Urban Re-wilding: Can Lawns and Wildflowers Get Along?

“Wildflowers grow where they will.” ~ Rachel Lambert Mellon

Pocket Prairie — In The Beginning

Well before spring arrives, before the blades of grass have awoken from winter dormancy, the din of mowers and weed whippers break the months-long silence in my neighborhood. Trucks with synthetic N-P-K sprays patrol the hood, promising the greenest, lushest turf through the summer.

There are few things I’d love more than not having to manage a single ‘nuther thing. Teens that can feed and take care of themselves? Now that’s something. But for an acre-and-a-half of turf grass, I know too well that fertilizers mean regular watering, algae blooms in the creek, regular mowing, which means gasoline and time management. Sheesh.

It’s time to go rogue, get a little wild.

Creekside – Mulched Path
St. Augustine and Wildflowers

Sure, I like the front of my house to look spiffy too. But St. Augustine lawns in managed neighborhood tracts are meant for only one species:  the people who live there. Those with appetites for nectar and pollen — you know, the little guys that make the world go ’round — fly right on by. Turf grasses are barren for our nation’s pollinators.

Insects are in trouble. As the Texas coastal prairie where we live is replaced more and more by urban sprawl, many species are disappearing altogether, unable to reproduce. Where our house was built were oak forests, wetlands, and fields of tall grasses with carpets of perennial and annual wildflowers for miles around. Now, it’s rooftop upon blacktop upon parking lot, with a few hay/grazing fields, churches, strip centers, and apartment buildings plugged in between good measure.

There’s not much I can do about the sprawl, but I can make a difference where I live and work: at home.

Mowing is work. It’s easier to wait for signs of wildflower bodies so I can carefully mow around them when the time comes; where wildflowers are, I mow less. This crazy game played between lazy me and Mr. Meticulous next door is comical. The more he labors, the more I won’t.

Nature has so got this!

Anenome and Wood Sorrel

Windflower (White) and
Wood Sorrel (Pink)

Bristly Buttercup

Fleabane (White) and
Pea Vetch (Purple)

Groundsel

Texas Butterweed

It’s behind the fence, away from the prying eyes of the HOA, that my neighbors have already been habituating to my wacky ways the last couple of years. Kicking it into high gear, this minimally managed 7,500 square foot space is about to grow up and become a full fledged, year ’round pocket prairie.

The process begins with killing what remains of the turf. A thick plastic film will solarize plants, killing them in the hot months to clear the way for replacements come autumn. At its focal area will be planted a mulberry tree — for the birds, of course! — and a sitting area for viewing and enjoying. Natural mulch paths will feed mycorrhizal fungi and beckon us from the edges into the center where we can enjoy a flower and insect mecca.

Tall coastal prairie grasses will be nestled among host plants specifically chosen to feed babies of a variety of local moths and butterflies. Flowers of all kinds with their nectar and pollen will serve both functional (for insects) and aesthetic (for me).

Aside from the initial managing of invasives and grasses that want to re-establish, this prairie will take care of itself season to season with very minimal work to keep it thriving in the coming years.

It might be a mow-free paradise for me, but it’ll be a welcomed desert oasis for all my insect friends.

A beautiful backyard mess!
Evening Primrose (Pink),
Bush Pea (Yellow) and Clover (White)

Out of the Compost Cage
What is this pretty yellow flower?

Edging Mulched Beds
Wild Pansy

Honey Daisy

Last one to pop up .. my collection is complete!
Herbertia Lahue

Shifting Paradigms, Sharing Habitat

It’s in us to adapt to changing times. With habitat loss being the No. 1 cause of species loss, do we really need to keep taking so much for ourselves? Can we simply understand how connected we are to so many other species, say, the ones who make our food happen? Thinking of others in that way may still seem selfish, but at least it’s a start.

Let’s think for ourselves again. Don’t just believe what the lawn company tells you or what the can of insect spray says.

The safety of our food sources, the health of living soil that grows our food, the purified water we need to live, the protection of our own body biomes from harmful and toxic chemicals are all important things, we all agree.

But must we micro-manage and claim everything?

Forest Tent Moth Caterpillar

Forest Tent Caterpillar
These guys are everywhere…literally raining from above.
It’s cyclical; they’ll be gone before you know it.

Buckeye

Buckeye

Fleabane (Pink)

American Lady

American Lady

Front Yard Clover Patch
Free nitrogen-fixing fertilzer and bee food.

It is possible for neighborhood lawns and wildflowers and insects to get along happily. As but one species sharing this planet with so, so many thousands more, we owe it to others — to ourselves — to share our spaces with them.

You may find, as I do, that mowing ain’t all that. Nature wins Yard of the Month, hands down.

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27 thoughts on “Urban Re-wilding: Can Lawns and Wildflowers Get Along?

  1. Oh My G.. as a friend would say. Beautiful flowers. Hubby and I were just talking yesterday about the flowers on the side of the road. Beautiful when you first see them but the weeds and grass soon take over and it drives me nuts and feels unkempt to me. But if they cut them down too soon, the seeds don’s fall for next year.
    In the meantime.. ugh!
    Happy Easter Shannon! ❤

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    1. Hi Courtney. Happy Easter weekend — or as I like to call it, Earth Day weekend — to you too! Weeds can be all kinds of flowers, grasses, edibles .. depends upon the viewer’s PERSPECTIVE. It’s a bit like ‘one man’s trash is another man’s treasure’ only with plants. I have learned to overlook the unkempt appearance because I (like you) am in the long game. I also know how desperate so many species of insects are for food in our urban deserts; we do it for them!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Of course you would find the silver lining in the cloud. ☁️ I can see your point completely. 😉
        But I also know how much we are suffering from all of the pollen. 🤧🥺 So there’s that. Hope you had a wonderful Easter/Earth weekend! 🐇💐🌍🏞

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  2. The pretty yellow flower you asked about looks like it might be another species of buttercup (Ranunculus). The white clover appears to be the same Eurasian kind that everyone on Long Island had in their lawns when I was growing up there in the 1950s. By Texas butterweed I take it you mean Senecio ampullaceus, which we saw tons of when we took our day trips below San Antonio a few weeks ago. Happy wildflowers to you.

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    1. I apologize for the long life pause. Buttercup, huh? It sure is pretty, and I love how it grows up and through the cage! Apparently, this clover and others like it are commonly used as turf replacements; it’s easy to keep, but I’ll bet the grass stains are a killer for a tough and tumble football game. There is another new species that popped up this weekend; I haven’t taken the time to ID it yet.

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    1. Where my mother grew up in east Texas, it was crimson clover, an in-between-planting-seasons cover crop. Rightly so .. clover fixes nitrogen from the atmosphere into the soil for future plants.

      My buns love when we put them out in the clover field. They’re like kids at an ice cream shop!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Shannon, You encourage me to do more at our place with plants native to the region. There are a few mud patches over there where my maternal grandparents remain, safe place for fauna too. We also like to keep the indigenous fauna families supplied with edibles. Great photographs, BTW
    🙂

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    1. We each do our part how we can, Bill. I cannot imagine ever being put where the soil beings can’t find me, being in a box filled with chemicals that keep me from rotting. It would be worse for the terrain above me to be kept as a barren desert to others who remain!

      I would love if we would rethink how we inter after a good life. Certainly, letting wildflowers grow — better, a long-lived TREE — is a good start.

      Thanks for stopping by and for your thoughtful comments!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Not allowing those subterranean creatures to return our molecules to the ecosystem is more than a bit selfish. I agree with you wholeheartedly. Ironically, it was a burrowing rodent that survived the scorched Earth brought about by that rather large meteor that led to our very species (and all the others, of course). 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I do hope I can be a positive influence. He was the first to ask me about the wildflowers in February through the fence. (He had already mowed his lawn a few weeks before .. I don’t mow until generally mid-March.) ‘For the bees,’ is how I answer.

      As neighbors are only now complaining that eggplant, blueberry, and tomato starts are going un-pollinated, I can only nod my head in validation: bumbebees are few and far between. The urban damage we’ve done will have far-reaching consequences.

      All they have to do is not take my word for it and connect the dots themselves. Now that I’ve written that, perhaps I’m not so hopeful after all.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Change does not happen overnight, Shannon, and if one of your neighbors or one of your play-in-the-dirt schoolkids brings change to their families, you will have set in motion a chain reaction. Let’s not give up (I am looking in the figurative mirror as I am typing these words…)!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for all the advice here. We’ll be trying to convert a little more of our “lawn” into a wildflower patch. And as to “lawn”: I’ve stopped thinking of it as a well-manicured lawn. I think of it as of a meadow more nowadays. I still mow it, but I don’t care if it has grass or just anything else that is green.

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    1. And you get all the hill country varieties, Pit, for which I’m a bit jealous! Every little bit helps. I’m not seeing bumblebees which are crucial for buzz pollination garden plants. My usual bumper crop blueberry bushes only have a handful of berries this year and not a single fruit is set on the eggplant. 😦

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I haven’t seen bumblebees either. But other bees are humming around. And butterflies are appearing, too. Things are looking really nice nere now. [https://wp.me/p107Dr-1bw] Let’s hope we’ll get enough reain(soon) to tide us over the usually dry summer. The day before yesterday we had .4 inches (only), and that was the first rainfall since March 13!
        I
        ll keep my fingers crossed for your plants.

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  5. I went looking for that bush pea, and kept getting directed to the Baptisias. I did some more looking, and wonder now if it might be Medicago lupulina, an introduced plant my books say is common in fields, pastures, urban and suburban areas, and roadsides. That about covers it! Here’s a link to a page for you.

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      1. I’m amazed — never seen it that tall. On the other hand, the areas where I’ve seen it are mowed on occasion, so that could explain it. I enjoyed all the photos. I noticed the Baptisia in the middle of the second row on that linked page. I do love the pea family, and that’s one of my favorites.

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  6. No HOA here. That’s good and bad. Good because I don’t micro-manage, not even close. Bad because of the cattle rancher (I refuse to call them farmers) across the way fertilizes his cattle fields with human waste courtesy of the local sewage treatment plant. As you might well imagine, it stinks horribly for weeks afterward. Serves the folks right who eat the beef though, eh?

    Excellent post and pictures, thanks for sharing.

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    1. Ugh! I guess that’s why meat-eaters must cook the crap out of their flesh … literally.

      We all have aerobic septic systems, which is only horrible when the someone’s system is out of whack and begins spraying in the middle of the day. Fortunately, I can report that as hazard; the City doesn’t like when folks get sprayed by poo water. Not sure why the county steered away from leach fields for new construction to begin with; they’re better in so many ways.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. You may already realize I’m in complete agreement with your approach. Being without a house and a lawn, I can’t contribute to the movement by establishing a pocket prairie, but I can cheer you on, and enjoy the results of your labors (or non-labor, as the case may be).

    I was delighted to be able to identify another wildflower from your post: the bush pea. It’s in a photo I posted recently, and interestingly enough, it’s nestled up next to a pink evening primrose. It’s always fun to see the Herbertia, too. It’s one of my favorite flowers.

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    1. Good morning, Linda. I long for the days I can downsize to a smaller place! Until then, I will un-manage the place I have, within reason.

      Why drive to a wild field when I can WALK to one? There is a drainage ditch that my husband and I frequent. It was lush and beautiful with wildflowers and tall grasses, and the marsh wrens and swamp sparrows were juuuust moving in. Then they mowed. :/

      It’s downright depressing the destruction we perpetrate onto the natural world, so hard to spectate. I do what I can to keep my joy intact. So far working!!

      It’s April already. We should endeavor to get together for a nature and birding walk sometime soon, before it gets hot and the mosquitoes arrive. My best to you; thanks for commenting.

      Liked by 1 person

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