Some of my experiences of keeping the garden in order:
One of the regular garden tasks is mowing the grass. We have three types of grass area – rough, which we call the ‘lawn’; very rough, which we call the ‘meadow’ (it would be a paddock if we kept horses); and almost inaccessible, which, not unnaturally, we call the ‘rough bits’.
The lawn, a mixture mainly of grass, daisies and clover, is at least reasonably flat, and we have always mown this with a cylinder mower, for a long time an electric one, more recently a petrol mower. Even on our poor standard of grass, the cylinder mower cut is preferable – it’s closer, the grass clippings are removed efficiently and there is just the hint of the striped finish so beloved of the advertisers. There is an impression that cylinder mowers do not work on wet grass, while rotaries cut under all conditions. This is a misconception in my experience.
Cylinder mowers work perfectly well in the wet: their cut is virtually unaffected. The heavier wet clippings are perhaps less efficiently collected and you will find them sticking to the box and on the mower – but this is a purely cosmetic effect. The rotary mower, however, is critically dependent on having dry grass if its collection system is to work at all (the clippings have to be blown out rather than launched forward by a powerful cylinder blade); and, if you don’t want to collect the clippings, you will find that, in wet conditions, a rotary leaves untidy clumps of them behind at best, or clogs the outlet or even blade at worst, and the mower will lose power, or sometimes stall.
My advice, therefore, for a limited area of grass, which you wish to call a lawn, is to stick to cylinder mowing for a better finish in all conditions.
For larger areas of rougher grass, the rotary is the realistic answer for the amateur. They are robust and affordable, and do a good job in dry conditions – worth waiting for even if it means another week’s growth. We have a ride-on for the main area, and a pushed one for more awkward and smaller areas, like garden paths and so on.
For the really rough areas, on banks or along the stream, for example, a nylon line strimmer is a godsend. Our old 2-stroke petrol one is sometimes hard to start, and is quite heavy to use, but at least it does the job. I can’t imagine how long it would take with sickle or shears.
I suppose for the sake of completeness, I should mention a fourth method of controlling the grass – weed killer. I use it sparingly, but it’s essential on the gravelled drive. If you look carefully, you will see that many local councils routinely use weed killer on grass verges and similar places, where grass abuts path or kerb, so that the edges don’t get shaggy (without using an army of shearers or strimmers). So I do use it to deal with such areas as are particularly awkward or unsightly. The price (it’s not cheap) anyway discourages more general use.
Someone observed in the Guardian a few months ago that the corpses of dead wild animals were never seen. Not my experience at all. I have found and buried a wide variety of species over the years. This is a list of them (the vertebrates at least – I exclude insects and all other things that crawl and creep). But, not to disagree entirely with the observation, I suspect that most of these unfortunate beasts suffered an untimely end.
Over the years, a succession of animals has staked their claim to our crops.
Some we have beaten off – the minority.
Some have agreed to share with us.
For the rest, we have either capitulated, or they have beaten us in open combat, fair and square.
I wish I could call this note ‘helpful hints’, but I’m baffled. Please let me know if you have the answers – any of them.
These are some of our adversaries.
Badger. A most elusive beast, we have never actually seen him. But we believe he is responsible for the destruction of two crops. We used to grow sweet corn. Just before the cobs ripened, Mr Badger would flatten the plants and half eat the corn. Every year. Like clockwork. We gave up.
I think he also likes carrots. Each year, about the time one says, ‘they should be just about big enough’, something grubs up the whole row the day before you decide to try them. Our badger has an uncanny sense of timing.
Since Kenneth Grahame, the badger has had a most wholesome reputation … on paper. But in reality, it’s a dangerous adversary, and we haven’t bested it yet.
Pigeons. They like the peas, but are relatively easy to defend against. We use any old metal mesh protection – old office in-trays, pram baskets and so on – on each new row in turn. Once the pea is reasonably sturdy and the mesh is removed, stick the peas immediately. Natural twigs make it too awkward for the birds and our crops are untouched.
Slugs. Attack strawberries and potatoes. Surround the former with slug pellets. If you dislike chemicals in the garden, don’t grow strawberries. See also ‘mice’.
Eel worm. We used to mourn our main crop, such a good yield but so few untouched by these nasty pests. It’s difficult anyway to compete with the supermarkets’ selection nowadays, so we’ve given up the main crop. But what money cannot buy is the taste of young new potatoes, only minutes out of the soil. You can’t get this from the shops, so we sow first and second early still. They’re lifted before the pests take charge.
Mice. On the whole, more of a worry in the house (not often, touch wood!) than outside. But this year something bit through the stalks of all our ripe strawberries. Didn’t eat them, just bit them off so they rotted on the ground. We suspect mice. We’ll try a few plants in pots on the patio, but we’re giving up on growing them in the open.
Mole. I have to say that the mole scarcely ever ventures as far as the vegetable plot. I don’t know why. I have childhood memories of whole rows of seedlings being uprooted by the mole’s spring wanderings. Here, he keeps to the grass. But the full panoply of deterrents – smokes, mothballs, ultra-sound – have failed to dislodge him.
Last amended 22 November 2000.