Bring your lawn to life!

By Sally Nex

Planning on mowing your lawn this weekend?

How about if I told you you didn’t have to?

If your response to that was a massive sigh of relief, then No Mow May is for you. You’ve now got a legitimate excuse to leave the mower in the shed, mix yourself something cool and refreshing, and use your lawn to hold the deckchair while you read a good book instead.

The campaign, run by plant conservation charity Plantlife, is now in its third year. The idea is you let your grass grow, just for a month, and see what turns up.

Lawns are full of colour when they’re left unmown

I began letting my lawn grow a couple of years ago – and it’s not just because I hate mowing (honest!). It has, quite simply, revolutionised the way I garden, and the way I think about the big patch of green in the middle of it.

I love that my lawn is full of colour now, and it’s come to life too as the air above dances with insects. It’s the easiest thing I’ve ever done to help my local wildlife, as it required literally no effort. I haven’t even had to buy any special seeds, or plants: everything I needed was already there, waiting for me to give it the chance to grow.

It’s also meant I can garden more sustainably. Lawnmowers (especially petrol ones) carry a hefty carbon footprint, as do chemical fertilisers and weedkillers. Flowers and deeper-rooted long grasses, on the other hand, sequester more carbon and lock it into the soil, so you’re actively helping combat climate change by not mowing the lawn.

I now have three different lengths of lawn in my garden: the classic ‘mohican’ cut of different lengths within the same space which Plantlife’s research has found enhances biodiversity the most.

Mowing paths through long grass helps keeps things looking neat

Paths and clearings: mown every fortnight

I like to have picnics on my lawn, and I don’t want to squash the flowers or sit on a bee by mistake. So I’ve created small clearings – no more than a couple of metres across – just for me and my deckchair.

Paths are also really important through longer grass, not just for access but because they make the space look properly gardened. The contrast between long grass and flowers and a neatly-clipped path running through gives that instant classic ‘country meadow’ look every time.

Dandelions are full of nectar and adored by bees and butterflies

Daisies and dandelions: mown once a month

Around the clearings, and where it’s too close to the house to let it really run wild, are swathes of longer grass studded with flowers. Plantlife’s research has shown that mowing once a month gives you the highest number of flowers, and therefore the most nectar for bees – though you’re limited to low-growers like daisies, dandelions and selfheal which don’t mind being mown occasionally.

The monthly mow is a bit more work: I use the blades on their highest setting, then go over it again with the blades on a lower setting. Or you can simply strim the area instead.

It’s amazing what pops up when you let it: this sheet of wood anemone was just waiting for its chance to shine

Wildflowers and long grass: mown once a year

If your garden is big enough, leave an area at the back to grow all year and see what pops up. Plantlife’s research has found that this is where all the wildflower action happens, as taller plants can grow and flower: this year I had oxeye daisies, white and pink campion, herb robert and yellow salsify.

You do get some less desirable wildlings: I’m trying to tolerate the hogweed but it will self-seed itself everywhere, so I edit out the worst with my mattock.

And though it’s not advisable to buy in wildflowers for your long grass areas as they may not be suited to your location, you can always help things along by transplanting self-seeded ‘weeds’ from elsewhere in your garden.

The yellow salsify, for example, originally seeded into my veg beds where it wasn’t so welcome; but I carefully dug it up and transferred it to my rewilded lawn and it’s been thriving there ever since. The only regular care needed is in late summer, when I strim the whole lot down, leave it for a week to drop its seed, then rake up the ‘hay’ for the compost bin.

So put your lawnmower away today and see what turns up. Your lawn may never be quite the same again.

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Gardening for Wildlife taught by Andy McIndoe

Gardening for wildlife teaches you how to create a garden to attract birds, bees, insects and small wild animals.

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Sally Nex

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