weeds such as daisies, buttercups and clover also attract bees, butterflies and hoverflies, so leaving a small area of your lawn uncut is a good way to help wildlife and attract vital pollinators to your patch. Long grass is an excellent habitat for nesting bumblebees too – and it won’t take so long to mow the lawn, giving you more time to sit back and enjoy your garden!”

I have seen goldfinches perched precariously on dandelion seed balls, nomming away at the tiny seeds, and it was one of the most magical sights I’ve had the pleasure to see in my garden.

If that wasn’t enough, “weeds” like dandelions and nettles are edible too, and are great in salads and soups, or as tea.

You can kick-start this wonderful rewilding process by poking holes in the lawn with a garden fork and then scattering meadow flower seeds. Most garden centres sell good “bee friendly” mixes these days.

Of course, you can trim your new “meadow” in the autumn, or leave areas or paths cut short to get around the garden, but keeping as much wild as possible really helps. Add in some seed and peanut feeders for garden birds, and (if you’re feeling ambitious) a pond for frogs, dragonflies and newts, and even the most ordinary suburban yard can become a haven for nature, in the midst of human urbanisation.

Frankly, I think that from a visual perspective, a meadow of mixed grasses, flowers and clover swaying gently in the breeze, festooned with golden dandelions, white and yellow daisies, as well as other unexpected joys (foxglove, marshmallow, forget-me-nots and violets all sprouted spontaneously in mine last year) is far richer and more exciting than the bland monoculture of buzz-cut bowling greens.

So, now that Spring is just round the corner, resist the temptation to wrestle the mower out from the back of the shed and be lazy. Let nature reclaim some small patch of land, and let life flourish.

Don’t have a garden? No fear, you can plant insect-friendly plants in windowboxes or pots, or get involved in some renegade gardening and throw “seed bombs” into local parks or vacant lots, and feed birds in your area. There’s always something you can do.

And also – have fun with it! Enjoy creating space for nature, and living with the other-than-human inhabitants of your ecosystem. Go insect spotting and see what you can find!

Druidry is not just about elaborate rituals performed in ancient stone circles under a full moon. Druidry is about connection to nature, where you are right now, to the land beneath your feet. Taking time to create refugia on your doorstep is a sacred act. It is an offering. It is living your Druidry in this, the real world.

7 thoughts on “Leave the lawn alone

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  1. The history of lawns is directly linked to people’s disconnection with nature. Before the enclosures, wild areas shared in common sustained peasants with firewood, fruits & berries and game. In many cases the areas that were taken from the common good were converted into lawns — a mark of conspicuous wealth flaunting the fact that they didn’t need the land for food. Without food security, peasants were pushed into cities hoping to survive. They became part of the industrial machine in what Blake described as dark Satanic mills. So far from nature that it became a dream. Eventually, the ones who managed to achieve some wealth tried to copy these landowners in in their suburban properties. Because maybe they thought that was what nature looked like? Lawns are a tradition that we really ought to just end. A yard full of flowers and shrubs and life is so much preferable to monoculture lawns that only support pests.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for the fascinating historic detail, I didn’t realise the connection between the garden lawn and the enclosures, but it makes perfect sense. It is indeed time for this tradition to end.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great article! I couldn’t agree more. We leave so little space for nature and yet we insist on systematically destroying the biodiversity of our one ‘green’ space; the garden. Many of the ways we have of fighting the current mass extinction are hard, like going vegan or building a vast renewable energy infrastructure, but allowing grass to grow is free and easy. In fact, it saves money and effort. I’ve just published an article myself that covers many of the same points. I didn’t come at the problem from a Druid’s perspective (though I am Irish) but our hearts and minds are in the same place. Keep up the great writing 😁 https://adambolandblog.com/2019/05/03/lawn-of-the-dead-how-cutting-your-grass-affects-wildlife/

    Liked by 1 person

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