LAZY LIVING LAWN
POT'S GROWING ON? 14/04/2023
The joy of feeling soft plants under bare feet.
Before moving to our new garden in Yorkshire I had a dislike for immaculate lawns next to planting areas. The juxtaposition of unnatural clipped grass next to natural fuzz of perennials did not work for me. It still doesn’t. So I ruled out a lawn path. Yet I love the look of natural grasslands full of flowers and insects. As time has gone on, I realise it is not lawns I dislike, it’s the way we’ve been trained to maintain them.
In our wilder garden above I’m encouraging and introducing wildflowers (alongside ornamental daffodils) into the grass, so there is no distinction between the grass you walk on or the planting. I love this, and it’s made me reconsider the lawn path in our main garden. Is there a halfway house? Well, yes there is.
I was chatting with Yorkshire Wildlife Trust recently about lawns and, one option is Plantlife’s popular No Mow May initiative, giving wildflowers and wildlife a break at the start of summer. This is a great gateway to turning parts of your lawn to a meadow.
Like any life change for health, you may want to consider a longterm and manageable view. The problem I’ve found in client gardens who let their lawn grow long like a meadow expecting it to turn back to neat green, is that it usually doesn’t. Tall grass will shade itself out, favouring the tough hummock formers, killing the rest, leaving bare and dead patches when cut again. This makes lawn lovers feel something is wrong come June because it looks patchy for a time afterwards.
I’m experimenting with a way of managing lawns for wildlife that creates a stable habitat through the year…
How I manage our lazy lawn
Mow less frequently, every 2 weeks-ish through spring and summer (leaving it in winter). This is the key along with length. By cutting less frequently it saves you effort and gives plants and insects enough time to do their thing.
Keep the cut high, about 10cm in length, this will cut off the flowers of some plants like dandelions and daisies preventing them from setting seed in your planting areas without cutting off leaves while encouraging them to produce more flowers in-between cutting.
Leave clippings on the lawn, some mowers have a setting or add-on to cut the clippings finer. This acts as a mulch and natural fertiliser reducing the need to add your own.
Try not to walk on it too much in winter, definitely don’t use lawn for games like football - winter is the main time lawns turn to mud.
By doing this, it means our lawn path varies from beautiful raggedy with flowers, to looking a bit neater on and off through summer, supporting wildflowers and insects. Although our path has very defined edges now, as years go on and the perennials in the planting areas mature, I may let the lawn loose to mingle and merge like our wilder garden.
Of course, mowing may kill some insects during the process, though many will fly away or scuttle lower into the grass away from blades. In an ideal world we’d all have some herbivores to hand to march in and gently nibble the lawn for us, unfortunately that isn’t practical in gardens so the mower is our cutter of choice.
Another long term choice is to let some of your lawn become meadow, cutting only from around mid-August to early September onwards. Then leaving it through winter to grow in spring and summer again next year. But this can’t be walked on while it’s growing in summer.
Lawns as grassland habitat
Lawns can be excellent wildlife habitats, in fact vital, as long as they aren’t chem-lawns laced with pesticides and literally cut within an inch of their life.
Short grass is a naturally occurring grassland habitat created by shallow, poor or very dry soils, as well as through grazing on richer soils by herbivores, such as deer. Many insects nest in bare soil between or beneath grass hummocks, short grass gives them access. Others feed on grass and lawn wildflower leaves. Birds and mammals feed off of the plant and insect life, with apex predator birds, mammals and reptiles feeding off them.
Lawns recreate this open, low grassland in our gardens, a mini clearing between the woodland habitat of our hedges, shrubs and trees.
It’s quite amazing how much life a lawn can actually house when you look at it closely.
Resilience of wildflowers
Resilience of lawns to footfall and drought can be significantly increased by allowing a mix of plant species we’ve traditionally and very wrongly been taught to remove. Plants like plantain, dandelion, achillea, daisies, trefoil, clover and creeping buttercup, seen in our lawn (above). All of these will flower for pollinators and offer a mix of leaf types to be eaten.
We all love low lawns because they give us an open space to walk, sit and play. It’s a feeling that’s built into us through evolution - clearings make us feel safe and free to easily walk about - and none of us should feel bad about it. A lazy lawn cut on a higher setting gives us that space without cutting it so short it harms the habitat it can create. Well managed lawns filled with wildflowers sustain life and absorb carbon as they grow.
It’s worth considering how big a lawn you need because it’s good to have a mix of longer grasses too that are allowed to grow to their full height. A smaller lawn area means less cutting, with less energy used to do that. In our wilder garden I let all of the grass and wildflowers grow tall through summer as a meadow except the narrow paths. We also have a large meadow directly next to it.
Our main garden only has the wide grass path after I removed most of the lawn to allow for other wildlife friendly planting. How glad I am that I have kept some lawn, to support the life that had made home within it and for a place to walk bare foot or lie down under warm skies of summer among the buzz of pollen laden pollinators on dandelions.
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