Last week I spotted the first snow crocuses (Crocus chrysanthus) and snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) opening their flowers in my lawn — they are just one of the benefits of the fine fescue grasses that I grow as turf. These grasses are the basis of the “no-mow” lawns that you see advertised by various companies, especially Prairie Nursery and Wildflower Farm (which sells its seed mix as “Eco-Lawn”) . I actually make up my own mix of half a dozen different cultivars of hard, Chewings and creeping red fescues, buying the seed from a local retailer and blending it myself.
If your conditions suit these grasses – you need a well-drained, preferably not-too-rich soil – they offer a number of advantages. They are drought and shade tolerant and they are naturally short so they can be kept neat with just 3-4 mowings a year, or even allowed to grow un-cut if you don’t mind a more tousled look.
This last point brings us back to my early spring bulbs. These are difficult to naturalize in a conventional lawn, as the constant mowing shears off the bulbs’ foliage so that they cannot make and store food for the next year’s growth. As a result, early spring bulbs planted in a conventional lawn rarely perform as true perennials, but instead tend to peter out after a couple of seasons.
Because my fine fescue lawn doesn’t require a mowing until late in the spring, however, there is plenty of time for the bulbs’ foliage to make food; for the most part, the early spring bulbs have gone dormant before I bring out the mower for the first time.
Indeed, my crocuses have not just survived, they have thrived, multiplying year by year. Likewise, my snowdrops have increased slowly but steadily. I started with a single clump that I dug as a remembrance from an elderly friend’s lawn on the day of his funeral; this single clump took so well to my lawn that I have divided it many times and I now have snowdrops dotted here and there all over my small front lawn.
I planted my front lawn to fine fescues as a gesture of sustainability – these grasses need no irrigation once established, thrive in conditions of low fertility, and are naturally weed-resistant — but I’ve found that they have aesthetic advantages as well.