The War on Grass (no, not that kind of grass – as if)(only kidding, officer)

If, as seems at times the media assumes is a racing certainty, the current CoVid-19 pandemic is just the pale outrider to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and life in its various forms is to be wiped from the planet by someone’s god wielding a massive squeegee, I read once that the first thing to come back will be grass.

Grass. And moss, daisies, buttercups, dandelions…

Yes, that’s right, the monocotyledonous, ubiquitous, green stuff, principally of the family Poaceae, although if you’re feeling slack about it I understand you can include the sedges (Cyperaceae) and the rushes (Juncaceae). Having spent a lifetime battling the stuff, I can well believe it will be the first hint of green to poke through the cracks of the war-blasted, machine-ruled terrain that will remain in those end times (see my previous comments on the Terminator franchise not being so much idle entertainment as a series of training videos humankind is choosing to ignore).

We’ve owned our current garden (a house came with it, but the south-facing back was a major factor in its

Echinops, featuring a bee

purchase) for nearly 25 years. The previous owner was immensely proud of his grass, with which he covered almost every inch of front and back that wasn’t concreted. Indeed, he had just laid new turf in the north-facing front: a flawless green sward, uniformly green of a premium mix, and not a weed in sight. The only concessions to other forms of plant life were a couple of shrubs stuck in at corners and six-inch borders planted with lobelia in the summer.

Well, we soon put paid to all of that. The front lawn was dug up, in a series of slices over several years, and planted as a Scottish themed garden with a rowan, heathers, dwarf conifers, azaleas, cotoneasters, and other plants similarly well suited to the nine or ten months of the year when the weather is inclement up here.

The back was more substantially developed. Most if not all of the concrete has disappeared under gravel, and the greater portion of your man’s prized lawn has gone, to be replaced by a shrub border on the west side (shelter from the prevailing wind); a rockery; a vegetable patch where it’ll catch the best of the sun; at the top, an oriental-themed gravel garden; a big gravel path up the middle and, my pride and joy, a herbaceous border on the east side. There was grass left, but it was to be kept to within designated areas.

Well, that was the theory. The picture on the right shows the reality: taken in high summer last year, it shows the garden at its best, but even at this distance, you can see the grass has not stayed within its designated areas so far as the path is concerned, given that the gravel was originally the breadth of the concrete steps.

You can’t see the advances the grass has made in the herbaceous border on the left, but more of that later. The lawn itself though looks ok, doesn’t it? What you can’t see at this distance is that, given we try to garden organically, the grass, which does its damnedest to grow everywhere else, is completely cool with giving way to daisies, dandelions, buttercups, moss, you name it, it’s got it when it’s meant to be a lawn. It kind of looks ok after I’ve just cut it, as here. Otherwise it’s basically your garden variety wildflower meadow.

So, at the back end of last year, Lyle, my neighbour-a-few-doors down, and I set to work renovating the path. A word here on my co-worker. Any time one of my age group grumbles about the youth of today and their capacity for work, I will cite this 19-year-old: doing labouring jobs for me is his third source of income, alongside home delivery for a pasta joint, and working as an Early Years assistant. He’s a marvel. However, in current conditions it’s not possible to have his help, so The Redoubtable Mrs F and I bent our backs to the task of finishing the job last week. Here it is, insulated from the green stuff as best we can.

Then, with a heavy heart, we turned to the herbaceous border. The main problem stems from our neighbour, who’s not so fussed for the garden, so keeps it as grass. Absolutely fair enough, of course, but this is not a species that respects title deeds: so under the fence it rampages. I’ve tried everything: digging it out, digging a trench and filling it with sand to stop its advance – literal trench warfare; planting climbers and shrubs at the back fence to smother it.

With the exception of viburnum tinus, which seems to be able to blanket it out, the grass has scrambled through, under and over everything in its way. The wet winter has given us few enough chances to attack it: so that now, in what should be a Springtime bursting with new growth emerging, the border resembles a grassy field, with our prized herbaceous specimens being slowly strangled by, you’ve guessed it, grass.

Desperate times require desparate measures. We’ve rescued some of our favourites from its clutches, and put down weed suppressant material, in the hope that, after a month or two, we’ll be able to dig it all up and plant more permanent, evergreen stuff that will stand up to it. Either that or a whole border of viburnum tinus. See the picture on the left: it’s not pretty. If it resembles a war zone, that’s probably because it is.

I don’t know. Our friends and family seem to think we’re good gardeners, although when I think about it, they probably use the phrase ‘they’re keen gardeners.’  Actually, I sometimes think we’re terrible gardeners: it’s just we throw a lot of energy at it.

Grass aside, everything we plant seems to either curl up its toes and die, sit and sulk, or do far too well, and proceed to outgrow its position/turn out not to be a dwarf variety/kill all its neighbours. Many of them disappear from where we’ve planted them, only to turn up somewhere else. Take the anemone on the right, for example: planted in the rockery, it decided to up sticks and grow in the gravel path instead. When we planted more of it in the gravel of the oriental garden, most of that disappeared, although I note some of it has turned up unbidden in the compost heap. How does it do that?

Ah well. We have had some successes, as the pictures below I hope bear out. The war, meantime, continues. If enough people enjoy this piece, there will be more dispatches from the front line as the season progresses.

In the meantime, stay safe and well. I can recommend hand to stem combat as a suitable distraction, if you’re lucky enough to have a garden.

 

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