Sheep’s fescue – Festuca ovina
When you imagine what a meadow looks like, you probably picture colourful wildflowers surrounded by greenery – in fact, that ‘greenery’ is worth a closer look, since we are lucky in the UK to be surrounded by a great variety of species of grass. Sheep’s fescue (Festuca ovina) is just one of the native species of grass found in the UK, Europe, parts of Asia and North America. It grows in clumps or tufts and is very commonly found on wasteland, grasslands and moors.
This perennial plant grows best in acidic grassland and is easily recognised by its green-grey, short, bristly leaves. It flowers in mid-spring (May to June) with its tall thin stems displaying several separate tufts of florets that turn to seeds that remain on the stem throughout much of summer, being scattered by the wind in autumn.
Why native grasses are important to wildlife
It is important for us all to encourage grass growth wherever we can, since many species of pollinating insect (including butterflies and moths) are attracted to different varieties of grass. As well as playing a role in cultivating a source of food for these little visitors (which are a vital part of our eco-system), planting grass in our gardens indirectly attracts a greater number of birds, attracted by the insects.
It is a good idea to grow a range of grass and wildflowers to maximise the number of species of insects (and birds) that will benefit from them. Different insects like plants with different colours and fragrances, and come out to feed at different times of the day and year – so getting a balance of plants that will cater for all of these different pollinators is central to developing a garden that is teeming with life in all seasons.
In particular, sheep’s fescue attracts caterpillars of several species of butterflies, such as the Small Heath, Gatekeeper, Greyling, Marbled White and Silver-spotted Skipper, and caterpillars of grass moths including Agriphila inquinatella. It is easy to maintain and will survive even the driest of summers.
Using sheep’s fescue in your garden
Turfonline pre-seed their rolls of Wildflower/ Meadowmat turf with a carefully-balanced mix of wildflowers and grasses to achieve this, making it easier than ever to grow a great patch of meadow that includes species such as sheep’s fescue. In times when intensive farming has greatly reduced the availability of flora to the UK’s fauna, Meadowmat is a great way to help to redress this and promote greater natural pollination.