England: the land of lawns. And with so much rain this year, lawns have become monsters, constantly in need of attention (read: cutting). Now, it is fair to say that I am not a great lover of lawns, they represent something of a monoculture and it is also fair to say that our back lawn is dotted with grassland species and stray plants from the flower borders (that’ll be daisies, hawkbit, dandelions, clover, lily of the valley, forget-me-not, self-sown ox-eye daisies, amongst others and – sphagnum moss!) – so not your standard/stereotypical English lawn!
But, of course it needs to be cut, so last week I exhumed the lawnmower, which is buried behind and underneath far more interesting bits and pieces in the double-door timber garage that serves as a shed-for-all –purposes and sometime-workshop and attacked the lawn with a grim let’s-get-it-over-with determination, give some definition to the edges and the new-this year bed for butterfly and bee-friendly species.
No surprises then, that while emptying the grassbox, I am easily distracted. The first signs of autumn: apparently-fragile but genuinely tough, the early leaf fall from the mountain ash tree, fine shades of orange, ochre and blue-green, the latest fall of apples from our tree (not a good year for apples, either here or up at the allotment) – now turning ugly light brown as the rot sets in. Last year the fallen apples were the temporary foodstops for wasps, but not many of these either this year.
The statuesque, but occassionally painful dry patch of holly leaves that gather up against the fence, having fallen unsuspected throughout the year from a neighbour’s tree. And the tiny, crazily energetic, frantic struggles of pale yellowish-green, froglets between the blades of grass. Perfect miniature copies of their parents with jewel-shiny skins. The shaking, the noise and the earth-moving vibration of the lawnmower approaching has the poor mites struggling through their close pressed leaf vertical leaf and stem habitat.
These are the ones that have made it so far. From our plastic pre-formed liner pond, that have been the subject of much discussion (“When will they lose their tails?”) and have escaped the attentions of the fish in the pond, by hugging the space, I suspect between plant baskets and pond liner where the fish cannot get, and the depredations of the hedgehogs and cats that patrol the garden in the hours of darkness. In awe I watch them wrestle, climb and tumble, making sure they reach areas that I have already cut (albeit cut in random fashion). Grass is a good habitat for these little amphibians, it has all of the qualities they seek, offering protection from the many predators and opportunists that will snack on them and small minibeasts for them, in their turn to eat.
Good luck to them: after hibernation, they will be mounting a full scale, fuller-grown assault on the slugs and snails that I have little affection for – but first they must survive the punishing campaign of – at least – one more lawn mowing. I am doing my best for them.