When is a lawn not a lawn? wildlife friendly alternatives to grass and mowing

A very short post on lawns ,grass lawns are usually high maintenance and very environmentally and for the most part wildlife unfriendly Blackbirds and occasionally thrushes  can often be seen pecking on them.

brown blackbrid

In some rural areas the very lucky gardener might see a green woodpecker clearing his lawn of one of its favourite foods ants.


photo credit

But they are no use to most birds ,bees or butterflies .

Lawns provide a valuable space for children to play on ,dogs to run on to walk on in summer,but for much of the year in most of the UK they are either muddy or in summer baked and very sorry looking indeed .Lawns are very high maintenance and can be expensive ,in houses with water metres they eat into the household budget and not the best surface for chairs  and tables  or benches which often sink into them and leave bare patches were your feet rest .

It makes much more sense to put tables on a paved patio area with planters that can be replanted to provide flowers and maybe even scents all year around .It doesnt need  to be expensive paving can be bought very cheaply and if plants such as thyme or sempervivium


photo credit

are planted in the cracks then you can get by without filling in gaps with concrete .A much more visually interesting “lawn” composed of low growing wild and cultivated creeping plants with winter and spring flowering bulbs is much more interesting ,wildlife friendly and less hard work to maintain with less mowing and watering required .There are  also a number of scented lawn alternatives the most famous being camomile.But thyme and creeping mints also work ,though best if inter planted with stepping stones as none of these will take consistent walking on .Chamomile can also look a little bit unkempt close up but they are very pleasant to walk on and look much better than grass for most of the year.

If you want to have a more wildlife friendly lawn you could take the easier step on encouraging low ground ground covering “weeds” I encourage daisys and low growing clover a lawn full of daisys looks quite pretty and provides insects with food ,while they grown more slowly and are less likely to harbour slugs than lawns.I usually  mow the lawn at least every week and often more in spring to chop off broad leafed “weeds” such as dandelion and docks ,which seems to allow the daisys and clover to take over.I also planted some chamomile along the edges and I let the dandelions have some space bordering the top flower beds away from the house to provide insects some variety.

At least one  sixth of the lawn is now creeping clover which is extremely wildlife friendly and doesn’t need mowing I use this in the planned tropical garden ,which is a fairly small space but the only very sheltered spot in the garden.

.In the top part which has a sometimes boggy corner  I also encouraged moss to grow ,I plan on trying to get some carnivorous plants to grow there though at present its quite tatty looking as an old shed was there until recently.

I left one piece to grow long as a small little meadow area ,next year I will sow some barley and oats  and flax in it and its already got chamomile growing,some daisys I dug up from the main lawn and some wild geraniums ready to plant in it.We are lucky to have a back garden that backs onto a small patch of woodland so this top part is a woodland garden.

back woodland garden view toards arbour

and when sat in it facing towards the mature trees you are surrounded  by bird song and we get speckled wood butterflies among others .I know that its most common to sown poppys and other annuals which look wonderful but which in our garden are just really expensive slug food.

Even should you want to keep your lawn then consider planting it will crocus ,snowdrops and anemones.

anemone blanda

These will cheer up winter and spring without making the lawn look unkempt and die down by the time the lawn can be walked on. Daffodils are a popular choice  but the traditional large daffodils long leaves look quite sorry for themselves for several weeks after the flowers go and daffodils blow over in the wind or get trampled by dogs .I have started to plant  the tiny assorted mini daffodils  or smaller medium sized ones instead,their leaves are much less intrusive.


For areas that are not walked on in corners I plant winter flowering primulas or small winter flowering pansys  and soon plan to plant the much more wildlife friendly primrose .

garden back tree part spring




About hathawaysofhaworth

I am a Historian and author living in the north
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