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Saturday, 14 April 2012

101 uses for a weedy, scruffy lawn

Every year without fail, a Gardeners' World presenter will suddenly appear with their trusty rake and proceed to tell you all about lawn care. They will miraculously scarify their vast expanse of already near perfect lawn by hand, aerate it, spread fine sand down the holes with a broom then fertilise it. Then comes the reveal: oh look, here's one they prepared earlier.

By this time you are either laughing hysterically, sobbing or both as you know that you could never achieve this without an army of gardeners to do all the hard work for you. The reality is though, that unless you have one of those bowling green replica patches of lawn which will have been weed and moss killed and mown to within an inch of its life (which is pretty unlikely if you are the sort of person to read a blog like this), that your messy, scruffy, full of weeds poor excuse for a 'lawn' is actually a darn site more use to both man and beast than theirs.

There are three uses for their kind of lawn that I can think of, and many more for my kind.

My kind. Looks OK from a distance and when it has rained and stays green....
there's lots of it too. Can you really imagine me scarifying all this?!!

1. Grass is cooling
Unless you are in the middle of a heatwave and your grass has already gone brown, green grass loses moisture thus helps to make you feel cooler. Have you ever sat out or worked in a gravel garden on a hot day? It's a lot easier to do the same kind of work in a garden surrounded by grass.

2. Grass clippings are invaluable
You can use them as mulch - not too thick or you'll get a steaming stinking mess; you can use them as poor man's fertiliser - if you have a mulching option on your lawnmower it'll cut up the grass clippings finer and leave them spread out on the lawn, which as they rot down will add nitrogen to your soil, thus theoretically feeding your grass without any need for hard work. Without a mulcher you can just mow without the collection bucket on as it'll have pretty much the same effect, so long as the grass wasn't too long and isn't left heaped up. 

However for composting this is something that I use loads of, especially around the beginning of spring when I have a lot of shredded woody stuff from all of the previous year's dead stems etc. I need the green stuff to add to it to get the compost going, so that it has the summer heat to help rot it down.  If you have any birds or animals that bed on straw that need mucking out, then grass clippings will be very handy for layering in the compost heaps along with the more woody straw.

Grass clippings and shredded woody stuff to layer in the compost bins

3. A putting or bowling green
That's about where the bowling green lawn's usefulness stops, apart from the looking pretty aspect. Unless of course you want to practice your bowls or golf putting at home. Even if my green is rather rough and undulating, I bet my kind of lawn has something theirs doesn't - I have the ready made holes thanks to my voley friends!

Now have a look at this - granted this is one of the scruffier patches of my 'lawn' - I'm not really sure what to call it, because grass isn't entirely correct, given that it is made up of much more than that, but lawn seems a bit too posh for this, somehow.

If anyone can ID the bluey mauve flowered plant, I would be very happy as I can't!

4. Nesting material for birds
In the photo you'll see dead grass and moss. That's the sort of thing which is referred to as 'thatch' - the stuff that perfect lawn experts would have you scarify out. Recently I've been seeing a number of birds with their beaks full of the sort of dead grass which abounds in the lawn. Moss as you probably know is used a lot to line nests because it's lovely and soft. It's also nice and springy underfoot, it looks green in winter and will mostly die off in the summer anyway (unless you live somewhere really wet), so don't waste money buying moss killer for lawns - it's of benefit to our birds.

5. It's a haven for insects and hiding place for small rodents
In turn, they'll probably still be found by predators, but at least they'll have a vague chance to get away from the cat. Oh OK, not much of one. What I'm trying to say, in a nutshell, is that things that hide in the lawn feed other things higher up the food chain, so the more thatch and hiding places, the more likely your lawn is to have such food. Quite handy too if you have free range chickens or ducks as they'll find more food this way (including eating certain greens) which will save you money on feed!

6. Medicinal weeds
I don't know a lot on this subject so will just mention that dock leaves are useful for rubbing on stings from stinging nettles (though doesn't seem to help me), and plantain leaves are said to help with bee stings and mosquito bites. I haven't tried! 

7. Flowering weeds
Many lawn weeds flower and are of benefit to pollinating insects when they are flowering, and to birds when they form seed heads. I've already touched on some of these (Lesser Hawkbit and Knapweed in particular) in an earlier post called Weeds for wildlife, but there are many more such as Poppies, Verbascum, Clover and Yarrow that all come to life in our lawn in the summer when the grass growth has slowed down. Right now there are patches of Red Dead Nettle (Lamium purpureum) and the tiny blue flowered plant in the photos above and below which I have thus far failed to ID (bees like it), which seems to be equally at home in the open sunny lawn as in the more shady woodland clearings and paths.

Wandering around I've noticed just as much bee and butterfly activity in the woodland as in the open areas. I was lucky enough to actually see an Orange Tip butterfly stop for a few seconds on a flower near to me; now normally these spring butterflies never seem to stop flitting and because of that I've never had a chance to really look closely at one. It took me a while to realise that in the photo, it wasn't a grass seed head pressed up against its hindwing - that is the actual markings on the underside of the hindwings. I've never seen anything so spectacular and unusual!

Orange Tip on a Red Dead Nettle (and the blue flower behind is the one I can't ID)

8. Edible weeds
Aha, now we're getting down to the nitty gritty! But this shall have to be another post as this one is quite long enough already.

N.B. I do realise that 8 uses is not quite 101, but if I listed every useful plant I'd get a bit closer. Actually it's just a bit of a joke due to a section called "101 uses for ........" on the Selfsufficientish forum where we've had a bit of a laugh over the years listing the many uses for, and ways of dealing with, certain items or things, from getting rid of slugs to uses for excess eggs. In amongst the jokey posts is a wealth of good knowledge and advice!

Update: the mystery blue flowered plant is Glechoma hederacea commonly known as Ground Ivy. It has culinary and medicinal uses. 


  1. Wow, I do feel so much better about my lawn now!

  2. my lawn is like that - and I'm fine with it :)

  3. I didn't think I'd be the only one, lol ;-)

  4. A bit hard to see in that photo but if it was a NZ paddock and the tiny blue flower had self seeded then it would probably be Penny Royal but if it was intentionally seeded then it would probably be Chicory.


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  6. You tell me this 48 hours AFTER I buy a sprayer and gallons of chemicals to fix my weedy pock-marked excuse for a lawn!!! Well thanks very much.

    Brilliant page all the same though :)


  7. I have found out what the unknown plant is. It's Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea) and has culinary and medicinal uses. I shall be having a nibble later!

    I think it is more rampant and obvious this year as we had so little rain until just recently that none of the grass where it is growing had really started to grow properly, giving it more of a chance. It's very pretty growing through great swathes of lawn at the moment.

    And Carl - shame on you!!

  8. What's wrong with a little DDT this time of year?

    1. I hate to break it to you, but if you still want some grass in your lawn...... ;-)

  9. Brilliant..we have many many holes in our lawn, homes for voles mice and frogs, these give our two cats many hours of fun..waiting to try (try being the word) to catch the inhabitant of the chosen hole. Thanks MMM..

    1. Many holes here too! Thanks for commenting Dianamary :-)