Are you one of the stripy lawn brigade?

In the middle of my lawn, there is a big, brown gash of destruction. It is a muddy pit, carefully dug by my children and then filled by them with water. According to them, it is to attract pigs to our garden. That’s clearly the influence of that cheeky Peppa Pig on the television.

Actually, I was quite proud of my children. I believe gardens are for enjoyment and relaxation, and if that involves the creation of a muddy hole, then so be it. Also, whilst we may not lure in any errant pigs, wet mud is vital for swallows to carry out nest repairs before starting a second brood.

You may have gathered that I am not one of the stripy lawn brigade. I do admire a perfect lawn, but much in the same way I admire someone who irons their pants. It’s impressive but I just don’t have the time or inclination.

My lawn will never be a green carpet of homogenous perfection, but it is a living, diverse place to play and relax. The grass is not overgrown in a way that would offend anyone, but neither is it cut to within a centimetre of the ground every week. We also permit weeds in all their colourful chaos.

The result is fantastic for the environment. In fact, I think I can count at least six species of plant thriving in the lawn alongside boring old grass, such as dandelion, daisy, red and white clover, plantain, moss and black medic. Yes, these are technically ‘weeds’ that should be eradicated, but as threatened bees buzz  happily over the nectar and pollen sources, I find myself asking ‘weeds to who, exactly?’

It is true that I’m not going to win any horticulture prizes, but my garden is healthily chemical free and I am blissfully removed from the suburban pressure of mole bashing and weed pulling every weekend. From my comfortable position on the deckchair, it really appears to be a curious obsession to wish to control our outdoors space to this degree.

Now I know that bowling green aficionados are unlikely to suddenly declare that their pride and joy will instead become a wildflower meadow, but how about a little less of the ironing pants mentality?

Less frequent mowing will not result in public humiliation, nor will easing off on the ‘feed and weed’ schedule. Instead, just leave the grass clippings in place – this isn’t more laziness from me, but sound gardening advice because the clippings contain the same nutrients as a fertiliser, including nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.

Instead of aiming for grass as a monoculture, you could seed your lawn with types of clover alongside the grass. This means you will end up with a lawn that requires little feeding, and remains a fresh green, even when your neighbour’s is parched by drought.

Not everyone will want their own bespoke pig pit. However, we can let more wildlife into our gardens if we simply relax our notion of a perfect lawn, just a little.

[first published in the EDP and EADT)

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Bored of strawberries and cream… its time for samphire season!

Samphire

If you are posh, you’ll pay masses for a few strands of it next to your sea bass. You’ll be in an upmarket restaurant, miles from the sea and you’ll pronounce it ‘Sam-fiire’. If you’re a little less well-heeled, you’ll buy a big carrier bag of it from the fishmonger, or even better get it for free at the coast. Then you’ll eat a whole plate of it, unceremoniously sucking it off the stalks. You’re more likely to call it ‘Sam-fer’.

However you eat your marsh samphire, it is truly fabulous stuff. Its fleshy, tubular leaves are the vivid green of a freshly cut lawn and its taste is salty and succulent. Known as ‘sea-asparagus’, it makes a wonderful accompaniment for fish or seafood.
It is packed full of vitamins too, and was once used to treat scurvy. Apparently, it also works wonders for flatulence.
Samphire grows on the salt marshes and mudflats around Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex’s coastline, and its short season is now starting.
Foraging for your own samphire is fun, but comes with a few safety guidelines. If you are looking for it on salt marshes or mudflats, then be careful not to roam too far from a path. The mud can be very sticky; welly boot loss is practically inevitable and some areas are deep, so be cautious. Also make sure you are aware of the tides – dinner is not worth drowning for!
To pick it, make sure you just pinch or snip off the tops of the plants, leaving the gritty, fibrous stems in the ground to regrow. This means it survives for next time and also can continue to provide food for wildlife, such as waterfowl.
Do take a moment to survey the mudflat around you. It can seem bleak and uninhabited, but it is crammed with wildlife. Even that gloopy mud that you just lost your flip-flop in is full of little creatures providing essential protein to wading birds.
If you really love the green stuff, you could consider growing it at home. Yes, this is possible however far inland you live. You simply water the plant with a saline solution, to recreate the salty sea – jaunty sailor singing is optional.
My favourite way of eating samphire is to simply boil the cleaned plant in plenty of unsalted water, until tender – which takes about four or five minutes. Then I pile it in a plate and slather with unsalted butter and a splash of lemon or malt vinegar. Somewhat surprisingly, children will go nuts for the stuff (mine prefer just butter on theirs).
Eating it is far from elegant as you slurp the cooked samphire off the plant leaving a tough strand behind and getting butter down your chin. Be warned, samphire is not perfect for a romantic first date!
Samphire is a real flavour of wild East Anglia and around now is the time to make the most of it. Serve it up with a beautiful Cromer crab and it doesn’t matter if you are posh or not, you will be dining like royalty.