Nature conservation: Dare to go more wild: Private gardens can become natural paradises

For many people, a precisely trimmed lawn is still the ideal beauty for their garden.

Nature conservation: Dare to go more wild: Private gardens can become natural paradises

For many people, a precisely trimmed lawn is still the ideal beauty for their garden. The first lawnmowers have already been taken out of the shed. “Grass is one of the first plants to grow again in spring,” says Margarita Hartlieb from TU Darmstadt.

What many people still perceive as paradise - exotic plants such as cherry laurel frame English lawns - is exactly not that for nature. “Such areas are often species-poor, almost dead,” says Sophie Lokatis, nature and species protection expert at the German Wildlife Foundation. Unfortunately, the ideal of decorative lawns that are as uniform as possible has spread worldwide.

Mowing the lawn is a setback for biodiversity

The fact that meadows in Central Europe are actually one of the most species-rich habitats is hard to imagine in most gardens here. Every single mowing with one of the rotary mowers predominantly used means a setback for biodiversity - and many people cut their lawns every week during the growing season, if not constantly with a robotic lawnmower.

On the one hand, this applies to plants: “Grass grows back quickly from below when it is mowed,” explains Lokatis. “Other plants can’t keep up.” Therefore, in regularly trimmed lawns there are usually only two or three dominant grass species. Only a few other species, such as white clover and daisies, managed to bloom, adds Bettina de la Chevallerie, managing director of the German Horticultural Society 1822 (DGG 1822).

Death for larvae, caterpillars, grasshoppers

Insects are also affected: every mowing means direct death for insect larvae, caterpillars and grasshoppers. “After a mowing process, for example, around 80 percent of the locusts are dead,” says Hartlieb, who is involved in the BioDivKultur project for more biodiversity in green spaces. “Insects are smashed by the rotary mower,” explains de la Chevallerie. In addition, there are countless small creatures that are disposed of with the grass piles and die trapped in them.

Other animals are also suffering: "The number and diversity of songbirds have declined in recent decades, parallel to the decline in insects," says Lokatis. Some species depend on insects as food, while many others depend on insects for food, especially when raising chicks.

Around 17 million private gardens in Germany

According to experts, many people are not even aware of the value that private gardens have for biodiversity and climate adaptation. According to the Institute for Ecological Economic Research (IÖW), there are around 17 million private gardens in Germany - a huge number of small habitats with an enormous total area.

Their importance is particularly important because urban areas have become important refuges for many species as a result of intensified agriculture and decreasing structural diversity in rural areas. “Colorful and flowering meadows have almost disappeared from the cultural landscape,” says de la Chevallerie. "And a third of urban spaces are gardens."

Plant choice for the garden: Often flower color rather than biodiversity

As green space expert Hartlieb says, around 60,000 insects can live in a natural flower meadow the size of a basketball court. Admiring flowers, observing insects - "It's really nice, especially for children," says de la Chevallerie, overall project coordinator of the "Thousands of Gardens - Thousands of Species" campaign with the aim of making a natural gardening movement a trend.

Promoting biodiversity is usually not the decisive criterion for choosing plants in private gardens, as the IÖW concluded in an evaluation presented in 2021. It's more about factors like ground cover or a certain flower color. Another is the selection in plant or hardware stores - where the supply of native species is often low, possibly because annual and non-propagable plants are more profitable.

“Every square meter counts”

The “Thousands of Gardens - Thousands of Species” project now offers a network of garden centers that produce native wild perennials and sell specially developed seed mixtures. Slowly but surely interest in natural gardens is increasing, says garden expert de la Chevallerie. More and more municipalities and private individuals are taking part in campaigns such as “Mähfrei Mai”, initiated by the German Horticultural Society and the Rhineland-Palatinate Garden Academy: “The message is starting to get through.”

According to the IÖW, your own biodiversity-friendly design can have a major impact on inspiring and encouraging relatives, neighbors and friends to take such aspects into account more in their garden. “You can also start very small, with an island of flowers,” says de la Chevallerie. "Every square meter counts."