Maintaining garden lawns is an English pastime, with hours spent mowing and aisles of fertilisers, moss-killers and weed-killers in every garden centre. Sadly most lawns, however lovely to look at, are wildlife deserts, barren of food for butterflies, bees or moths, empty of worms or insects and increasingly of the birds or hedgehogs that feed on them.
Many gardeners recognise this and are now looking for other ways to care for their patch of grass – finding alternatives that bring wildlife flocking to their plot, be it a large or small garden.
Creating a new wildflower meadow from your lawn is one approach, but it is often more suited to larger gardens and can take both time and money to establish. If you can establish a range of wild flowers, make sure you remove some of the top soil first to give them space to grow, use either plug-plants or seeds suited to your soil and leave the meadow uncut until everything has finished flowering. Cut with shears, scythe or strimmer, but check the area first, as frogs or hedgehogs can be hiding in the peace of the tall grass. Rake the cuttings off to keep the soil fertility down and if there is a lot of growth in the autumn, cut again and rake in October.
Another way is to let the wildflowers that are most likely already in your lawn flourish – you may not think they are there, but most lawns have creeping buttercups, daisies and dandelions, often clinging on in the seed bank of the soil. We think of these as ‘weeds’, but they are some of the best food sources for insects, rich in nectar and repeatedly flowering over a long period of time.
If you can adjust the blades of your mower, raise them to above 10 cm and leave a month between cuts, with no cuts at all in May, unless you need a path or a place to sit or play. You can vary this approach to your needs – mow around patches of flowers, cutting them on rotation every month so that there is always something in flower and again, always pick up the cuttings. If you want to plant some flowers suitable for this regime, choose selfheal, clovers, lesser bird’s foot trefoil, speedwells and meadow saxifrage.
The next step is over to you – on a sunny day, your garden will buzz and sing with life and in the time you could have spent mowing, sit down with a cuppa and enjoy the wild things on your own doorstep.