With the long, hot summer coming at an end, many of us will be putting away our lawnmowers with a sigh of relief. Some people enjoy maintaining a perfect lawn – but for others it’s a bit of a chore. If you’re in the second group, why not leave some of your lawn unmown next year? It doesn’t have to look scruffy: a clean edge – straight or curved – will make the area look deliberate and attractive to the eye. You’ll have less work to do and what’s more, you’ll be doing your bit for the environment.
Why we all need a “buzzing garden”
Perhaps you’ve read reports of the alarming decline of insects and invertebrates – some studies have shown up to 75% decline in recent years. And although we have an instinctive revulsion for many of these creeping, crawling or buzzing creatures, they’re vital for our world. They pollinate plants, provide a food source for birds and mammals and dispose of rubbish and rotting vegetation.
The collapse in the insect population should worry us all. However, if you’ve got a garden there is something you can do – it’s easy and won’t cost you a thing. Just leave an area of grass unmown and create your own “mini meadow”.
How does long grass help insects (and our gardens)?
A study by the University of Sussex revealed that areas of long grass in Saltdean’s Oval Park sheltered up to 50 times more insects than mown areas. The study also found that the public response to the meadow areas was very positive, with residents enjoying the increased colour from the wildflowers and butterflies. But you don’t need a field or a park – an area as small as one square metre can make a difference.
Long grass provides shelter and food for a huge range of little creatures, from grasshoppers and beetles through to moths and spiders. The wildflowers which will emerge amongst the grass provide nectar and pollen for bees and butterflies.
Don’t worry about your long grass harbouring garden nasties: according to the Royal Horticultural Society, fewer than 1% of Britain’s insects are pests. The rest are beneficial as pollinating insects or are actually pest predators. Others simply get on with their own thing – feeding on dead or living plant matter and providing food for mammals, amphibians or birds. A garden full of life is a healthy garden, and a healthy garden means healthy and beautiful plants.
How to create your own mini meadow:
To create your own mini meadow, just leave a strip or area of grass unmown until it starts to look a bit tatty at the end of summer, then cut it. You’ll need a strimmer, or shears, and check first to make sure there aren’t any little creatures hiding in there.
Rake out the clippings as this will encourage wildflowers. At this point, you can plant spring flowering bulbs such as daffodils or crocuses. You can also sow wildflower seeds but be careful: the colourful wildflower meadows you sometimes see in parks or on roundabouts are sown each year on cleared earth – not amongst established grass. Unfortunately you won’t get this effect without a lot of effort. Annual wildflowers struggle to compete against grass, and most need a sunny spot. But this shouldn’t discourage you: if you aim for a more subtle look, and encourage the wildflowers which are already growing in your lawn you won’t be disappointed. Another good tip is to sow Yellow Rattle seeds – this pretty wildflower discourages the grass and so helps the flowers grow. Make sure you sow yellow rattle seeds in autumn as they need a period of cold in order to germinate.
Mow your mini meadow as normal as needed through the autumn, or leave the grass to grow again and do another cut any time before Christmas.
If you need short grass during the summer, maybe for kids to play on, then create a spring meadow by mowing between July and late autumn.
A version of this article appears in October’s Seaford Scene newsletter.
Yellow rattle: © Copyright Glyn Baker