WHO would have thought that such a small machine could make life so stressful? In spring and summer, certain gardeners live under the tyranny of the lawn mower. When rain makes it impossible to prevent a centimetre growing on their immaculate sward the strain begins to show. What will the neighbours think as the edges grow ragged? Look at those daisies! And where did that carpet of dandelions come from?

When my husband and I moved to the country and found ourselves with a garden, we were clueless. Returning at the end of May from a two-week absence we found the grass swaying waist-high around our trees. Walking through it sounded like wading across a river.

Unwittingly, we had anticipated the No Mow May movement, and the result was panic. Not possessing a lawnmower we found a jobbing gardener who promised to get things under control.

As he scythed, he looked like a peasant in a Bruegel painting, toiling under a burning sun. Only then could he wheel out the mower. Thereafter he returned every two or three weeks until he found himself with too many clients, and left us, like jilted lovers, to our own devices.

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At that point we got a hand mower, the sort that should sit next to the cross-trainers in the gym, given the work-out it provides. Finally, this year we succumbed to the thought of an easier life and bought a battery-operated machine which glides across the tussocky grass and down our ski-slopes, collecting the shavings as it goes.

The time is coming, however, when I fear we might need to fit it with a silencer. If the No Mow May advocates get their way, we will become social pariahs for cutting a blade of grass earlier than June. Some particularly devout proponents of the Don’t Mow, Let it Grow! persuasion urge complete non-activity until mid-summer, or later.

It was only in 2019 that No Mow May was first suggested, by the conservation charity Plantlife, but the idea is fast catching on. The principles behind it are laudable: wildflowers get the chance to set their seed and at the same time provide for butterflies, bees, moths and other pollinators.

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The RSPB, meanwhile, is urging those who have previously taken pride in cultivating lawns as smooth as billiard baize, to create spring or summer meadows. Such is the desire to get us to incorporate wild flowers and “resilient plants” into our patches that a third of gardens showing at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show will feature what we have until recently considered weeds, such as brambles, thistles and knapweed.

All these initiatives are intended to claw back a little of the devastating decline in diversity across the UK and make us rethink how we garden. That we have lost 97% of wild meadowlands in the past 70 years is sufficiently shocking, you would think, to jolt all of us into locking up our machines and letting nature take its course.

Yet for me it’s not that easy.

We don’t have, and never would want, anything approaching a perfect lawn. If you ever saw it, you’d think we were already part of some rewilding project.

The Herald: We are encouraged to cut our grass less frequentlyWe are encouraged to cut our grass less frequently (Image: free)

Areas of it are more than half weed and other species – clover, dandelions, forget-me-not, daisies, vetch, moss – which, while welcome, would make turf experts give us nul points for perfection and ecologists award full marks for diversity. Leaving even a small area to flourish uncut, thereby allowing seeds to proliferate, would make the ratio of grass to wildflowers even lower.

Our inadvertent experiment in No Mow May all those years ago showed how much work it takes to tame growth unchecked since the previous autumn. It is also a nightmare hay fever sufferers, for whom the garden is out of bounds while wild grasses and pollen enrich the air. And although I could enjoy the appearance of a wild meadow for a month, I baulk at leaving nature indefinitely to its own devices at the expense of other plant life and flowers that are also beneficial to pollinators and other creatures (such as the badger that nightly treats our borders as a smorgasbord).

Given the lush patches of weeds that we leave to thrive in various corners, I don’t think we are over-controlling. Most gardeners I know are the same, allowing a little chaos to reign. As a result, I’d say No Mow May and similar campaigns are largely preaching to the converted. Most of those with gardens are already conscious of trying to do their bit for the environment. That includes perfectionists who use nail scissors to tidy blemishes on their lawn – believe me, such people do exist. Even if they impose an iron will on their turf, they are helping nature in other ways.

Despite the publicity No Mow May attracts, gardeners tinkering around the edges is not going to help the environment at the pace required. To make a dramatic improvement, what’s needed is to persuade those millions of home owners, who have paved their front gardens for parking, to rip it out. The same goes for gardens smothered in decking, plastic grass or acres of patio where not even moss is allowed to grow between the cracks.

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Encouraging us to let grass grow long for a few weeks will undoubtedly make a difference, but not on the scale of getting rid of concrete and giving rain somewhere to flow and greenery to take hold.

According to recent figures, as much as 50% of urban garden greenery has been lost in the last 20 years. Researchers at the University of Sheffield recently advocated offering a discount on council tax or water bills for those in cities whose gardens are more eco-friendly, which is surely the way to go.

With so much talk about the loss of natural habitats, attitudes about what gardens are for are shifting. A less formal, more casual and seemingly haphazard appearance is now in vogue. And very welcome it is too for those of us who want to offer a sense of abundance rather than order, even if stopping short of creating a meadow. If that means providing a buffet for badgers as well as bees and butterflies and myriad bugs, then so be it.

After all, it’s as much their patch as ours.