We can reasonably claim one of the better grass lawns for a mile or so, quite possibly this side of Queens. This isn’t an achievement I normally trumpet, for, by any standards it’s small and understandably of very little interest to most. I mean when I meet someone at a party, I don’t say, ’Well today I mowed the lawn and did all the edges including all four sides of the fifteen sandstone stepping-stones which traverse it, so now it looks like the most luxurious, deep-piled smooth green fitted-carpet conceivable made of grass, a sight to behold, the like of which you will not find for miles around’I say ‘I’m retired’; even more tedious. No, uncharacteristically, I’ve never been competitive about it. I just wanted to have a decent grass lawn for its own wonderful sensual sake: its smell, its cool softness on the feet, its colour, its near perfect evenness, its equal tailoring and its stripes. Bliss.
No, my competition was, is and ever will be the weeds, the weather, and the wildlife. The great breakthrough in the war on weeds came when a pal told me about GreenThumb, a couple of years ago. This is an interesting outfit whose business model rests on their ability as professionals to use lawn weed-killing compounds and fertilisers, the general public cannot obtain. Nationwide they have more than a million customers, who give them repeat business. Chemical gardens. Nice.
Their success in unsurprising because, over time, their treatment works a treat. After two years, we have the most sumptuous greensward with not a confounded dandelion, buttercup, clover, speedwell or moss in it. So what about the weather?
The early part of the year was a miserably sodden time and when the warm weather arrived, the ground was not far off waterlogged. Wet and warm’s what grass loves, and we very soon had a fine thick pile. We’ve just had the hottest summer on record, and certain smugness lurks when I see how well the lawn survived it. Quite simply, when needed, we turned on the sprinkler without inhibition. (Our supply is, luckily, unmetered, and we hold that water scarcity is the responsibility of the Water Cos which should cut their dividends, mend their pipes and/or build more reservoirs.) On two occasions, just when we thought we were about to lose the battle as much against that heavy wall of heat, (grass hates 30ºC+), as the lack of rain, luck would have it that a local thunderous deluge rent the sky, cooling everything down and dumping in twenty clamorous minutes what was needed for the next two or three weeks. Even in late July when Richmond Park was a savannah, and the local park a dust bowl, back home was a soothing green, if tropical, oasis.
As to the local wildlife, a confession: I poisoned the squirrels. It was unintended. We had a mouse in the kitchen, so I picked up some poison from our local Homebase which ripped me off a fiver for a small sachet. (This frightful chain store was recently sold for only £1, so pathetic was its offering.) Anyway, one evening I was sitting on the deck and spied a mouse skittering around behind the plants on the terrace below, so I moved the dish of pellets outside. Next morning the dish was empty, and I rapidly twigged that the three squirrels resident in an inaccessible hole, high up in the old cherry tree, must have scoffed the lot. My feelings were mixed; a certain regret even guilt, also, I admit, well, optimism, even a little glee. The squirrels hopped around for a couple of days, apparently none the worse, but then I noticed some of their tail hair had fallen out, and next day they vanished.
The memory of a summer, a very fine summer, without the irritation of squirrels burying peanuts, supplied, I suspect, by our ignorant neighbours, in our now weedless lawn is one I savour. Meanwhile the heat kept the earthworms’ defecations, so called casts, well below the lawn surface, and the ants were easily given the brush off as their nests dried quickly to dust. The motion-sensitive ultrasonic bleepers made life hell for any trespassing felines, leaving just the fox, the sole undefeated enemy.
New fox, old habits, digging for worms, bad. For some weeks we spotted the young blighter running across the lawn into adjacent gardens but it left the grass alone. But then the holes started to appear and the full rigmarole of the motion-sensitive water cannon was redeployed alongside bleepers. Even so Reynard’s hunger’s so desperate he seeks out any small areas not covered by sensors and just digs there.
One thought, out of the box, is maybe I should feed the varmint. If he wasn’t so hungry he wouldn’t dig for worms; but what of the unintended consequences? After all, we started in the spring with three goldfinches and now we’ve a flock, a so-called charm. The same goes for Great Tits. So I don’t think so. It’s back to the drawing board, back to trench warfare, and maybe a couple more bleepers. Hopefully they should sort that new squirrel as well.