Of Dandelion Clocks and Mossy Lawns…

It is the weeds (and most include moss in their own definition of weeds) that can upset people the most in their garden. I think often they see them as a direct challenge to their skills as a gardener.


However we need to move away from this mindset. 

Although for centuries humans have viewed the act of gardening as one of dominating nature to their own ‘superior’ will, we have now entered a time when we know enough to realise that this is not the way. As well as being a part of nature ourselves we only hold back the inevitability of life and growth with petrol-power or chemical poisons – both of which should be unnecessary in the most part if you conceive of your garden in the right way. Weeding will be needed in places and to protect some plants from being over dominated but this should be done with muscle power – as it is much better than a visit to the gym!

Embracing what we have is therefore essential to our own well-being and that of the planet upon which we depend. 

Moss grows in damp, dank, or poorly drained areas because grass won’t grow there (it is not growing at the expense of the grass). From a distance moss is green and ultimately that should be what we want – the fact it doesn’t need mowing is just an added benefit. Indeed to actively seek to remove moss will simply result in a continual cycle of work over years as it returns (as it is the best plant to fill that open soil niche, outcompeting the grass seeds that are sown). Mosses have survived multiple mass extinction events over 450 million years – humans scouring it from their lawns will not stop them from surviving and thriving.

Similar is our persecution of the humble weed. 

Indeed as a young man I have spent hours grubbing dandelions from a lawn. Now I don’t bother. In planting beds I plant enough plants to fill the space and shade out the weeds (as gone are the days of individual plants surrounded by a desert of bare soil). It is all about maximising habitat space for invertebrates and vertebrates, prey and hunter – and this is done with plants. 

Within lawns I actively prefer the flashes of colour from dandelions, daisies, vetches, and (if you’re lucky) orchids. No-one is judging you based on the greenness of your lawn and, increasingly, they will begin to judge negatively if it is too green, too barren, and too devoid of life.

In a garden context plants that rampage through your garden and take over need to be removed (not least to maintain the diversity of plants and habitats on which the creatures within your garden depend, but also to maintain the diversity of aesthetic interest that human aesthetics crave). These however are the exceptions and most plants can be left to their own devices once there are no longer swathes of bare earth acting as a seedbed to whatsoever may seek to grow there.

We should relax a little more, do a little less, and enjoy the results that incorporating a little wildness into a garden can bring.