These wise words of William Robinson refer of course to the newly fashionable process of mowing the lawn - newly fashionable in the Victorian era since Mr Budding's lawn mower was invented in the 1820's. These days face-shaving is in fashion in my part of England, but we are reverting happily to the idea of leaving areas of lawn unmown to welcome in the deliciously diverse wildflowers of the past. In fact William Robinson is back in vogue like formica kitchens and miniskirts. I have the 1977 version of the Wild Garden, with forward by the now venerable Robin Lane Fox. In 1977 as now, the 'times were in favour' of cutting down on labour costs. It may be no coincidence with the world recession that there is a new edition of Robinson's book coming out in August - this time with photographs as well as the fabulous original woodcuts.
With 95% of England's meadow pasture gone under the plough and then 'improved' through fertilisation and pesticides we are very lucky in Kent to have Marden Meadow to remind us how it should be done. Owned and managed by the Kent Wildlife trust the three fields of just under 6 acres are easy to drive by, if you miss the discreet butterfly sign by the side of the lane.
Once inside the meadow is a riot of green-winged orchids and meadow buttercup in late May, with thousands of the less showy adder's tongue for the eagle-eyed. These will be followed by pepper saxifrage, dyer’s greenweed and yellow rattle as well as daisies, vetches, and wild grasses. The furthest and original field also has a rare wild service tree, and two ponds. The other two fields were bought in 1999 and are being recolonised gradually. The process is simple, following the ancient hay making patterns, with the hay being cut in late summer, left to stand (dropping its seed) and then removed (talking with it the nutrients not needed). Grazing would have followed in the past, treading in the seed and close cropping the grass to allow the flowers to compete.
William Robinson was also agin the Victorian practice of 'bedding out' of tender plants and in favour of 'placing plants of other countries, as hardy as our hardiest wild flowers, in places where they will flourish without further care or cost. ' Robinson was a great friend of Daisy Lloyd, creator of Great Dixter who followed his methods by mixing native and new, and whose son Christopher continued to make Dixter the Mecca of this methodology today.
Not that Dixter advocates the 'low maintenance' approach, which Christopher Lloyd abhorred, calling it 'low braintenance', but the mixing of native and exotic is nowhere better demonstrated than the old rose garden, where Banana jostles with Rose and Clematis climbs Amicia.
As well as turning the rose garden into a tropical extravaganza Christopher Lloyd let the Topiary lawns grow up, and his head gardener Fergus Garrett is one of the great advocates and gurus of the Wildflower lawn today. At the recent Friends day he explained the the process they use, and showed us the newly re-annexed fields which are being returned to meadow with the help of willingly greedy sheep.
Each area of meadow in the garden has a slightly different flower population, depending on localised conditions. Daisy and Christopher Lloyd famously gathered their orchids from the local countryside - illegal today but perhaps an act of mercy before the sprays of the 1970's got to them. It goes without saying that together with the native orchids and all-important yellow-rattle, you will find intermingled the North American native Camassia and eastern exotic Gladiolus byzantinus, both as happy in Kent as Dixter's Byzantine Head Gardener and its many American friends.