Our lawn was only six metres long and four metres wide. Brown in summer, needing regular mowing, not used except for the shady patch where I sit to write on a sunny day. But we need a calm centre to contrast with the busyness of the perennial borders, so we let the grass grow into a meadow.
We decided to surround the meadow with a narrow mown strip, in order to avoid offers to lend us a lawn mower. Now, in mid-August, the tawny seed-heads of the fine grasses glint in the sunlight, speckled with colour from various perennials.
The turf is far too dense for annual wildflower seeds to germinate, but we cut the grass shorter in winter to show off crocuses, daffodils and bluebells. Ox-eye daisies form clumps, mostly at the edge, and lupines have self-seeded in the grass. We have introduced other perennials by planting mature black-eyed susan, yarrow, perennial sunflower and others, trying species which grow aggressively in flower beds. Each plant has a small grass-free patch, and is given some TLC until it has established or disappeared. Apart from that, we do not water the meadow.
The two metre high stems of Stipa gigantea hover fountain-like over the centre, and a young evergreen magnolia defines one end. In the dampest spot, buttercups and clover are remnants of the lawn, but as yet dandelions and hawkweed have not established themselves.
At first we kept the grass between 15 and 30 cm high, but this year decided to leave most of it uncut until the early perennials produced seed. The part made unsightly by storm or animal was cut in July; the rest will be cut for the first time in September. It will be interesting to see how different cutting regimes affect the range of plants. A lower cut in November will leave it looking reasonable for winter.
A successful meadow does not need rich soil, so we rake up all the clippings for compost. Because this is a small area, we can dig out coarse grasses, thin out extra lupines and remove unwanted seed heads by hand, trimming the grass around desirable plants with shears. The rest of the cutting, to about 15 cm, is done with a Weed Eater. We are waiting to see whether blackberries, thistles and morning glory move in. If they do, we can easily return our meadow to a mown lawn, but in the meantime, we are enjoying its soft beauty and keep on experimenting with different flowers, adding sparks of colour at every season.
— Sheila Watkins, Master Gardener