Julia Waterlow discovers that doing less in the garden can reap greater rewards for everyone.

For some years now I have been leaving a large part of my small lawn un-mown.  The result has been a really lovely patch of long grasses and wildflowers that appear without me having to do anything.  Sitting and watching this patch I see crickets, moths, butterflies and all sorts of bugs, winged and otherwise.  Year after year stripy cinnabar moth caterpillars munch their way through the ragwort I have been deliberately not been pulling up, and slowworms hide under the old slate I leave in a corner.  I am hoping that orchids may yet appear, given a few more years, since my lawn was once part of the downs.

Link to Julia's garden featureIt’s just so easy but it does require a change in the way we see things.   For me obsessively tidy gardens are, as they are for every other living species, a desolate and hostile space stripped of its natural life.  Of course there’s a balance: many people like to have a tidy show area in their garden but there’s usually room for wild areas as well.  I still have a mown path and borders around my long grass.

Most older lawns will revert and wildflowers will appear as long as they haven’t been sprayed constantly by weedkiller.  Usually there is no need to buy packets of wildflower seeds and dig up the lawn for a ‘wildflower meadow’.  These planted wildflowers are mostly annuals that look great for a summer and then die away.  We live in a world of garden makeovers and people look for instant transformations, even buying wildflower plug plants (I have done this for a green roof that needed populating).  But leaving the grass alone for a year results in a surprisingly quick response and the things that grow there are more likely to thrive and be suited to your soil.  Let your lawn do its own thing, it’s a lot easier.

As to the rest of the garden, I am trying less to make it mould to my will and bending more to nature’s will.  However, I do get drawn in by the displays at garden centres and buy plants that either are really not happy in my garden or I end up buying expensive native perennials in an effort to make the garden more natural and friendly to wildlife.  In the former case it’s an effort trying to help them survive and in both cases it can be a waste of money because the same effect can also often be achieved by waiting a year or two for the garden to do its own thing.

Practically it suits me not having to do so much mowing because I am a bit lazy.  I only have to cut the grass once a year in the late autumn.  I would take out any brambles or nettles that appear in the uncut grass though none have so far.  I don’t see the need for any chemicals.  The same applies elsewhere in the garden: cut hedges less (and always outside nesting time) and if planting a new one choose one that attracts wildlife (not laurel!).

I am writing about this because I have just discovered that there is a movement to encourage this ‘rewilding’ of your lawn, supported by Chris Packham.  Although I don’t watch it I am told that Monty Don on Gardeners’ World has also been ranting about leaving parts of your garden to nature.  Apparently the number of front gardens totally paved over has tripled from 1.5m to 4.59m between 2005 and 2015, according to the Royal Horticultural Society. A London survey found that the capital is losing about 300 hectares of greenery a year from its domestic gardens. Between the years 1998 and 2006 gardens lost the equivalent of two-and-a-half Hyde Parks of greenery – about 3,000 hectares (7,410 acres). Given the urgent need to support diversity and encourage greenery for carbon capture, it’s time to get over our urge for neatness and control in the garden – and leave nature to do its thing.

Rewilding lawns – https://bluecampaignhub.com

Monty Don – https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0006nz2


  1. Lynda Durrant

    I couldn’t agree more Julia! I’ve been enjoying the stripy cinnabar moth caterpillars too – in their stripy bonfire boy colours. The hunter gatherer instinct has me foraging for berries and fruits in the bushes, emerging covered in small seeds and spiderlings! Much easier than keeping a raised bed tidy by removing ‘weeds’ which are only wildflowers after all.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *