The Rewilding Experiment

About three years ago, I sowed a perennial meadow flower mix in the furthest end of our garden, where we have four small apple trees.

We have lots of oxeye daisies, stitchwort, corncockles, and, most importantly, yellow rattle.

Yellow rattle is important in a perennial meadow because it weakens the grass, and prevents grass from dominating.

I sowed yellow rattle seed separately, in the autumn, because it needs a period of cold over the winter in order to germinate. To sow the seed, I dug up patches of grass and roughed up the soil a little bit. In the first year, I don’t remember seeing any yellow rattle, and I thought my experiment had failed. But the second year, there were a handful of plants. Now I have a really healthy colony, which seems to be spreading.

The yellow rattle is below the oxeye daisy in the picture below. A colloquial name for yellow rattle is ‘yellow bollocks’, because of the shape of the seed pods. These will form from green parts below the flower. They will dry out and rattle, hence the name ‘yellow rattle’.

We are taking an even easier approach with the rest of the garden. Sowing perennial meadow flower seed is labour-intensive and expensive. The easier and cheaper option is simply to allow your lawn to grow out.

Like a lockdown haircut, it has gradually got shaggier, looser, freer. It started to move more, and look relaxed. It sways in the breeze. It attracts all sorts of wildlife: bugs, beetles and butterflies, and with such a rich food source, birds, small mammals, frogs, lizards and sloworms.

We already have patches of comfrey and borage which must have been lying in wait in the soil. I have grown these plants before, and they must have set seed. The bees love them.

Stevie has mown paths through the lawn, and this creates some really interesting shapes in the garden. The patches of long grass are like exciting islands, or hillsides.

We are so enjoying the different vistas. Our garden feels more exciting and alive. The dogs definitely agree, peering around corners and listening to the new noises. Sometimes Ziggy bounds and leaps over the grass. We love that. We might join him.

With this new approach, I am being more casual about weeds, and that feels quite liberating.

We have allowed self seeders, like aubretia and forget-me-nots, to colonise our gravel, for a dry, Mediterranean kind of look:

Rewilding is important for the diversity of plant and animal species. These little ecosystems provide a wildlife haven, but are also mini carbon sinks to protect the planet from further warming.

Every little helps. We started off with a tiny patch, less than five percent of our garden. Now the wild bits probably take up more than fifty percent of the space. There are fruit trees in and amongst the long grass. We still have organised flowerbeds, vegetable patches, a fruit cage and herb patch. It feels like we get the best of both worlds.

If you are looking to ‘up’ the delight in your outdoor space, I would highly recommend rewilding.

Do you feel ready to let loose the reins?

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28 Comments Add yours

  1. swesely says:

    I did something similar – about 1/4 of my front lawn has been left to do its own thing. I did seed some rattle and a package of wildflowers, but they aren’t evident this year. I love how the tall grass moves in the wind, and am thinking of expanding…

    1. I wonder if you too will find the yellow rattle in its second year?

  2. Anonymous says:

    So enjoyed reading your blog and very interesting seeing your meadow come togeather.

    1. Thank you so much; I’m glad you enjoyed this.

  3. Laura Ient says:

    I love your relaxed approach. I have pretty much done the same in my garden, with a seed mix for clay, on to cleared land upon which I imported 4 inches of sand. It has taken a lot of management. I too have islands of long grass, and the flowers that have arrived there are more attractive than my meadow mix! I also created an area of meadow with spring bubs, fritillaries, quamash it is now full of bluebells and wood anemones too. Thank you for sharing your story! Laura

    On Sat, Jun 12, 2021, 6:02 AM The Mindful Gardener wrote:

    > Ali, The Mindful Gardener posted: ” About three years ago, I sowed a > perennial meadow flower mix in the furthest end of our garden, where we > have four small apple trees. We have lots of oxeye daisies, stitchwort, > corncockles, and, most importantly, yellow rattle. ” >

    1. You make a really good point about the flowers that arrive by accident. They are showing us what thrives here, and more often than not, what has naturalised in the area. Wow – love the sound of your bluebells and wood anemones. It sounds beautiful. I will be planting bulbs like the native daffodil, some species tulips, and some crocuses in the autumn. It’s making me excited to think about this!

  4. Emma Cownie says:

    I have read about yellow rattle somewhere before. This looks great. I like the idea of having some cut grass and longer meadowy stuff. Do you intend cutting the meadow at least once a year?

    1. Yes! I forgot to say about that. Yes, in late summer, early autumn, once the seeds have set. We need to read up on what we do with the cut hay – watch this space!

  5. Am doing this myself this year. I’ve set a section aside which is seeded with wild meadow flowers and another area where I’m letting the lawn grow. It’s so important for nature and ecosystems plus it looks beautiful too!

    1. It’s so lovely to hear how many people are doing the same thing. It feels so positive that there is a bit of a movement towards rewilding going on. We’re in this together!

  6. bcparkison says:

    it just makes since. Less mowing and more wildlife.

    1. Absolutely! I forgot to mention that bit! It used to take Stevie a long time to cut all that grass!

  7. I have unintentionally rewilded our garden this year. I wonder whether it is something about the pandemic which has made us feel like letting go…

    1. Yes, that’s really interesting! Also we have appreciated nature and natural environments so much, haven’t we? I’m definitely feeling more relaxed about weeds.

  8. Kellie says:

    I enjoyed this post and it looks so pretty thanks for sharing 👍❤️

    1. It’s my pleasure, Kellie, I’m so glad you enjoyed it.

  9. Eliza Waters says:

    Good changes, Ali! I converted most of my lawn in 2006 and have been thrilled with the diversity I now enjoy in the yard… it keeps getting better and better!

    1. That’s so good to hear, Eliza. Where you lead, I follow!

  10. Jo Shafer says:

    Some tall graceful grasses have sprung up in a small area of my perennial garden. Last year, I pulled them out by the roots from quite moist soil, but they’ve returned for a second year. Really, they really ought to come out, but I do so enjoy their gentle swaying in a summer breeze. Perhaps I should pull out the underplantings instead?

    1. It is the swaying isn’t it, Jo? We are loving just sitting and watching it dance.

  11. I love this—and so agree with your new approach! Bravo!

    1. Ah, thank you! I’m really heartened by all the people doing the same thing.

  12. bittster says:

    It looks beautiful and glad to hear exciting things are filling in! Amazing how much activity can happen in a patch of unmown lawn 🙂

    1. It really is! It has amazed me how diverse the plant and insect life is already.

  13. croftgarden says:

    A more relaxed and nature friendly approach to gardening brings bountiful rewards. Not only will existing plants self-seed, but seeds will arrive with garden wildlife, on the wind and as gifts from unknown sources. You will also discover that your garden has its own seed bank, just waiting for a chance to germinate.

  14. Cathy says:

    Really interesting to read this, Ali. Hope all is well with you and your family

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