Pop-up meadows


We've all grown up believing that the one thing you must do with a lawn, big or small, is mow it. Repeatedly. All summer long. To not do so, well! It’s just not the 'done thing'. But the sad thing about that is if there are any flowers living in the lawn, you’d never know because they get their heads lopped off every time they try to reach for the sky.

If a lawn is allowed to do what it wants to and grow, it can support much more wildlife. It goes from being a flat, two-dimensional world into a mini jungle of waving stems where lawn flowers can bloom. Suddenly, insects such as bees, butterflies and grasshoppers can find a home when they’d never settle into a closely-mown lawn.

What’s more, a pop-up meadow does its little bit to replace something valuable we’ve lost. The natural equivalent to an uncut lawn is a haymeadow, and these used to be everywhere, chock full of wildlife, but a whopping 97% of them have been destroyed in the last century.

Of course, not mowing your lawn also saves you time and energy, and we all lead busy lives so that might sound a fine proposition!

But can letting a lawn grow be done in a way that is attractive? Well, I believe it can, and here is my tried and tested guide to creating your own pop-up meadow. If everyone had a pop-up meadow, what a difference it would make for nature. Let’s make it the 'done thing' in the 21st century!


How to do it

  • When to do it?
    The easiest way to create a pop-up meadow is to just stop mowing it for a number of weeks, and you can do this anytime from spring through to late summer.

  • How to make it look attractive?
    The easiest way is to mow neat edges around the outside, or pathways through the middle. You could mow straight lines for a formal look, or wavy ones for something less regimented. I find that kids love running along the pathways.021_meadow.jpg

  • How long to leave it for?
    It is very much your choice and depends rather on the conditions in your garden. If your lawn is on a rich, fertilised soil, the grass might grow so lush in four weeks that it then begins to flop. In that case, I recommend that you cut before it falls over! Remove all the clippings onto the compost or into a green bin, and that will gradually reduce the fertility and mean you can leave your pop-up meadow for longer next year. However, on poor or sandy soils, or in dry weather, you might be able to leave the lawn for two or three months, no problem.

  • What wildlife to look for?
    If you've 'popped up' your meadow in July and August, it is the prime time for meadow butterflies which lay their eggs in long grass, such as the meadow brown. It may not be the most colourful of butterflies, but it epitomises healthy grasslands. With luck, other butterflies may visit as well, including gems like the marbled white and common blue. If you repeat your meadow year after year, there is a very good chance that grasshoppers will colonise, frogs and toads may come to hunt at night, and hedgehogs might come for a good rootle about.IMG_2048_blue_butterfly.jpg

  • How to mow it?
    When you come to mow your pop-up meadow, start by checking whether there are frogs or bees or other vulnerable wildlife currently in it. If so, shoo them out to safety! If the grass is really long, you may need to remove the tops with garden shears to start with. Then put the mower onto its highest setting and run over it slowly. The cut area of your meadow is likely to look rather yellow to start with, because all the greenery will have been up top, but don’t worry, it will soon green up again.

  • Wildflower meadows vs poppyfield annuals
    There is some confusion about the difference between wildflower meadows and the beds of colourful mixed annuals such as poppies. The former contains grasses as well as long-lived wildflowers that come up each year and is managed by mowing; it creates a subtle tapestry rather than a paintbox explosion. The latter is much more colourful, but is created by digging the soil each year and sowing fresh seed.coreopsis cornfield.jpg

Don't have a lawn?

I’m very mindful that some people do not have a lawn, especially if you have a very small garden or a balcony. It is difficult to create a pop-up meadow on a tiny scale, in which case our annual wildflowers in a pot activity is a great alternative.