For the past century, we gardeners have loved our lawns. They have grown from an occasional play area (or status symbol) for the richest among us to a ubiquitous ‘affordable’ groundcover. But the tide is turning. For a variety of reasons, from our changing environmental awareness to our changing lifestyles, some of us are shrinking our lawns. Others are leaving them behind altogether. —Evelyn Hadden
Are you one of the many considering an alternative to your lawn? Maybe you want something that takes less time to maintain, something more earth-friendly, or something that better reflects the region where you live? Or maybe you’re just bored with turf? In any case, it can be difficult to imagine the alternative. What exactly would it look like? Here are seven lawn alternatives in pictures to inform and perhaps inspire you to lose your lawn.
Vegetables, herbs, and flowers grown together make a food garden more colorful and more productive. Companion plants provide pollen, pest predator habitat, and nutrients for soil. Homegrown food is arguably more delicious than store-bought, and certainly more nutritious, retaining nutrients that are lost in travel and storage time. Growing food is also a great way to bring people together, whether it be children helping maintain a garden, neighbors sharing gardening tips, or friends gathered for a harvest meal.
Rain garden plants can be beautiful as well as hard-working. The leaves of a highly managed lawn are kept too short to photosynthesize enough to grow extensive root systems and will only soak up a fraction of runoff. A rain garden, however, is designed to move the runoff from your roof or pavement into your soil before it creates problems for you and your neighbors.
One of the best reasons to give up your labor-intensive turf is the low-maintenance – ahem – nature of an alternative lawn. Pictured below, Doug Becker maintains his rock-and-thyme patio, which he does about fifteen minutes every three years!
Woodland gardens inspire a peaceful mood, provide shade in the summer and color in urban settings, as well as masking unsightly walls or other structures. Shading your home can also save you money in reduced energy costs. While color is certainly possible, shade gardens provide a unique opportunity to experiment with textures, hues, wood, and rock.
Why not design a no-mow yard around a soothing water feature such as a pond? This naturalistic pond, landscaped with drifts of plants, graces the home of Peter and Sue La Tourette. Says Peter: “I think a lawn is really boring after the kids grow up and don’t need if for play.”
A dry climate garden does not have to be barren. Smart watering techniques can go a long way in helping you realize your dream yardscape. Dramatic succulents, deep shadows, and bright colors can all play a role. Using local rock and native plants take less time to maintain but also provide much-needed habitat for wildlife.
Not ready to dive feet-first into a no-mow lawn? Then you might try a freedom lawn. Before broadleaf herbicides became widely used, white clover was a common part of lawn seed mixes. Because it’s able to fix atmospheric nitrogen, clover acts as a built-in fertilizer for grass. It will also extend your lawn’s season of green. And it stands up against mowing. Other options include chickweed, dock, and creeping charlie.
“It has it all: A compelling rationale for ignoring the siren song of the ‘perfect’ lawn, inspirational stories from gardeners and designers enthusiastically embracing this timely trend, and step-by-step instructions for creating easy-care, planet-friendly patches of paradise.” —Billy Goodnick, Fine Gardening