If you think lawns are green, think again!
The feel of bare toes on cool, dewy grass in summer, the scent of grass clippings and children playing happily. For many gardeners, a lush green lawn is high up on the list of requirements for their ideal garden and a well-established tradition throughout the USA and UK - but is it time to rethink our turf obsession? There are a number of reasons why our lawns are not as ‘green’ as they seem.
Perhaps the biggest problem with lawns is that they made up of only one plant species, this is known as a ‘mono-culture’. A great deal of effort is put into removing wild plants ( such as clover or moss) that dare to encroach upon the turf only lawn. Stopping other species from growing in the lawn means that there is less plant life to sustain insects and birds. Using pesticides to ‘protect’ the grass in the lawn means the eco-system is affected further and your beautiful green lawn can actually be a rather hostile environment for wildlife, not to mention taking a great deal of watering and energy to maintain.
With recent studies showing a third of our bees and insects are dying out (BBC 2019), we can play a vital part in saving them through the choices we make in our gardens. Not only would we be helping to safeguard species but many of them are beneficial for your garden. A healthy eco-system can result in fewer pests to cause problems with your plants. In the UK alone, we have a vast 1.5 million acres of garden and other green spaces. ( BBC 2017) Just think what a difference we could make to our environment if we replaced our traditional lawns with something truly ‘green’.
So what are the alternatives to traditional lawns?
OK, I hear you, we might not all have room for a full scale ‘meadow’ but replacing lawn with native plants can make a real difference in our gardens. Introducing wildflowers will increase both
bio-diversity and colour. You will also mow less as many species only need to be mown in the Autumn after flowering. Wildflower meadows can also be planted on poor soils, need no fertilisers and can be established cheaply through seed mixes.
If you still desire something that echoes the low growing, dense look of a traditional manicured lawn maybe you could try species such as clover, creeping thyme, Irish moss, sedums or chamomile. Irish Moss or pearlwort forms beautiful springy clumps. Creeping Thyme and Chamomile release intoxicating scents as you walk over them. For creatives, these lawn alternatives are a delight as they can be used to paint waves of colour across the garden. We have all these advantages and nectar provided for the bees, what’s not to like about this kind of lawn?
As the name suggests, this is an attractive mixture of perennial plants, with diverse leaf colours and shapes that are low growing. Many of the varieties flower to provide nectar for bees and the plants actually benefit from being walked on. Dr Lionel Smith at the University of Reading has tested and refined his grass-free, ’tapestry lawn’ concept and it has proved greatly beneficial to insect species, not to mention mowing only three times a year and being more drought-resistant than grass only lawns. With a Tapestry lawn, you can really pack a punch in terms of bio-diversity in small spaces. Tapestry lawn species include;
Bellis perennis (daisy) Chamaemelum nobile ( chamomile), Trifolium repens ( clovers ) Viola Odorata ( violet).
Grow veg instead - produce food for you and your family where you previously had a lawn. Benefit your health, your pocket and the environment, whilst educating your children about where their food comes from.
Not ready to ditch your lawn all together yet?
Like many areas in life, it can be easier to make small changes rather than go full-on, mono-culture cold turkey! If you don’t feel ready to part with that classic lawn - here are some things to do to make it a little bit greener…and save you a bit of mowing whilst you’re at it!
- Use greywater to irrigate. This is wastewater from the house or collected rainwater.
- Only use organic fertilisers
- Avoid chemical pesticides and weed by hand
- Let a small area of your lawn become wilder by avoiding mowing or planting wildflowers, you will be amazed at how much insect life and bio-diversity increases.
- Let grass grow longer, some varieties of grass such as fescues can have visual impact and even add movement and interest to your lawn