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Cornucopia - Flowery lawns

Flowery lawns
Alison Mallett

It’s funny how plants called Grasses are very fashionable in garden scenes; whereas, once more, the trend turns against grass lawns. There’s nothing new about that. An elderly gardener may read recent articles with scorn (‘tis old hat!) but then remember that, as with clothes, keep ‘em long enough and they’ll return in fashion, maybe with minor adjustments.

Fifty years ago there were two main reasons for ‘resting’ ones lawn mower: one, economy: time and petrol cost money; two, the artist’s eye. I’m sure that explains why Leeds City Council took the initiative in changing its mowing patterns. We’ll always admire green velvet expanses in other people’s gardens, cricket pitches and golf courses, and an uninterrupted greensward leading to a view say, of Dartmoor, is a marvel. But don’t we love the flowery mixes of mediaeval tapestries? Or look closely at Botticelli’s Primavera, where the ground is bright with flowers, each with its special significance. Lovely!

For tough, child battered lawns you just can’t beat grass. Except perhaps, clover. In the drought of 1976 our ‘lawn’ stayed green whilst others turned ugly brown. When I wrote in the RHS Journal some 40-50 years ago about grass lawn alternatives I included chamomile and moss. Neither is suitable for hard wear. (Stepping stones must be kept to!) My present flowering lawns are for places which get more frequently looked at than trodden. I tried to keep my criterion a height of about ten inches as distinguishing from flowering meadows.

First, a fairly shady area (where lawn grass wouldn’t thrive anyway). In January the Winter Aconites suddenly shine out. (Thriving, incidentally, ‘where a Roman lies buried‘: I occasionally feed them with bonemeal.) Then come the snowdrops, glimmering in the dusk. Soon Germander speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys) will open its bright blue eyes. (I’ve seen another lawn consisting of that other speedwell, Veronica filiformis: glorious, but terribly invasive.) Then come primroses (how they love Devon), Dog Violets, and bluebells. By July things quieten, and it’s time to go over with a high-set mow or strim; but then come the autumn crocuses and a few accidental cyclamen. Dare I try autumn flowering snowdrops in patches of dappled sunlight? Such areas mustn’t look too fussy. Some gardeners like a gay mixture of, say, crocuses. That reminds one of litterlout-scattered toffee papers!

A dryish, stony lawn, when the children stopped using it for cricket, is now, in February, a mist of soft lilac. Crocus tommasinianus: bless it for its invasiveness! The ‘tommies’ love it. Unfortunately, Wild Life loves them. (Pheasants? Grey squirrels?) A third area, under an old purple beech, is carpeted with that best of cover for arid shade, Cyclamen hederifolium. And fourth, the grass paths in our vegetable garden are now a mass of daisies.

Damp places can be a challenge. Here, Spring Snowflakes make a charming start. These are planted among Milkmaid, a dear little wild flower about ten inches tall, with pink, white, mauve flowers, single but even better, occasionally double. On a damp, mossy pond edge we planted Narcissus cyclamineus, which multiplied. I’ve tried to imitate Edna and Mike Squires’ snakeshead fritillary ‘lawnlet’, by scattering seed. Hopefully patience will pay. Yet another Speedwell, Veronica beccabunga, makes pleasant flat cover in the really damp places. Orchids will thrive for you if they wish. Camassias do well in moderately moist places – but there, I’m getting on to meadow planting, which is different. Perhaps if you’ve been kind enough to read this, you may have some suggestions?

First published in the Devon Group Newsletter, April / May 2012
and subsequently in Cornucopia Issue 31.
© Copyright for this article: Alison Mallett

This article was taken from a copy of Cornucopia that was published in 2013. You could be reading these articles as they are published to a national audience, by subscribing to Cornucopia.


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