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The call of the wild: We all need to do our bit to counter climate change – and here’s how

The call of the wild: We all need to do our bit to counter climate change — and here’s how

  • Nigel Colborn says making our gardens carbon neutral can fight global warming 
  • UK-based gardening expert advises against using artificial fertilisers
  • Also recommends converting a part or all of your lawn into a flower-rich meadow

Recent weather disasters have made climate change sceptics a vanishing species. Floods in China, Japan and Germany, wildfires from Oregon to Mexico such extreme events are almost commonplace.

So we have to fight global warming.

Wringing our hands or going vegan won’t cut it. But we can help a lot by making our gardens carbon neutral better still carbon negative, which means a plot that catches and holds more carbon than it emits.

Conventional, weedless lawns can be heavy CO2 emitters.

Blooming lovely: Glorious flowers, such as camassia, work well in garden meadows

Also, stop using artificial fertilisers and mow without the grass box. Clippings will rot quickly where they lie, recycling nutrients and making humus.

It’s time to give up lawn herbicides.

If daisies and other weeds appear, welcome them. They’re as easy to mow as the grass. 

FLOWER POWER 

You could go a step further and convert a part or all of your lawn into a flower-rich meadow.

Since Covid, garden meadows have become trendy and with good reason. They’re beautiful from March to September, excellent for beneficial insects and give green, winter cover. Size is not relevant. You could use a child’s unwanted sandpit or re-wild a ten-acre field.

Starting small is a sensible first step. Then, if early results please, it will be easy to extend your meadow project.

Farm meadows are routinely mown for hay in early summer. In a garden, you have more flexibility. With different cutting times you can emphasise different seasons. A bulb-rich spring meadow could be mown from June onwards. One for summer flowers could be kept short from September with a final cut in late February.

Whatever your regime, meadows are largely self-sustaining. Pest or diseases are unlikely but wildlife diversity will increase. For flowers to thrive and multiply the companion grasses must be non-aggressive and fine.

Good gardeners strive to increase soil fertility, although with meadows this is not necessary. Low fertility reduces grass vigour and helps broad-leaved, flowering plants to thrive.

You can reduce fertility by removing the long grass immediately after cutting. If you do that for several years, the grass grows more moderately and wildflowers are able to compete and eventually to dominate. 

A FRESH START 

When converting lawns to meadows on fertile soil, keep cutting and raking off grass for the first summer.

Fine grasses will increase as fertility declines. Then lovely wildflowers will thrive, with yellow celandines in March, then cowslips and snakeshead fritillaries, followed by vivid summer buttercups, knapweeds, blue scabious and dozens more.

If you’re not a wildflower purist, you can include wild-looking garden plants. I grow American camassias, winter aconites and wild cyclamen in mine.

If you prefer to start small, that’s fine. Set aside a narrow strip perhaps on the sunny edge of an existing lawn. Begin by cutting that as short as possible, then rake off the mowings. Your palette is then ready.

Daisies and other plants may appear as volunteers. You could also add young wild plants or scatter seeds. For more information see plantlife.org.uk. Seed suppliers include wildflower.co.uk and meadowmania.co.uk.

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