Urban sprawl has helped to bring the modern lawn into existence. The result is a short, neat, monoculture plot of grass that extends from fence to fence, leaving you with the obligation to mow it weekly, lest the neighbors think you are falling back on your duties. And dandelions beware! Weeds are not allowed in a perfectly green lawn. They are unsightly as they tower above the grass, sometimes prickly and attracting insects aplenty…
What if we, homesteaders, landowners, and herb gardeners, became the sustainable change, and tossed the notion of the ideal lawn right out to the curb with the lawnmower? That’s right, when you plant a wildflower lawn, or let it pop up naturally, you will no longer need a mower. You can replace it with a scythe.
Benefits of Wildflower Lawns
Protection of Biodiversity
As opposed to a few species in a lawn, you can grow many in a wildflower meadow. It all depends on your location, soil type, amount of sun and shade, but any number of plants past 20, and you are onto something good. Surpass 30 species and your new lawn is just about as diverse as it can get. The real challenge comes in identifying the many plants common to a wildflower lawn.
Here are some perennial plants to consider adding to your wildflower lawn to get you started:
- Butterfly weed – Asclepias tuberosa
- Queen of the Prairie – Filipendula rubra venusta
- Black Eyed Susan – Rudbeckia sp.
- Bloody Cranesbill or Hardy Geranium – Geranium sanguineum
- Echinacea – Echinacea purpurea
- Lupines – Lupinus perennis
- Daisies – Leucanthemum superbum
Plant a diversity of native wildflower seeds that are region-specific, and expect nothing. Some seeds may sit for longer than you would like, others will come up unexpectedly, whether they have been sitting dormant in the soil, or brought in by birds and other critters from distant lands.
If you have an orchard on, or nearby, your homestead, likely you’ll be interested in beekeeping. You’ll also know that bee populations are in decline, you may have even heard about Colony Collapse Disorder. It is very real and very frightening, but there is something we can do about it: plant flowers, whole yards, and meadows of them, as we diversify the species that are in them.
See, all of these benefits of wildflower lawns flow into and out of each other. One simply serves to enhance the next, and it shows just how much the life cycle of a lawn is very one-sided. Who does it serve, other than your bare feet? Naturally, a grass lawn is better than bare soil, yet the earth desires to be covered in richness. To have luxurious richness, we need to attract pollinators and go full circle.
If you wish for your lawn to provide a natural habitat for others, be ready to welcome larks, robins, warblers, finches, and even barn owls to your wildflower haven. Winged insects will fly in by the hundreds to take refuge from the stark, short-grass landscape that surrounds them, just as bees will find a diverse assortment of pollen to help them through the hardship of following the one-time blossom of mass agriculture.
But, it is not just about the bees, you’ll also be hosting moths, wasps, beetles, hoverflies, and bumblebees. All of these beneficial insects are essential if we aspire to have a bountiful crop of just about anything, and the more, the better. Rather than sticking to the concept of a conventional lawn, which feeds not more than grubs and acts as a habitat loss for all living creatures, invest in a wildflower lawn and you too will hear hedgehogs nibbling on fallen fruit during the night. On occasion, you may even see bats flying overhead, while out on your refreshing evening stroll.
As much as our eyes enjoy sameness, they also crave distraction. A wildflower lawn gives you a feast for the senses and so much more. Flowers will randomly pop up with their own variations of color. Large blossoms will stand proudly in the sun, while others will remain hidden underneath the layers, shyly hanging out and attracting pollinators.
The summer breeze will gently release the scents of blossoms, combining the fragrance of different species together. The fall winds will softly rattle the dry stalks of plants and in winter it will be the perfect backdrop for watching rabbits hop through your yard. Spring, of course, is where it all begins again, as the lawn turns from shades of tawny brown to hues of green, yellow, and purple.
Opportunities for Education and Recreation
A flourishing wildflower lawn has diversity in all shapes, sizes, and colors. It is the perfect place for the artist or the hidden painter in you. A wildflower meadow can also gain from the keen eye of a photographer, who, in turn, will educate onlookers with the help of a macro lens about the diversity of species and how magnificent our natural reality is.
Homeschoolers can also benefit from visiting such diverse lawnscapes, as they learn to identify new plants, butterflies, and insects, delving deeper into what it means to live with nature, not above it. Draw, sketch, get down on your knees and discover what is crawling all around. Then get familiar with easy to forage plants that can be made into herbal teas and healing salves: plantain, borage, dandelion, chicory, chamomile, poppy, and more.
Easy maintenance and low cost go hand in hand. Meadows are naturally drought tolerant, so there will be no more watering. Once they are established, they can take care of themselves, providing their own seeds—which means low input from you.
All you have to do is scythe it, or mow at the highest level your mower will allow, as little as twice a year. What to do with all that leftover grass and wildflower stems? We suggest you let it dry out sufficiently, as in making hay, and use it in your no-dig garden. Letting the grass grow long, is a win-win situation. The bees benefit from a diversity of pollen for much of the summer, and your garden gets mulched with it when the flowers are done.
Another benefit of wildflower lawns is that they will grow in nearly any type of soil, even nutrient-deficient areas. Leave it to nature and the worms will come in and restore the soil as the land becomes less and less disturbed.
Wildflower Lawns Promote Sustainability
Whereas a typical lawn has shallow roots, a meadow has a variety of root types that dig deep into the ground, bringing essential nutrients to the top of the soil. Once you learn to read your weeds as soil indicators, you’ll discover that they are actually beneficial next to the garden, as many insects prefer to dine on what grows wild.
It can also be said that wildflower lawns are beneficial in raising air quality, as they remove a range of pollutants from the air. Wildflower lawns also have amazing potential for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. As we face a changing climate, any way and everywhere we can sequester carbon is a good place and time to do it.
When you factor in the reduced mowing time (even just once or twice a season!) and the removal of herbicides and pesticides to maintain your flourishing space, this will also reduce greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution associated with having a “lawn”.
A Place of Tranquility
Earthing and forest bathing are two wonderful ways to restore and relax in nature; wildflower meadows are the next best thing. If you only have a small plot of land, you can create a wildflower oasis with little effort. Take out your wooden stool, early in the morning or close to sunset, and sit among the waving flowers and the buzzing/chirping insects. Feel, as you are, one with nature.
Green spaces provide long term joy and wonderful benefits for our mental health, one only needs to feel it, to breathe it in and release it back out, to believe it.
Are you ready to give up your lawn and return your land back to Mother Nature? She needs all the wildflowers and trees she can receive as we face an uncertain climate in the future. Who knows, you may even decide to allow your homestead to become a Certified Wildlife Habitat as you silently, and beautifully, prove that lawns, and traditional lawn care, are definitely a thing of the past.