Uncut, dew covered grass and cobweb

Planning a lawn or woodland garden

Before you create a new lawn, plan how you want it to look and think about how you can share it with wildlife.

Wildlife in mind

Before you create a new lawn, plan how you want it to look but also think about how you can share it with wildlife.

Lawns like plenty of light and an open aspect is often best, but you can grow grass almost anywhere - even in a container on a terrace. Small gardens may only be able to accommodate short grass, but you can plan a full range of grass structures in medium and large gardens.

You might like a more formal lawn, maintained as short grass, in your front garden if you have one, and introduce a more wildlife friendly one in the back.

If you have moved into a house with what appears to be a derelict lawn, decide if you want to start from scratch or renovate it - it could contain some amazing wildlife already, such as wild orchids.

It’s always best to avoid straight edges if possible. Curved or wavy edges increase the 'edge to area' ratio, allowing you to plant a bigger variety of plants between the lawn and border. This in turn, increases opportunities for insects and provides birds with a source of insect food, seeds and fruits. 

Another idea would be to create a gentle slope in your lawn, away from your house. This will help give the lawn depth and take any surface water away.

Cut down mowing your lawn

Turf or seed?

Decide if you want to lay turf or sow seed for your lawn and calculate how much you need. Turf is usually sold by the square metre and seed estimated at 70g/square metre (2oz/square yard).

Turf provides ‘instant lawn’, but is the more expensive option. If you need your lawn to be hard wearing and for amenity use, the cheapest turf with rye grass will be sufficient. For a more formal lawn, ask for a turf grown with fine grasses. Although this is more expensive, fine grasses require less mowing and, unlike rye grass, do not grow as tall and become susceptible to ‘falling over’ or 'bolting'. They are also better suited for enhancing with meadow flowers.

If seeding, a hardwearing mix with rye grass is suitable for lawns likely to get heavy use. Fine grasses are suited for lighter use. Once again, there is a difference in cost.

Dew drops on grass leaf, King Edward Point, South Georgia, South Atlantic

Incorporating meadow flowers

You can incorporate spring or summer meadow flowers in the whole lawn or just part of it. Summer meadows are cut in September; spring meadow flowers bloom early in the year and the grass is cut in early summer.

Designating a proportion of your lawn to meadow means you can seed the lawn with a fine grass mix and will only require a small amount of wildflower seed. Approximately 20grms/square metre (0.5oz/square yard) of wildflower mix should be sufficient, but varies depending on soil type. Check with your supplier when ordering.

Make sure the flower seeds you buy are suitable for the soil type and that the species composition is compatible with what grows naturally in your area. Ensure seeds are of local provenance.

Wild flower meadows make great habitats

Wild flower meadows are extraordinarily beautiful and teeming with wildlife: spiders spinning webs, caterpillars munching leaves, butterflies and moths supping nectar, all sorts of bees gathering pollen, birds foraging for insects and seeds and small mammals searching for food.

Nowadays wild flower meadows are extremely rare – we have lost 95 per cent in the last 50 years. Planting one in your garden will really help local wildlife.

Create a woodland garden area

Much of Britain used to be covered by woodland and thousands of species are adapted to live in this habitat. However, few native woods survive today and the area of this habitat is decreasing.

Natural woods have a distinct layered structure:

  • the canopy with taller trees such as beech and lime
  • small trees and shrubs, for instance hazel and holly 
  • herbs, such as bluebells and violets
  • the ground with mosses and fungi.       

Light reaches the woodland floor in winter and spring, allowing many plants to flourish. In autumn the fallen leaves rot to form a rich humus layer.

Make the most of your garden

  • In very small gardens plant ferns and foxgloves in a shady spot.
  • Remove a few shrubs that are close together, improve the soil beneath and plant shade-loving plants.
  • Plant some snowdrops or winter aconites beneath an existing tree.
  • If planting a new woodland area choose native trees (of a suitable size) – they support more wildlife eg oak and silver birch.
  • Create shrubby borders around the lawn to simulate a woodland clearing – you may attract badgers and foxes.   

Woodlands are Britain's richest and most diverse habitats. Much woodland wildlife is adapted to the 'edge' or 'glade', so a small woodland in your garden could benefit hundreds of species.