Lawn to wildflowers

edited 30 November -1 at 1:00AM in Greenfingered MoneySaving
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johnboyinsolejohnboyinsole Forumite
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edited 30 November -1 at 1:00AM in Greenfingered MoneySaving
Hi everyone, probably a random topic to talk about this close to Christmas but as I'm prepared for that, I need something else to do!
I'm a bit of a novice when it comes to gardening but one thing I am really getting into at the moment is making it more wildlife friendly. 2 years ago my concrete rear garden was converted to a lawn, plants and a veg plot. Although I do like a nice lawn, I now really want to change it to a wildflower meadow and here is where my quandary is.
Ideally I'd like to buy wildflower turf but for a 50sqm area, it's too expensive plus I'd need to strip the grass off first. Having read a few articles on this, it looks like getting plugs and planting them into the existing lawn may be best. The grass I have is fescue (which I've heard is better than other grasses for establishing wildflowers),and there isn't a weed in sight. I was also going to include some yellow rattle to help control the grass. I'd like to use the time I spent making a nice lawn into caring for a wildflower meadow instead.
Does anyone have any experience doing this? I don't want to spend money on plug plants only for the grass to outcompete them.
Any advice or guidance would be most welcomed.
Oh and Merry Christmas everyone!


  • savemoneysavemoney Forumite
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    Why not use seed. I had a small area on my allotment earlier this year saw with seeds I got from Wilkos. It looked beautiful and attracted loads of insects. You can buy large packs of wild flowers for £5 after xmas. I got some packs they were selling off for £1 back end of growing season
  • edited 22 December 2014 at 5:38PM
    johnboyinsolejohnboyinsole Forumite
    35 Posts
    Debt-free and Proud!
    edited 22 December 2014 at 5:38PM
    Hi savemoney,
    Thanks. I did consider that as that would be the cheapest option, but again that would probably mean trying to get rid of all the grass. I'd rather not do that unless it's the best way to do it. If I had some of the more tougher grasses, I'd not hesitate to remove all the grass. From what I've read though, wildflower mixes seem to come with fescue grass anyway. As I already have that, I'd prefer if possible to just build up a wildflower population.

    So are you seeing a benefit to the wildflowers? What type did you get?
  • DavesnaveDavesnave Forumite
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    Why are you trying to establish 'wildflowers' exclusively? Or put it another way, what do you class as wild flowers?

    I say this because all species plants grow wild somewhere, so there's no special virtue in having all British flowers, if it makes your task harder.

    There's certainly a place for species that do something special, like yellow rattle, but the birds and the bees are pretty happy with many non-natives that grow easily and compete with grasses.

    Just throwing this in as a talking point. As someone who has lots of work to do, I won't lose sleep over establishing finicky plants in my wild area!

    Looking at conservation areas nearby that maintain themselves, I can see that certain species do well, so that's where I've started, but I've also added what people think of as garden perennials, just to see what happens. Too early to say yet.
    People who don't stand for something will fall for anything.
  • Hi Davesnave,
    good point. I'm not particularly restricting myself to wildflowers, but as a bit of a novice, they seemed to be an obvious choice for wildlife habitat from what I've been reading. The internet is a minefield!
    I've already started hawthorn/blackthorn hedging off for the larger wildlife but I'd like to get some bees, butterflies and anything else that creates a healthy ecosystem.
    If there any particular flora you can recommend, I'd be grateful to hear about it.
  • DavesnaveDavesnave Forumite
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    What you plant in a cultivated wildflower meadow will depend on how it's managed. Real hay meadows would be cut once in July, whereas a converted lawn might be cut more often, say twice, to avoid it looking totally wild. After all, it probably won't have grazing animals on it.

    So, with a semi-wild lawn you might be restricted to plants which can stand being cut twice a year. These would be annuals that flower once, set seed and die, perennials that lie close to the ground and bloom early e.g. cowslips, and perennials that can flower twice in a season.

    The latter are where some garden flowers may come in. For example, a real hay meadow might have geranium pratense, the meadow cranesbill, but a cultivated meadow could also have geranium phaeum and/or geranium macroirrhizum, both garden plants which stand being cut to zero and still flower/seed twice a year. I know this because I mow mine after the greenfinches have stripped the seeds from the phaeums in my garden.

    Another garden plant that may be cut down often is centaurea, and so can Jacob's Ladder, polemonium; they'll both flower twice a year. There are more, but you get the idea.

    I have a wild bank on part of my land which I only cut right at the end of the season in October or November. Into that, I'm introducing perennials which live in natural grassland, albeit elsewhere in the world, such as rudbeckia and echinacea. That's still experimental, but I think it should work.

    All the garden plants I've mentioned are excellent for wildlife, as are many weeds, which you'll get anyway. Look into my fields early in the season and what is there for the first insects? Dandelions! They're up and flowering before anything else.
    People who don't stand for something will fall for anything.
  • Isn't it Bob Flowerdew (ie not a gardener of "current fashion", but quite a recent one) who talks about having to rake grass down pretty hard a couple of times before planting wildflower seeds in it?

    Worth checking out how-to details, as well as which flowers to sow.

    BTW = good for you for translating concrete back into a garden and even more "good for you" for translating that back into wildflower meadow:T
  • DavesnaveDavesnave Forumite
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    Isn't it Bob Flowerdew (ie not a gardener of "current fashion", but quite a recent one) who talks about having to rake grass down pretty hard a couple of times before planting wildflower seeds in it?

    Worth checking out how-to details, as well as which flowers to sow.

    Yes, probably, but it's not just him.

    The fact is, some wild flowers are hard to grow, or rather they'll be hard to grow in people's lawns, or on the particular soil they have. Some, like ox-eye daisies, are much easier. They don't need any special treatment.

    For the best wild flowers to try, people need to look at what's already growing wild nearby and in the sort of environment they have. It's not much use planting shade plants in full sun, or those which need drier soil in a bog.

    So, by the time all the wild flowers that won't like a person's garden conditions are eliminated, a packet of seeds can br disappointing, and that's assuming they're fresh in the first place, or don't need stratification etc etc.

    That's why I advocate using garden plants that 'fit.' There is nothing especially remarkable about wild flowers, except that some species are becoming rare, in which case they shouldn't be picked for seed, except by those qualified to conserve them.
    People who don't stand for something will fall for anything.
  • edited 24 December 2014 at 4:42PM
    5.1K Posts
    edited 24 December 2014 at 4:42PM
    Rather than going 100%, could you leave sections of the lawn unmown for flowers and keep walkways/section mown to see how things work out?

  • Thanks for all the replies everyone.
    I think I'll try an experiment and plant a third of my lawn with plug wildflowers and other recommended species. One third of the lawn left to it's own devices and the other third as a neat lawn. Then after a year or two I'llsee what is successful and what both I and the wildlife enjoy and then replicate with the remaining lawn.
    I did leave my lawn uncut for 6 months last summer and it just looked like long grass with nothing else. Maybe that wasn't long enough? I live in the northwest on clay soil.

    Does anyone have any experience growing hawthorn/blackthorn hedging? I'm interested in planting some to eventually replace my fence and provide homes for birds. Is there any other species that are worth planting perhaps some with fruit that both the birds and I can eat?
  • lostinrateslostinrates Forumite
    55.3K Posts
    I've been Money Tipped!
    I'm a bit late to this party.

    We've been sowing wild flower in lawns and beds in various un grass decorative bits on our small holding for a couple of years.

    If I could go back again I'd kill, kill and kill the grass we had there before.

    Depending what your lawn mix is you might feel the same. If yours is a proper lawn mix well cared for it might be mainly rye, which will grow to length at the same time and waft in the wind nicely, but have a fairly boring head with the wild flowers IMO. Of course, you could try grabbing some seeds of fescues and Timothy grass or what ever took your fancy, I don't know how well they would take sown like that. But it would be worth trying.

    If I had a domestic garden i was wildflower meadowing I think I'd really be trying to incorporate grasses like the type that have a delicate golden glow, ( garden grass not a field one so the name escapes me, lol) that have been very popular in meadow planting schemes.

    For bees some form of water is a good addition. They like a drink. :) as do birds and other things.

    There are loads of websites that tell you what is good for your soil. But if you look harder you might find something that talks more specifically about your area.

    When we arrived here,( lots and lots of clay, clay clay) we found tonnes of chamomile, flax, marrow, that's what jumps to mind. Borage adores it here. And I have it in the herb garden too, we shall never be without for pimms or other summer cocktails. Dog Daisies, fox and cubs, .....poppies. Queen Anne's lace.

    Primroses, crocuses ( remember some wildflowers can be bulbs) ransomes.

    We've added others to it in the more domestic areas ( NOT the verges or naturalised areas.....they include the sort of domestic plants davesnave talks about, Wild...nah, but still good for butterflies and bees.

    Your other butterfly option in a do estic garden is to consider some toxic things smallholders/farmers/ people with pets and children cannot.....things like ragwort. This is the sole food for some butterflies , but also a toxic weed that should not be tolerated where any animals graze. ( nor where toddlers crawl or small children might pick flowers)

    Re hedging. Black thorn will certainly keep people out and has beautiful spring blossom. It does throw out lots of shoots so that requires some attention unless you want the hedge to become very, very deep. You can plant some dog roses through it for later colour and rose hips, or have a mixed species hedge. A mixed native species hedge will generally offer the most varied habitat for depends how long your space is. :) a single variety will look a little neater and potentially be easier to manage, but no reason some thing like dog rose couldn't be added. ( note though that dog roses are protected species and shouldn't be one...)
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