Lawns for Wildlife

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There is an increasing trend towards households having artificial lawns installed. This is a growing business as more and more people are having their lawns replaced, opting for a low maintenance alternative to the traditional lawn. However, whilst artificial lawns may seem like a good short-term solution, there are growing concerns on how this will affect our garden wildlife, as well as the environmental sustainability of such an industry.

Around 87% houses have gardens, which cover approximately 2% of all land. That’s a large area which is becoming more and more important for our wildlife as land use changes continue to prioritise everything but nature. Our gardens are some of the last refuges for many of our animals, including declining yet important pollinator species and our soil-dwelling fauna such as earthworms. In a study earlier this year, 42% of our farmland fields were shown to be deficient or even absent of earthworms, highlighting just how important our gardens are for such creatures.

Cinnabar moth larvae

Species such as this cinnabar moth larvae rely on plants which can be found in grasslands.

In the age of the climate crisis and threat of a 6th mass extinction, with many of our native flora and fauna in decline, it is imperative that our actions are helping not hindering this process. But, does that have to mean getting out the lawn mower and slogging away at the end of a long day at work? Not at all. In fact, a traditional lawn isn’t the ideal option either. There are some fantastic alternatives if a lawn isn’t something you are able to or want to maintain (which is totally fine too, because we’re not all blessed with the time or ability to do so).

Law mowing is such a drag. definitely my least favourite job. Letting the grass grow is great for wildlife but also appeals to my lazy side too!

So, what can you do instead?

Grow a meadow

Embrace the long grass and wildflowers. This option is much less work too, only needing to be cut twice a year; early spring and late summer.Cease mowing and over time your lawn will welcome other plants such as buttercups and dandelions which are incredibly beneficial to nectar-loving pollinators. If you want to add more colour, consider adding some wildflower seeds. I’d recommend native flowers as they also offer other benefits other than just nectar to our wildlife such as being food plants for caterpillars but it’s your garden so if you’d prefer a different mix, go for it. (but never sow non-native ‘wildflower’ seed mixes in the countryside).

lawn

This small lawn was left to grow to see what appeared; lots of dandelions, forget-me-nots, chickweed and even some tulips all appeared.

Low-growing plants

Plants like clover, creeping thyme and chamomile are wonderful as they are low-growing and easy to maintain, making an ideal alternative to grass, whilst also benefiting pollinators.

Meadow (6)

Clovers, medicks and birds-foot-trefoil make great plants to add to your lawn.

Grow a Moss Lawn

Perfect if your lawn is already prone to moss or is on a more acidic soil. Moss requires semi-shaded damp conditions to thrive – and it feels great under the toes!

Lawn

This lawn was mostly moss due to the damp and semi-shaded conditions of the garden.

 

Go lawn-less

Remove your lawn all together and opt for a more varied planting scheme with meandering pathways, richly planted beds and a decked area for seating. Lawn-less gardens can be both wildlife-friendly and low-maintenance. Using raised beds is an ideal way to create a garden if you’re less able to get to the ground to weed or prune whilst still creating an enjoyable space, as well as giving the option to incorporate some herb or vegetable growing.

Veg Patch

Adding a veg patch increases the diversity of your garden whilst also giving you tasty produce too!

 

These are just a few alternatives to lawns which are also wildlife friendly. Have you replaced your lawn?

 

Ringlets

Butterflies like these ringlets require long native grasses to breed.

15 Ways to garden in the climate crisis

There’s been a lot of coverage of the climate crisis over the past few months, and it’s fantastic that awareness is growing. But how can you do your bit in the garden? Here’s 15 ways you can garden more sustainably to help our planet!

How many of these do you do already?

 

Be Smart With Seeds

you can save resources and money by keeping the seeds from your flowers such as the cowslip pictured, as well as fruits and vegetables to use the following year. Be sure to dry them out before storing and then keep in a breathable container. If you end up with a surplus of seeds, look for your local seed swap event and see what you can exchange them for.

Cowslip seed head

If you collect seeds from primulas, it is a good idea to scarify them before sowing to speed up the germination process.

Ditch the Peat

Whilst peat is great for growing plants, it comes with a high environmental cost. Peat is extracted from peat bogs, destroying the unique biodiversity of this habitat. Peat bogs are also an excellent carbon store – turning decomposing plants into peat thanks to the wet, anoxic condition of the bogs. When peat is harvested, green house gasses are released into the atmosphere, and once spread onto gardens, further carbon dioxide is released. Ditch the peat for the many equally great alternatives such as the Dalefoot compost pictured, or even better, make your own compost!

Compost

Dalefoot compost is a fantastic peat-alternative, especially their wool compost.

 

Re-Wild your Lawn

Let’s face it, lawns are pretty boring. Biologically they aren’t very diverse and often require artificial nutrients and weed killers to keep them looking lush and green. Converting your lawn into a wildflower meadow not only saves you the time used for mowing but benefits the bees (and other invertebrates) too!

Dandelion and orange tip butterfly

Dandelions are an important nectar supply for early spring pollinators such as this male orange tip butterfly.

 

Garden for Pollinators

Our insects are suffering a catastrophic decline and we need them to survive. You can do your bit by planting nectar rich flowers covering as much of the flowering season as possible (primroses are great early supplies of nectar, whilst Ivy is a fantastic late supply!). Non-native plants can be great for nectar if they are simple open flowers, but the advantage of native plants is that they often support insects throughout their life cycle by providing food for different stages as well as a suitable habitat. You can also install log piles to offer shelter for other invertebrates such as beetles, and leave your garden untidy over winter as fallen leaves and dead stems are the perfect place for insects to hide out during the cold months.

Comma

Gardening for pollinators is more than planting nectar – the larvae of commas feast on nettles before emerging as adult butterflies.

 

Install a Pond

All good wildlife gardens should have a pond. Animals needs water and a pond can provide a watering hole for birds, mammals and invertebrates that visit your garden. They are also essential for breeding amphibians who will soon find your pond (don’t transfer spawn from one pond to another to prevent spreading diseases and invasive organisms). What’s more, many flying invertebrates start of life in the pond and emerge as an adult providing  a food source for bats!

Frogspawn

Monitoring when frogs spawn can tell us a lot about our changing climate. If you want to help scientists then report your spawn sightings using iRecord which you can find online or through an app for your phone.

 

 

Go Plastic-Free

If you’ve gardened for some time, chances are you have a stack of plastic pots somewhere. Where you can, re-use these as much as possible. But when buying new, or looking for containers for seed growing, seek out plastic-free alternatives. You can make your own pots from newspaper, re-use egg boxes and toilet roll tubes for growing on seeds and they best bit is you can plant them straight out in the tubes – which is excellent for root veg!

Pots

You can use almost anything as a pot, just be sure to drill some holes for drainage!

 

Garden Organically

Insects have declined more than 75% in the last 3 decades which is just astonishing. A big part to blame for this is the continued use of pesticides. Whilst you can’t control what happens outside your garden (but buying organic veg does help!) you can control what you use at home. Organic gardening doesn’t have to be difficult. There are many natural ways to deter pests if needed, although creating lots of different habitats means you are likely to attract the predators needed to control problematic species and the garden will look after itself. Another thing to consider is only growing plants which aren’t susceptible to problems such as Lilies.

Bee on chives

Pesticides don’t just target pests – other species such as bees can suffer too.

 

Garden for Birds

Feeding birds using a bird feeder though winter can help them survive when food is hard to find, but you can also make your garden bird friendly by adding plants which also provide food such as a native hedging plants; hawthorn, blackthorn, holly, guelder rose, trees such as Rowan and fruit trees and Ivy which provides food late in the season. Hedges, trees and climbers all give birds somewhere to nest and roost in, and by growing plants for insects you’ll be providing food for insectivorous birds too!

Blackthorn

Birds love the sloes from blackthorns – if you’re lucky they’ll leave you some to make a batch of sloe gin in time for xmas.

 

Shop Sustainably

Where do you buy your garden supplies from? Are they making positive changes to combat climate change? Do they use peat, or pesticides? Are their plants grown locally or imported (and risking bio-security issues)? By choosing where you shop you encourage businesses to do better.

BWFP

Local nurseries by their nature of being smaller will have a much lower environmental impact than bigger companies, and they are usually much friendlier too. I love visiting British Wild Flower Plants in Norfolk!

 

Buy Local and Connect with Neighbors

Buy local where you can. Often local nurseries take more care growing the plants, and you can usually find some interesting varieties too. Buying local also reduces transportation impacts. Local selling pages are a fantastic place to offload excess plants or gardening equipment as well as picking up a few bargains yourself!

Walnut Tree Nursery

Walnut Tree Nursery in Norfolk is a great place to find some unusual varieties of more common plants.

 

Grow Your Own Food

If you can, try growing you own food. You don’t need a massive garden to do this as there are lots of patio varieties of different fruits and veg which can be grown on balconies too. If you don’t have much space, you could always consider an allotment. Not only does growing your own organic food reduce your environmental impact, it’s delicious too!

Grow you Own

I’ve started using straw as a substrate in our veg patch as so far so good! This year I’m adding compost from the chickens too.

 

Compost

Food waste has a massive impact on the environment and not all councils collect it so some still heads straight to landfill. You can prevent this by composting your own food waste and there are lots of options to do this. You can have a basic plastic bin which works well over time, an open compost bin like the one pictured (though more suited to garden waste than food) or even a wormery! There are new hot compost bins which are ideal for small gardens as they require less space and make compost much quicker than a traditional bin. Using your own compost reduces the need to buy in compost from elsewhere too.

Compost bin

This bin was made from 4 pallets, the one at the front cut into sections which can be slid into the front as needed. Perfect for garden waste or areas where you don’t have rats.

 

Get Your Own Chickens

Animal agriculture comes with a high environmental impact. If you eat eggs, having a couple of hens is a great way to produce eggs for your family and they are much nicer than mass produced eggs too. One of the issues with current farming methods is that the rainforests are being cut down for soy plantations for animal feeds – so if you do have your own hens, make sure that the feed is soy-free!

Chickens

There’s nothing quite like a fresh egg from a spoilt and happy chicken!

 

Garden for your Local Climate

Hose bans will become more frequent as water supplies dry up. It is predicted that some areas of the UK will suffer regular water shortages within the next 25 years so the idea of watering your garden will be a thing of the past. To avoid excessive water use, plant species which are adapted to our climate, or even more drought tolerant ones, and avoid planting in the dry seasons so there’s no need to regularly water.

Sedums

Sedums require little watering and can be great for ground cover or for green roofs – as well as being a good nectar supply for pollinators.

 

Green Your Roofs

Green roofs can come in many forms from a small sedum roof on your wheelie-bin cupboard to a whole garden on top of a city building. They can help reduce energy costs by absorbing heat and acts as insulation for buildings as well as cleaning the air around us. When roofs are greened in cities, they help mitigate the urban heat island effect which may be more important than ever in the next few years. They also provide a habitat to our wildlife, including birds and pollinators and like this one seen at the Hampton Court Flower Show in 2015, they look stunning too!

Green Roof

There are no limits to green roofs, except the load bearing of the structure! To find out more head to livingroofs.org

 

Thanks for reading! If you loved this content, then head over to Facebook and Instagram and follow for more.

x Larissa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meadowmat – Wildflower turf

Not long to go now until the Norfolk Show, and this time I’ll be writing all about Meadowmat wildflower turf. Meadowmat have kindly donated some Wildflower turf to the pollinator plot which you’ll be able to find in the brand new horticulture area.
I collected the turf a couple of weeks ago from their site in Feltwell. It was a beautifully sunny day and the journey took me to a part of Norfolk I’m not very familiar with. Meeting their staff members, they knew exactly what I had ordered and kindly loaded the car with the turf – each piece being a 1 meter square – and all the turf folded in half just about fit in the boot of the car.

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The bees are enjoying the meadowmat

The turf was unloaded at home and placed in a secluded semi-shaded area which doesn’t seem to have done it any harm yet. In the long term this would probably affect the diversity of the turf, with it being more suited to an open sunny spot. In general, it has needed very little looking after – just regular watering as we don’t seem to have had one really rainy day since I collected it, just the odd drizzle. How little it has needed looking after really goes to show just how easy it can be to create a wildflower meadow, especially if you wanted to do so quickly and without the risk of sowing seeds and hoping they all germinate.

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The plant composition seems fairly diverse. Plenty of meadow grasses, yorkshire fog, crested dog’s tail and some beautiful fescues too, and most importantly the absence of any bully grasses such as false oat grass, couch grass and perennial rye which can take over in small meadow areas (especially if nutrients increase).

There are also plenty of flowers within the mix. Some have finished flowering already, and the poppies are almost over, but the cornflowers are still in full bloom. There’s also bird’s-foot trefoil (a larval food plant for the blue butterflies), wild carrot, plantains, red and white campions, and plenty more.

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There are many ways to install a wildflower meadow in your garden and using Meadowmat is a great way to get an instant impact. There are different plant mixes available too including a mix for birds and bees, a cottage garden mix and even a mix suitable to a shaded area. Alternatively, if you are low on space, you can get turf designed for green roofs. Whatever your desired end result there’s a turf for you! If you’d like to find out more, do come and say hello at the Norfolk Show and have a look at the meadow yourself. I’ll be around both days to answer any questions you might have.

keep an eye out for the next two blogs coming up; one on British Wild Flower Plants (the perfect place to buy plug plants to add to your meadowmat!) and the Species Recovery Trust.

x Larissa

Where it all began

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It began in Barnes…leafy, lovely Barnes. We were renting the cottage above, and beside a small patch of grass with a narrow flowerbed border and a rear ‘courtyard garden’ (estate agent speak for small concreted square), what you can see is pretty much what we had to work with. I loved it. It was mine and I nurtured it every day, almost.

After 18 months the landlady wanted her house back and we were evicted mid tenancy. I had spent a fair amount of money during that time getting carried away at the garden centre filling the small garden with plants, bulbs and furniture in every little bare patch I could. It flowered throughout the seasons and provided homes for birds, insects and bees, even being visited by stag beetles!

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Leaving almost all of it behind was pretty devastating. There are wildflowers probably blooming right now which I never got to see in their full glory. I Brought some plants with me – but many I didn’t. I bet the hops (Humulus lupus) last year were fantastic.

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In June 2014 we moved. We moved to Croydon.

What we lost in boutique coffee shops, good pubs, farmer’s markets and expensive shops we could never afford to go in, we gained through much cheaper garden centres and this…

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When we moved in the grass was waist height – a meadow teaming with butterflies. The patio was also a meadow as the cracks burst with plants. With the grass too tall for a flymo, we ordered a petrol strimmer and got to work. Uncovering the garden was both exhausting and exciting. I was pregnant at the time so my boyfriend did a lot of the hard graft, but I didn’t get away too easily!

This blog will document the transformation of the garden as well as all things garden related. Why not read all about the pond in the post here.