Chemicals may not only kill the weeds

Bees love artichoke.
Bees love artichoke.

There was little mention of Bees’ Needs Week last week, except for a small column inside a national newspaper and a comment from friend Brian, who has really caught the gardening bug of late. This cheered me up immensely.

First Brian, who explained how he had a selective weed-killer ready to get rid of a clover patch in his lawn, but had to mow it first. During the cut he accidentally ran through two bumblebees collecting nectar. This persuaded him to put aside the chemical and accept the clover presence.

Whilst freely offering advice when asked which chemical treatment is most relevant for a particular problem, my personal persuasion is to avoid using them. It’s based on a deep concern for wildlife, garden birds and pollinating insects.

The lawn can still be cut. All it takes is the lady of the house walking ahead of the mower, shooing bees aside, or signalling the driver when they refuse to budge.

This is a process I can wholeheartedly empathise with. At the height of summer in this garden the front lawn is enriched with daisies, clover, self-heal, buttercup et al, and the bees love it.

The area is not allowed to grow out of control. One escorted mow every 10 days, from which the wild flower element springs rapidly back into bloom, is enough to keep it buzzing. It does your heart good to see several different bumblebee species in action.

This is not to undermine turf management, which is a serious business – ask anyone responsible for maintenance at any big organisation, from the chap overseeing Wimbledon’s courts or the groundsman in charge at Lords to a voluntary greenkeeper at the local bowls club or a serious entrant in a best garden competition. We are talking monoculture, and the crop is grass of the highest quality. In such circumstances pests, diseases and weeds are anathema.

When friend Alan, who takes a keen interest in bowling green management, pays a visit, he smiles and shakes his head as the lawn comes into view. Little does he realise that I have travelled the road of selective weed-killers and pristine lawns. A lasting legacy is the ability to smell any hint of 2,4-D in the neighbourhood.

In keeping with all such chemicals it has to be handled carefully. Whether applying a liquid or powder, do so on a calm day to avoid drifting on to nearby ornamentals. In essence, 2,4-D spray is absorbed by the plant and upsets the hormonal balance, which results in abnormal growth, followed by collapse.

Whilst freely offering advice when asked which chemical treatment is most relevant for a particular problem, my personal persuasion is to avoid using them. It’s based on a deep concern for wildlife, garden birds and pollinating insects.

The front lawn in full summer glory, clover, self-heal, bees and all, does not fit the glossy magazine image of a well-tended front garden, but it pleases me.

And an element of vindication came last week in an article headed ‘Gardeners urged to let the grass grow to help bees’.