How to Have a Flowering Lawn


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.

crocuses & snowdrops

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.


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Thomas Christopher

My father was a compulsive tree planter, but it was my mother who taught me the finer points of gardening.

Her homeschooling was followed by two years in the New York Botanical Garden’s School of Professional Horticulture, and then ten years as horticulturist at an Olmsted Brothers designed estate on the Hudson River Palisades.

I’ve worked as a horticultural journalist for 35 years, contributing to publications ranging from Martha Stewart Living to the Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society and The New York Times.  My most recent book is Nature Into Art: The Gardens of Wave Hill, which is a tour of the lessons to be learned from that great public garden.  I’m currently focusing on my new podcast (at which features weekly interviews with leaders of environmentally-informed gardening.

My special enthusiasms include sustainable gardening, especially sustainable lawns;  heirloom chicken breeds; and recreating vintage New England hard ciders.


Contact Tom by email


  1. I love this look and tried it myself with Berkeley sedge and oxblood lily bulbs, but the deer ate my bulb flowers and foliage. The sedge lawn still looks great though! I mow it once a year, on a high setting, and it needs much less water to look great through our hot, dry summers in Austin.

  2. What time of year does mowing typical lawns start in the area? Is it typically Kentucky Bluegrass that people have for lawns there? When does the crocus and galanthus foliage typically finish up? Do you think you could pull this off with a standard lawn if it were in the backyard and the grass could get a little long waiting for the foliage to die back?

    • I typically start mowing my lawn in mid to late May, whereas the typical Kentucky bluegrass lawn around here needs mowing by early April. You could let your bluegrass lawn grow long in the spring so that bulb foliage will mature, but it wouldn’t be good for your lawn because you’d shock the grass pretty severely when you cut it back from meadow to normal mowing height. Converting your lawn to slower-growing bunch grasses such as the fine fescues isn’t too hard and doesn’t take long. Plus the fine fescues need less fertilization and are relatively drought-proof once established.

    • When do your crocus and galanthus foliage yellow up? How tall are they? Could you mow at like 6″ so the KBG doesn’t get out of hand while still allowing for the bulb foliage to keep going?

      Couldn’t you ease it back to mowing height over a few weeks to deal with the shock if you kept it to 6″?

      I like the idea of switching out species but I’m dealing with an acre of lawn. It would be a bit of an undertaking.

      • The idea of mowing at 6 inches is a good one — sounds like it should work. I don’t know when exactly my crocus and galanthus foliage yellows; just know that it does so in time for the bulbs to go dormant before I mow.

  3. Have been doing Tara Turf for 20+ years. Studying historic gardens across Europe the first lesson was their lack of lawns. Historic gardens have meadows. Mostly what the wind blows in but choices of bulbs, low herbs, low perennials, groundcovers. Hence, Tara Turf unique to each area.

    More, those meadows are mowed at 2-3 heights. The patterns can change as desired. Mostly, the lowest mown Tara Turf is a path to a focal point and adds ‘structure’ to the area.

    More, Tara Turf, aka meadow, is pollinator habitat. Increasing nearby agricultural production by 80%.

    Sadly, most home owner associations require mono-culture lawns. Hopefully, soon, residents restricted by their HOA will legally begin to change the mono-culture lawn into a choice for the same or properly maintained meadows, aka Tara Turf.

    With meadows, no watering, no fertilizing, no insecticides, no fungicides, plantings enrich the soil, add pollinator habitat and require significantly less mowing.

    Chickens love clover and dandelions in meadows. Guess what, you can harvest them for your salad too.

    Noticed decades ago the difference in pre-1987 neighborhoods and those post-1987. The fragrance. Meadows smell wonderful, mono-culture lawns are the great nothing for smell, and butterflies, native honey bees & etc….

    Please, if it’s legal, consider having your own meadow. Chickens too.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

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