Home Gardening Lawn to Meadow: Gardening on the Wild Side

Lawn to Meadow: Gardening on the Wild Side

Lawn to Meadow: Gardening on the Wild Side

Lawn to Meadow: A Lovely TransitionLeft to their own devices, scattered foxglove seeds will stage a powerfully pink floor show and reseed for years to come.

While my gardens have never been manicured, I did find myself instituting design ideas and practices based on urban and suburban experiences, conformity and aesthetics. (When in the city do as your neighbors do.) When I moved to the country, I relocated some now-evident and  misguided gardening protocols, and acted as if I was still cultivating a small city yard, when in fact I had about one acre of ornamental garden space around the house.

New leaf: Turk’s cap lilies in the foreground, poppies, meadow grass and weeds throughout, and I like it that way.

Eight years later this aching gardener has figured it out. I don’t need to mow two acres. I don’t have to plant 50-foot perennial borders or elaborate displays of annual flowers. In fact, as seen in the photo below, I can mow the ‘sideburns’ of the drive and let the sidling wild things grow freely.country road I came to the conclusion that a dandelion is no less impressive than a poppy and that grass and seed heads are the new must-have for rural gardens everywhere. Got a dead tree, twisted, gnarly and falling apart? Well that my friends is natural art at its best, though I suggest no picnics under its feeble branches.

I’ve cinched in the lawn to include about a hundred-foot perimeter around the house, enough space to support impromptu croquet, proper lawn lounging, dog play (when and if the spirit should move Boz and Gracie off the porch) and horse play (when and if the spirit should move me off of the hammock).

Now that I’ve accepted the idea that wild wins the gardening battle (unless you have staff), I have a new plan to passively (in relative terms)  encourage the fields outside the lawn perimeter to do their own thing.  Here’s how it’s going down, starting now:

  • July-August: let it grow, let it grow, let it grow
  • September – October: mow down the dried vegetation, leave it in place, plant spring-blooming naturalizing bulbs
  • November – January:  let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
  • February – March: Rough up some areas to expose soil, scatter wild flower seeds
  • April onward: enjoy rampant growth and seasonal reinvention
  • Mow needed paths through meadows or mow edges to neaten up the look

I believe the key to success will be mowing down the field in the fall and adding wildflower seeds and bulbs annually to establish some floral dominance among the grass and more invasive weeds.

First year: I planted some Regale Album and Turk’s Cap lily bulbs as well as tossed in some red clover, Shirley poppies, calendula, bachelor buttons, columbine, lupine and forget me knots seeds. I added some daylilies and called it a day. By choosing herbaceous (non-woody) grasses and flowering perennial and annual plants, I can simply put them to bed by mowing them down in the fall.  A final mowing creates mulch and scatters seeds. This grand plan may not work, but I’m willing to give it a try, as it’s based on what I don’t do, rather than what I do. (Less is more is my new gardening philosophy.)


  1. This sounds so wonderful! It sound like it’s going to work great and I look forward to progressive pictures as the flowers take over. 🙂

  2. I think it’s a grand idea…and so fitting to your setting. Your house sits so comfortably among the natural vegetation. I’ve also come to love the wild growth of the countryside again, over the past few years. I can’t drive anywhere without admiring the shimmery, waving seed heads of the grasses or the bright spots of the ephemeral wildflowers.

  3. Sounds like a wonderful idea. We’ve been mowing less and less each year–and have been rewarded with more and more butterflies, bees, and more. We’re loving the “wild” look.

  4. I love the idea of a ‘wild’ garden :-). A small town about an hour from here has wildflowers planted on the roadsides leading into and out of town – gorgeous. I’m sure yours will be a roaring success XO

  5. Thanks for this, Tom…I find it very reinforcing of the trend I’ve been observing in my own gardening. I live in a “thickly settled,” manicured Eastern suburb and have felt obliged to maintain a trimmed up, weeded garden in order to keep the neighborhood looking good. But some of the spring weeds are so sweet that I can’t bear to pull them up. Each season has it’s own surprises and I love seeing how the garden morphs from one year to the next. Reading your blog entry has inspired me to take it one step further and scatter seeds as well to see what happens…

  6. We have one acre and manage things much as you do. The north side of our acre is wooded and we leave that be entirely. The south side is cultivated with garden beds. The middle zone around the house is a heavily mulched, edible landscape with mixed plantings. We really only mow where we need to walk in between. If I tried to keep the entire space nicely trimmed and manicured, I would have time for nothing else and I prefer to focus on my edible plantings.

  7. Yes! Great inspiration! I just have a little city backyard, not acres to worry about, but after two years of de-weeding and cleaning up, I’m relenting and switching a few areas over to wild herb type things– borage, calendula, and sunflowers are what seem to be self seeding now. I’m looking forward to a few areas in the garden that I don’t have to worry about weeding, and instead encouraging “weeds”!

  8. What a lovely garden, home, lifestyle and blog! I was looking for tips on ripening peaches, read you 2008 entry and began to discover your fabulous life on Vashon Island. Love ferries, love the Olympics, love pretty pictures: thanks for the tales and tips! I’ll let you know how the peaches turn out.

  9. Lovely garden, Tom! I really like the idea of scattering flower seeds and let them bloom where they will. This summer is the first year of our expanded flower bed on the side of our house that faces the street. I planted some blueberries and raspberries and artichokes and scattered two bags of wild flower seeds around them – and the other perennials that were already there. The display turned out better than I thought! People walking by comment on how nice it looks and my friend across the street thanks me for giving her such a nice garden to look at from her front porch. And really, I didn’t plan the whole thing at all – it just happened!

  10. Great idea! You’ll actually have time to use your hammock! I don’t recommend this approach for everyone though because all of this idle time could lead to subversive endeavors like relaxing, reading books, (you know, those things with paper pages that don’t require a power source) lavender harvesting, cherry pickling, and talking to other people. Before you know it we’d all start THINKING; who knows where that would lead? 🙂

  11. Amen. I only wished I had more space to be able to do something like this. All you need are chickens to get rid of any possible pest problems from the overgrowth. 😀

  12. I think it looks fabulous and it’s another idea I’ll be copying although I’m not sure how to tell our neighbors from hell that we’re going au natural . By the way, I love Donna’s idea re the chickens! Hint, hint!

  13. We came to the same conclusion about lawn and how big it should be. We save lot on gas for the mower, too. The only thing we haven’t tried is your great idea of incorporating wild flowers into the mix which we will try now. Looks very nice!

  14. I loved reading through this blogspot.
    But am disappointed to see the date of comments is 2012 and there is not follow up photos and commentary. .. 🙁
    I do hope that you are well and that no untoward mischief has come between you and your dream garden.
    I am in Australia and have a mind much like your own however a husband who is pursuing a golf course manicure…I compromise. 😉
    We have the 3.8 acres in the market for what ifs… please let me know of you’d like address to check it out…
    I love it so much!
    Doubt we’d sell even if am offer came.
    Again hope all is well.


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