The Citizen Gardener: No Mow May

Wildflowers in bloom at London Fields. Photograph: Hackney Council

It is not often we are encouraged to do nothing. This May though – No Mow May to be precise – the advice is to do just that.

The idea is not to mow your grass during the month of May. It encourages us to embrace wilder lawns and allow spring plants to grow and set seed before they are cut down by mower blades. Doing so will increase plant biodiversity and support the pollinators that rely on them for food throughout the summer.

It’s a simple concept really, but one that can prickle people who have grown used to the manicured lawns that our nation is so famous for. My Dad, for instance, initially laughed it off as another hippy gardening idea of mine, but after a few weeks of rolling it around on his tongue (I’ve heard him mumbling it – No Mow May is catchy, it can’t be denied), I think he may be getting used to the idea. Whether he will let the whole lawn grow is yet to be seen, but even a small patch allowed to romp into its full Spring splendour would have a meaningful impact.

Aesthetically it’s a big shift, but it’s gaining momentum. Wild gardens are set to be one of the biggest trends at this year’s RHS Chelsea Show, and for the first time, a third of the gardens will feature ‘weeds’, including bramble, thistle and knapweed.

The UK has lost 97 per cent of its wild meadows in recent years, and as a result, classic meadow plants like Ragged Robin, Field Scabious and Devil’s-bit Scabious are now on the ‘Near Threatened’ list. Indeed, one in five British wildflowers is under threat. Leaving a lawn to nature is a way to show commitment to change and encourage others to do the same.

There are signs available to download from the Plantlife charity’s website which you can display in gardens, windows and noticeboards to let passersby know the reason for the wilder look. It could even be the start of a No Mow May street!

Plantlife started the campaign, and CEO Ian Dunn said: “The immaculate bright green bowling green lawn with its neat stripes may have historically been the desired garden aesthetic but, increasingly, we’re seeing a cultural shift which sees wilder lawns buzzing with bees and butterflies becoming highly valued.

“A radical shift in attitudes towards lawn management is underway and it is to the benefit of plants, pollinators, people and planet.”

So what might you expect to see? The top five most common recorded plants in lawns are daisies, creeping buttercups, yellow rattle, common bird’s foot trefoil and field forget-me-nots. But since the start of No Mow May in 2019, participants have reported seeing up to 250 species of plants, including wild garlic, wild strawberry, declining orchids and the rare meadow flower snakeshead fritillary.

As we know, access to a private garden in Hackney is a rare privilege, and most of us don’t have a lawn to leave unmown, but there are plenty of other ways to get involved:

Create a mini meadow in a pot

Encourage wildlife to your garden with a pot or window box – what happens if you leave one with bare soil, perhaps local wild plants seed will find their way in.
There are also native seed mixes you can sprinkle into pots which pollinators like bees and butterflies will go wild for.

Get educators involved

As well as a place to grow our curiosity, our educational spaces can be home to playing fields, verges and gardens which are ready to burst with life each spring.
If your school isn’t taking part already, consider having a chat with staff to see if a space can be left for nature this year. As well as being a bonus for wildlife, why not use this as a fun learning opportunity for budding biologists to conduct a biodiversity study by logging how many species they can spot.

Connect with places of worship

Often the cornerstone of our communities, our places of worship can be a sanctuary for people and wildlife alike.
See if your local church, mosque, synagogue, or other place of worship has a green space they can pledge for nature this No Mow May, and if you want some inspiration, have a look at what Core Landscapes are doing at St Barnabas church in Homerton – pretty inspirational stuff!
Chat to your local councillor

Our councils manage some of our most widely-used green spaces. Ask your local councillor about your council’s plans to provide a home for wildflowers and wildlife in May and beyond, and share their good work on social media.

Participate as a community

We are lucky in Hackney to have a plethora of local gardening groups on our doorstep. Head to the Good to Grow website to find one that’s local to you and get involved with gardening for wildlife in your area.

What’s going on in Hackney’s gardens this month? The pollinator enthusiasts at St Mary’s Secret Garden in Haggerston are running a three-day practical beekeeping course in their beautiful garden. There are still a few spots left so get in touch to find out more! Elsewhere, the Stoke Newington user group is raising funds to support the wonderful volunteer work they do on the green spaces in the area with a plant sale. Head down for plant bargains and plant chats aplenty – 1-4pm, 14 May, Stoke Newington Common.

Steph Goward is an ecological gardener and food grower. She is the postcode gardener for E5, a horticultural therapist at St Mary’s Secret Garden, and works with a number of gardening groups across Hackney. You can follow her at @steph_orla_gardens.