CROYDON COMMENTARY: By not cutting the grass verges alongside the borough’s major A-roads, Transport for London might – perhaps unwittingly – be providing a valuable new home for plants, insects and other wildlife, writes ANTHONY MILLS, pictured left
I worked as an NHS gardener for 32 years, beginning in the days when hospitals had their own sports pitches, bowling greens, glasshouses. We produced 10,000 wallflowers and 10,000 geraniums each year for annual bedding and had fleets of mowers.
In the latter half of my working life I came to hate and despise the stupid waste and destructiveness of the acres of manicured lawns.
As resources dried up, the mowing schedules stretched, and some places were inadvertently missed. I once found a lawn in June at the back of a therapy unit that had been forgotten for some months. It was a remnant of a sward that was original to the hopital’s founding, 95 years old, colonised over that time by species tolerant of the dwarfing that mowing induces.
In that sward I counted 26 plants in flower at once, not including the dozen or so grass species.
It was spectacularly colourful and beautiful, and a pure example of the diversity that has become so damagingly lacking in our industrially farmed countryside.
Just as suburban gardens are now the primary refuge for wildlife, so road verges, a massive public estate, have been the subject of a campaign for some years to restore a habitat of meadow plants that has largely been removed from the wider countryside, and what’s more a habitat that is continuous and linked, to combat the “island” effect of isolated remnant refuges in the countryside.
There is, of course, a necessity to maintain sight lines, clear views of traffic signs and pedestrian access. Mowing or strimming narrow edge strips and paths through long herbiage can serve to further accentuate and define such areas and demonstrate that they are intentional, not a result of neglect.
And regular cutting, essentially on the hay meadow model, is required to prevent scrub invasion and maintain the environment for smaller less vigorous plants.
At work I hated mowing bees and other pollinators, which love clovers and birdsfoot trefoils, and the asteraceae daisy-type flowers, and would mow round them, to the fury of the Head Gardener. But eventually even a died-in-the-wool greenkeeper came round to accept the glory of a lawn full of flowers, a true millefleur sward, rather than a featureless, boring and sterile green carpet everywhere.
Go to many stately homes and public gardens and see how they have embraced exactly that kind of management now.
So let the verges be, look for the common spotted orchids growing in profusion by, of all places, the M25/A22 roundabout, enjoy the abundance until the flowers have seeded and they are mowed at traditional haymaking time in August.
We will all be the better for it.
- Anthony Mills DipHort (RHS) was responding to our report, published yesterday, about how cut-backs at Transport for London had reduced the number of regular cuts carried out on the grass verges alongside the borough’s major routes
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