Across the Channel, English turf is no longer popular

A lawn in Greenwich Park, London, on March 30, 2021.

In a London cemetery, out of sight, is a secret corner. This spring, wild orchids have grown there. “But I will never reveal the location”assures Sebastian Dunnett, in charge of ecology at Hammersmith and Fulham, a borough from the west of the British capital. The precious flowers were the surprise that crowned the strategy followed by Mr. Dunnett. In May, under his leadership, the town hall did not mow any of its parks and public spaces, which still represent 17% of the surface of the municipality. Gradually, the herbs grew, the wild flowers too, and the biodiversity buried in the land finally had the opportunity to express itself.

By refusing to take out the mowers, the town hall of Hammersmith and Fulham joined this year “No Mow May” (“no mowing in May”), a major initiative launched by the Plantlife association three years ago. More than thirty municipalities, about 10% of the country’s total, took part this year. Several thousand Britons have done the same in their own backyards.

A wildly maintained grass

But precautions had to be taken. The town hall has planted signs indicating that the growth of the grass was voluntary, aiming to strengthen biodiversity and pollinating insects. No way to give the impression that the place was abandoned.

« If it were up to me, I’d let the grass grow everywhere » – Sebastian Dunnett, Ecology Officer at Hammersmith and Fulham

The police were not in favor of the idea either: it is easier to hide things in tall grass, and they feared anti-social behavior. “If it were up to me, as an environmentalist, I would let grass grow everywhere, but obviously green spaces have different uses, explains Mr. Dunnett. Now we let the grass grow in less used places in the parks, but we cut where people want to have picnics or play football. » Beyond May, the idea is not to ban mowing anyway, but simply to reduce its frequency. Because we do not laugh with its patch of grass in the United Kingdom, which likes to describe itself as a « green and pleasant land », even pushing the vice to play tennis on it.

In the English suburbs there is an intense and silent competition to who will have the most beautiful garden. We glance discreetly over the wooden palisades to see if the grass is indeed greener on the other side. The codes there are subtle, notes Kate Fox in her anthropology book Watching the English (ed. Hodder & Stoughton, 2005, untranslated): « The gardens of the upper social classes tend to appear more improvised, more natural […]. It can take a lot of effort and time to get there […], but this should not be seen. » Crazy weed is therefore only tolerated if it is clearly intentional.

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