Giving Nature a Corner of Our Lawn

Who wouldn’t want to give nature a home in their garden, yard or balcony and hasn’t read, in the numerous articles on the subject, that the simplest method — in a garden at least — is to let a corner of the lawn grow wild and untended?

In my limited experience — I’m not a qualified garden expert, horticulturist or wildlife guru, just some old bloke trying to live more sustainably — what you will get if you just allow grass to grow is, well… long grass.

One corner of my lawn allowed to grow wild.Inspiration — a wildflower mini-meadow by Gal Junie and Micky BoyImage for post

Left: what do you get if you just allow grass to grow? Middle and right: the inspiration of the mini-meadow grown by Gal Junie and Micky Boy in Norfolk and our previous year’s effort in a flower bed.

Now I’m not knocking this method of allowing nature to find its place. Indeed, I’ve had some success with it and remember the brief pleasure of seeing tall erect, waving blades of green grass with various seed heads giving an authentically wild feel to my chosen patch of garden. There was also great excitement in discovering grasshoppers, that seemed to have come from nowhere, finding a home in my humble lawn-gone-mad. However, I also discovered some downsides: long, erect blades of grass have a habit of catching the rain and collapsing under their newly-acquired weight; cats (hardly the nature that I was hoping to attract) love prowling in the long grass (fine) and lolling about, mashing and rolling it flat (decidedly unfine) and, after what seems to be a very short, if glorious, period of full-on home-grown re-naturalisation, even the least discerning of grasshoppers will turn their noses (or mandibles?) up at the matted mess that remains.

Recent success in growing a bed of wildflowers and inspiration in the form of a lawn in a garden developed by my mum and her partner in Norfolk that had been turned into a small wildflower meadow have spurred me on to developing a method that I hope will lead to a wild but attractive and sustainable conversion of a corner of our lawn.

Planning this project began in autumn when last season’s grass had stopped growing and was based around a few guiding principles:

A strategy was needed that would reduce the amount of grass and this involved cutting back the long grass that we had allowed to grow — using the lowest setting on the mower — and then scarifying to rip out dead grass and moss and make space for other plants. Scarifying is basically hard raking with a grass rake or with a motorised scarifier — we opted for the latter, giving the added advantage that it will cut shallow grooves in the soil, ideal for sowing flower seeds.

Image for postImage for postImage for post

From left: he scary scarifier thins the grass and provides helpful grooves in the soil; the target area; an early bonus — tiny white, spring flowers in the short grass.

This done, we set about planting a range of spring bulbs. We chose native species with mostly low growing flowers so that they would look natural in the short grass of spring. Aconites, snowdrops, woodland anemones, fritillaria, allium (wild garlic), native narcissi (wild daffodil) and bluebells offered a good range of flowering times and we planted them out in September, in hope of a good early-spring showing. At the time of writing (mid-April), the snowdrops and aconites have flowered and gone while the fritillaria and narcissi are blooming beautifully through the early growth of grass. We also had what felt like an early bonus as a sprig of tiny white flowers appeared above the short grass.

Seeding the patch was made simple by the fact that the scarifer had made some open patches of soil and, very helpfully, provided grooves for the seeds to fall into. In addition, I had saved seed heads from the poppies, cornflowers and marigolds of last year’s experimental bed — I simply cracked them open and sprinkled the many seeds over the target area. Capitalising on the fact that one of our spare garden pots had been seeded — most likely by seeds on the wind — with a feverfew plant and forget-me-not, I placed it one side of the plot, hoping to add some variation in the flowering and provide the potential for self-seeded plants in the grass next year. Currently there are good signs that the seeds in the grass have germinated — in fact a strong growth is beginning to show.

The wildflower corner comes into life with spring bulbs flowering through the new growth of grass.Fritillaria and narcissi in front of the bird bath — along with a strong showing of early poppy and cornflower growthFritillaria, anemones and narcissi bloom in front of the emerging feverfew and forget-me-not — by luck self seeded in a pot

Early views of the developing wild-life corner. From left: an overview of the early blooming bulbs through the early growth of grass; a view of the bird-bath and the lucky self seeding of fevefew and forget-me-not in a pot.

To provide a colourful background (and a fall back in case everything in the bed fails — please, no!), a selection of native, flowering perennials have been planted in the bed behind the grass and I will spend the next few weeks in anticipation of the show that fennel, marjoram, peony, buddleia and sunflowers should provide.