Gardening in France: Let’s talk lawn management

Mowing the grass is a bit like vacuuming the carpet. If you don’t, everything else will look messy. When you finally get to it (even if you don’t do the dusting / weeding) then the garden suddenly gets a new, well-groomed look.

In 2021 there was a new proposal from the UK lawn management that everyone (lazily) is trying out. It’s called ‘No-Mow May’ (launched by Plantlife) and aims to maximize flower and nectar production at a crucial time of year. The trigger was a noticeable decline in wildflowers during the drought in April / May 2020, with an impact on the biodiversity in the garden.

It’s a nice idea, but I prefer the ‘non-mowing August’ even though it doesn’t sound the same! My garden should look wonderfully well-tended in May and is already teeming with insects, regardless of whether the lawn is mowed or not. When the grass looks brown and tired in August, I think it’s time to take a break and prepare for the autumn rains.

Well, I would love to have one of those little robotic lawn mowers that you just program and do their own thing. But an alternative labor-saving tactic (which actually goes very well with May Without Mowing) is to treat different areas of grass in different ways. So you choose the most important areas to keep them consistently short – decorating your standard lawn with nothing but daisies (but hopefully not dandelions).

Then choose areas for a second regimen where you don’t let the grass grow taller than about half a meter. Between the end of May and mid-September you can cut it with a grass trimmer once every six weeks and use these areas to plant bulbs such as crocuses, small daffodils and types of tulips such as yellow Tulipa sylvestris or T. whittallii.

The point if you stop pruning after mid-September is that your crocus will start producing its foliage for the next season and you will weaken the tubers as you cut the grass – but make sure you get it short shortly beforehand , back and sides give the crocuses appear. Incidentally, this month is a good time to start ordering these bulbs in preparation for sowing in late August through September.

The last area is of course the wild meadow. That might sound pretty awesome if your garden has never seen wildflowers – maybe the previous guards were a bit repressive in their grass management?

It won’t be long, however, before things like ox-eye, women’s smocks, cow parsley, and wild carrot pop up again without your intervention – maybe even orchids. This area is only mowed twice a year: once in June (as a useful mulch for borders), then again at the end of September to October. In this area, you can plant large daffodils, alliums, and the like.

The key to all of this is a forward-looking plan because your three different mowing regimes can provide the bone structure of a new garden. In the past, I’ve used this method at least twice to mark new boundaries for the future – even if they were just a wink for a year or two, the patterns I created were there for me as a garden plan when I found the time.

Straight lines work fine in my garden (which starts from an old house and a long central staircase), but don’t forget the curves! A fine example of a mooring regime that really leaves its mark on the garden is the mowed grass paths next to the moat at Helmingham Hall in Suffolk.

Instead of cutting in straight lines next to the body of water, a bright spark came up with the idea of ​​cutting the grass short in a beautiful, but still very regular, wavy line and leaving the grass on the other side, right by the water. to grow long, like in the third regimen I described above. Give it a try – there are more ways to add structure to your garden than using paving, steps, trees, and shrubs. All you need is a decent lawnmower, lawn trimmer, and a thoughtful eye for design.

Late summer colors are hard to come by in hot France, so I tend to rely on dahlias, asters, and crocosmias. All of this works decently in the heat and drought (despite a frequently advertised preference for summer watering) and comes into its own in the more subtle light of late August.

I recently discovered that my famous neighbor, the 19th century gardener Victor Lemoine from Nancy, was the first plant breeder to really explore its possibilities.

His “piece” gave birth to the famous (and in some parts of the world notorious) Montbretia, Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora. Many of the named varieties that he produced have been lost, but the apricot-flowered ‘Gerbe d’Or’ with bronze-colored foliage remains on the market. A worthy yellow-flowered successor is the modern ‘Paul’s Best Yellow’.

My favorite and probably the most commonly available Crocosmia in France is the fiery red-blooded ‘Lucifer’. However, since it already blooms in July, I find it difficult to classify it as a late-season color. For the late season, try the large-flowered, toffee-colored ‘Star of the East’, which are often still out in October.

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