Inspired by our love for wildlife friendly gardens and No Mow May we thought we’d write this month about how to create a wilder, meadow-style lawn in your garden. 

So often gardens have a big expanse of lawn that is under utilised. If you feel you don’t use all your lawn, have you considered creating a wilder area? These meadow-style areas can be really beautiful, not to mention excellent for wildlife. As we start using our gardens more and more as the weather improves, it’s a good time to start thinking about how you use, or rather want to use, your garden and planning changes for your lawn so you’re ready to hit the ground running when it’s time. 

Here are our top tips for developing a meadow lawn at home. 

Yellow rattle

First off we suggest following No Mow May and leaving the lawn to grow over May and see what comes up. More likely than not you will get a selection of wildflowers but the grass will take over. So, come late Autumn you should cut the lawn short, rake or scarify it and sow Rhianthus minor seeds, better known as Yellow Rattle. Yellow Rattle is semi-parasitic to grass so it will weaken its vigour which prepares the area for other wildflowers to grow well (more on the adding wildflowers later in this post). Without Yellow Rattle the grasses will always end up taking over so it is an essential part of developing a wilder, more species rich lawn. 

The same autumn as the Yellow rattle is sown, you can also plant bulbs through the lawn. Scatter these on the ground so you get a natural look and layout of the flowers. Our favourites to include are crocus, narcissus, fritillaria and camassia which will give you a flowering time of around February to end of May. 

Crocus, which will flower first, are so cheerful and an important source of early nectar for pollinators. A range of narcissus/daffodils and fritillaria will provide more nectar as well as colour. Narcissus pseudonarcissus is a native daffodil so a great one to include, and we like to add others too for extra interest and to elongate the flowering time of the area. One of our favourites is Narcissus Geranium which smells beautiful and naturalises well. Fritillaria meleagris (Snake’s head fritillary) are a really delicate addition pollinated by bees. They come in purple and white and their nodding heads are truly beautiful. Last of the bulbs to plant in Autumn are camassias. These come in blue and white and in varying heights and they will provide nectar for several types of bee, hoverflies and some beetles so are a very wildlife friendly addition. 

Blue camassia alongside Narcissus Geranium
Blue camassia alongside Narcissus Geranium

It is perfectly possible to add tulips and/or alliums to the meadow lawns too. These too should be planted in the autumn. Many tulips are not perennial and so won’t return year on year. Even perennial tulips can be a little temperamental. If you’d like to try alliums, one such as Allium amplectens Graceful Beauty would be a lovely choice. 

The last job for Autumn is to sow some wildflower seeds. We don’t recommend sowing these directly onto the lawn in the first year because until the Yellow Rattle establishes and suppresses the grass growth, they can easily get out competed. Instead, sow them in seed trays and grow them on there ready to plant out as small plants in the spring. 

The wildflowers that will work well in your lawn will vary depending on your soil type – most of the wildflower websites allow you to filter to see which are good for different types of soil, e.g. clay. The majority do need to be sown in Autumn to have a period of cold before they germinate. 

You can buy seed mixes as well as individual seed varieties. You can also get both annual and perennial mixes. Annuals will give a great impact in the first year but you will be reliant on them self-seeding successfully to see them come back year on year. For this reason, they are better tried once the Yellow Rattle has established. You can sow the seed mixes onto bare soil (and this is often assumed on the seed instructions) so if you are just creating a wildflower area, rather than changing a grassy lawn to a wild lawn, you can go ahead and sow directly.

An alternative to sowing your own seeds to buy plug plants or small plants in the Spring. These in theory should establish more quickly and reliably. Please note they will need to be carefully looked after though and watered regularly once planted. When you are planting plugs, manually remove some of the grass from the immediate surrounding area to help them to establish. It is even possible to buy pots of wildflower and plant these out in a grass area. This uses more established plants so if you are looking for a quicker impact it could be a good option.  

Our favourite wildflowers to add are:

  • Oxeye daisy
  • Greater and Lesser Knapweed
  • Meadow Buttercup
  • Field Scabious (Knautia Arvensis)
  • Devils Bit Scabious
  • Birdsfoot Trefoil
  • Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
  • Red Campion
  • Ragged Robin

Finally, in the Spring you can add in Bluebells and/or Leucojum (Summer Snowflakes) which are an elegant bulb that flower in the Spring (despite their common name!) They are best planted “in the green” i.e. not as a bulb but rather just after flowering. These make for a lovely addition to a wilder lawn and are again a very pollinator friendly choice. 

A wilder lawn in the early Autumn light

We hope the above has sparked some inspiration with how to create a wilder lawn in your garden. It is a long term project and a labour of love but would be so rewarding. 

If you are after a quicker way to an instant wildflower meadow, you can buy wildflower turf. To grow this you would need to remove your existing turf using a turf cutter in Autumn, plant your chosen bulbs and then immediately lay a wildflower turf over the top of it. Be sure to pick one which is not grown on a plastic netting (try Harrowden Turf for meadow turfs which are a mix of grasses and wildflowers and or Lindum turf if you’re just after a wildflower mix). These usually have a tried and tested mix of grasses and wildflowers which should work well together for many years to come. It can be quite a costly outlay though.

If a wilder lawn is something you’re interested in having but don’t want to do yourself, we would be delighted to speak to you to see how we can help you. You can get in touch here and we’ll get back to you to have a chat about what you are after.