What could be more desirable than stepping onto a flower-spangled lawn, the pleasure made sweeter as your tread releases cool wafts of mint or the woody, Mediterranean scent of thyme?
The ‘flowery mead’ was quintessential to the medieval notion of a garden. Boccaccio set the tone in the mid 14thcentury in his tales of The Decameron, describing ‘ a lawn of very fine grass, so green that it seemed almost black, enamelled all with perhaps a thousand kinds of flowers’. Visual art of the period abounds with long-forgotten ‘enamelled’ lawns – including the enchanting Unicorn Tapestries at The Met Cloisters, New York.
But I have cheerful news: the flowering lawn is back! Even the smallest garden can be transformed, pretty speedily, into a flowery mead of your own. A regular lawn is unexciting to look at, labour intensive and hopeless for wildlife. Time perhaps to tear yours up and replace it with softer, lower maintenance alternative which is better for the planet too.
Dr Lionel Smith has spent years researching the ‘grass free’ tapestry lawn which he explains ‘receives 80 times more pollinator visits than a normal lawn’. His research began ‘ with the premise that if a pristine lawn will end up with daisies and buttercups … why not start the other way round and plant only flowering plants? ‘ His method is tantalising but comparatively labour intensive. You grow trays of suitable flowering plants and then set them out – ‘like carpet tiles’ to form a patchwork ‘lawn’ which will soften and bloom as it grows.
The list of potential plants is of course seductive: maiden pinks – tiny carnations with fringed petals that look as if they have been cut by pinking shears, chamomile ‘Flora Pleno’ – an aromatic, white-flowering evergreen or the Australian violet which has pretty light and dark purple flowers on tiny stems. Some of the plants such as creeping buttercup you may know already as rampaging weeds but you need to turn this thinking on its head and look for exciting varieties such as the dazzling pink dandelion (Taraxacum pseudoroseum) which could become a talking point by itself.
Another approach is to opt for the mini wildflower meadow. Henrietta Murray-Wicks has designed an elegant new garden in Hampstead for clients who wanted a soft English feel but minimal maintenance. The garden consists of a 4.5 x 4m area of meadow from www.wildflowerturf.co.uk with a multi-stem Amelanchier tree for structure, set in a York stone terrace. ‘‘As with many town gardens the view out of the house was very important – my clients love the way the meadow changes constantly’. The turf was only laid this spring but by early June, gorgeous knee-high mounds of crimson clover were spilling over the new brick walls. The maintenance regime will be a cut in early June and another in late summer.
But if you need to sit on your lawn and you want something practically instant Colin Reader has developed a marvellous sounding ‘extra-floristic low flowering lawn turf’ . You prepare the ground, lay the turf, let it grow to four inches and then mow every three weeks for it to flower from spring until autumn. Colin was inspired by lawns of old cottage gardens on the Sussex Downs which are ‘ mown under an inch but they are always flowering … the flowers almost know if they put their heads up too high they will be mown off’. Having sold out of ‘extra-floristic’ his new, ‘slightly tweaked’ batch of turf will be ready by the end of July. I am more than tempted.