I was so inspired by Linda King’s guest post, Gardening With Nature, that I decided to transform my backyard lawn into a meadow, as well.
Living in California, the first, most obvious reason for shifting a lawn to anything else is water conservation, but there are several other reasons to let nature take its course. Within reason.
For many years I thought California was called the Golden State because of the gold mining. It ends up that the name refers to the hillsides turning a golden brown as everything dies in the scorching heat. My lawn was no exception. My normal summer landscape is green where I water it and brown where I don’t. Until July. By that time, most of the lawn is brown no matter what we do.
We made every attempt to make our lawn look like a golf course. In California, that’s pretty unreasonable when you consider how much water a lawn takes. No matter what we did, the scorching summer sun would burn our green grass to a crisp. We watered. We edged and weed-whacked. We mowed. We aerated. We altered the pH and added missing soil amendments after a lab-based soil test told me my soil had no iron and too much of everything else. For 2–4 weeks of the rainy season, we have a beautiful lawn. That’s in February. The rest of the year has been a struggle. After reading Linda’s post, I decided what the heck. We stopped mowing. We stopped edging. We pretty much left it alone. What happened surprised us. Before I tell you what happened, let’s find out more about meadows.
What is a meadow?
Meadows are open habitats that feature grasses, herbs, and other non-woody plants. There can be occasional trees or shrubs, but the main idea is an open field. Traditionally meadows were used to grow hay for livestock. The word meadow comes to us from the Old English mǣd, which came from the Germanic word for mow.
Returning to our open field concept, meadows feature a variety of plants. This means there can be all sorts of flowers, seeds, and vegetation occurring at the same time, changing with the seasons. This makes food and habitat available to many amphibians, birds, insects, and reptiles that see lawns as desolate, unforgiving landscapes.
Types of meadows
I never gave it much thought before. It ends up that there are different kinds of meadows. They can be agricultural, transitional, perpetual, or urban. Agricultural meadows are those we mentioned earlier that are allowed to grow on their own to produce hay for livestock. Agricultural meadows are similar to pastures except that pastures are grazed during the summer and meadows are not.
Transitional meadows are more of the wild and woolly type. They are not mowed or grazed. They are just left to flower and go to seed. Transitional meadows generally do not last long.
Perpetual meadows occur naturally in a variety of environments. Alpine, coastal, desert, prairie, and wetlands are the primary types but there are others. Perpetual meadows reach a point of balance, an equilibrium that we can rarely replicate. Which leads us to urban meadows.
Urban meadows are the ones we create. Urban meadows are gaining in popularity as we learn more about the importance of biodiversity and least harm to the environment. As honey bee and monarch butterfly populations decline, many other creatures are at risk due to habitat loss. Urban meadows allow pockets of natural habitat to co-exist along with our driveways, air-conditioners, and patio furniture.
I live across the street from a park. This means seeds (and trash) are blowing in all the time. I used to see those seeds as weed sources. Now I recognize that they are the plants that grow in my yard without any help. In less than two weeks, seed heads have started appearing in what used to be my lawn. Goldfinches, Black Phoebes, California Towhees, and other birds I have yet to identify are now visiting my yard regularly. There are more butterflies, lacewings, and hoverflies, too.
Hiding under a self-watering container now lives a tiny lizard I affectionately refer to as Little Buddy. Little Buddy is the offspring of an alligator lizard that lives near one of my raised beds. I hope they stay.
The grass that was struggling is now 4” tall and still green. It’s even putting out seeds of its own. There are still brown patches but I expect they will be filled with herbaceous plants without any effort on my part at all. That doesn’t mean I’m completely off the hook by having a meadow. Urban meadows may not require watering, fertilizing, mowing, or edging, but you do need to be vigilant about invasive plants, unwanted weeds, such as foxtails, and disease.
Instead of a manicured (temporary) lawn, I now have a softer, richer environment that features more variety and takes less work. I’ll probably toss out some native flower seeds just to see what happens. Instead of working my lawn, I can now sit back and enjoy watching my meadow.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!
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