Monday, August 22, 2011

Garden Designers Roundtable: Lawn Alternatives

Welcome to the Garden Designers Roundtable! This month's subject, "Lawn Alternatives" is near and dear to my heart, as my regular readers know! And a special welcome to our guests from the Lawn Reform Coalition, who are joining us today.

As usual, I'm being quite literal with this topic; drawing heavily from gardens I've designed for myself and others. What ARE the alternatives to a lawn? Got a minute? I'll toss you a few! Each example is a bit of garden that used to be (or could have been) a lawn.

Instead of a lawn, you could have a meditation garden with bamboo and a bubbling water feature. We're not against GRASSES you know!

You could have a vibrant, colorful front garden that the whole neighborhood adores. It's private without a fence, and requires only monthly maintenance to look wonderful.

How about a paved sitting area that nestles right up to the garden? I smile to think how many hours I spent in those chairs, talking into the night with friends and family. Not to mention tiptoeing out to catch the sunrise with my first cup of tea.

If your lawn is on an awkward slope, you could turn it into a terrace for dining or sitting by the fire. Surrounded by garden on all sides, this adds valuable living space, especially on a small lot.

This creekside clearing could have been a patch of lawn, but how much nicer to have a dining room with a huge plank table? No need to worry about too much shade, damage from furniture (or to it).

Instead of a front lawn you could add layers of interest with ornamental AND edible plants (yes, those are artichoke leaves!)

Or a kitchen garden in a sunny spot, with herbs, espaliered fruit trees, and flowers. Raised beds make raising healthy veggies easy when space is limited.

A healthy lawn needs sun. Without a lawn, you can turn a hot, dry corner of your garden into a shady oasis. Think about it! On a hot day I'd like to be sitting in this corner, not mowing it!

On the other hand, make use of the sunny spots you can reclaim: plant a rose garden!

Or a sea of thyme...

Or a sturdy border of hardy shrubs and grasses as a sidewalk buffer. Adding elements like a low wall and a curved fence (taking full advantage of a slight slope) breaks up larger expanses and gives structure and purpose to plantings.

The view from my old front porch. Before it was lawn down to the sidewalk. After it was a private garden centered around this water feature. I never missed the lawn for one moment.

So I guess what I'm saying is that your alternative to a lawn To garden, to live, to dream, to tuck your latest nursery treasures. You aren't limited to a 3' bed against the fence any more. Good design, thoughtfully applied, will give you so much more to work with. Where will you start? Which patch of scruffy green in your life is getting the stink-eye? What could go, right now? That's where you begin.

Thanks for visiting! But don't stop here, oh no. There is sooo much more, as the other Knights and Ladies of the Roundtable AND the Rock Stars from Lawn Reform Coalition have a few things to say as well:

Lawn Reform Coalition
Susan Harris : Garden Rant : Takoma Park, MD
Susan Harris : Gardener Susan’s Blog : Takoma Park, MD
Billy Goodnick : Cool Green Gardens : Santa Barbara, CA
Evelyn Hadden : Lawn Reform.Org : Saint Paul, MN
Saxon Holt : Gardening Gone Wild : Novato, CA
Shirley Bovshow : Eden Makers : Los Angeles, CA
Ginny Stibolt : Florida Native Plant Society : Green Cove Springs, FL

Garden Designers Roundtable
Susan Morrison : Blue Planet Garden Blog : East Bay, CA
Scott Hokunson : Blue Heron Landscapes : Granby, CT
Rochelle Greayer : Studio G : Boston, MA
Rebecca Sweet : Gossip In The Garden : Los Altos, CA
Pam Penick : Digging : Austin, TX
Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber : Bristol, UK
Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO
Ivette Soler : The Germinatrix : Los Angeles, CA
Genevieve Schmidt : North Coast Gardening : Arcata, CA
Douglas Owens-Pike : Energyscapes : Minneapolis, MN
Debbie Roberts : A Garden of Possibilities : Stamford, CT
Tara Dillard : Vanishing Threshold: Garden, Life, Home : Atlanta, GA


  1. Laura, what an inspiring collection of ideas. I especially like that these can be implemented in small yards (front and back!) and are not only beautiful but many of them useful, providing food, shade, fragrance, permanent seating, and less work than a lawn. Makes me want to pick up my coffee and head outdoors to dream!

  2. Lovely photos, as always Laura! I'm particularly taken with the photo of the hardy shrubs with small grasses, and that beautiful gate and stone. Also loved seeing the California poppies. They add such cheerful color.

  3. Thank you, Evelyn! One thing people often forget is to put comfortable places to sit out in the garden. Areas normally dedicated to lawn are often the best spots; even a casual patio of gravel or stone makes the space more functional. And yes, my back garden was rather small; every square foot counted!

  4. Thanks, Gen...that shrub border is Arctostaphylos 'Louis Edmunds' Westringia 'Morning Light' and Festuca 'Elijah Blue.' My dad built the gate AND the blue fence. The river cobble came from under my street trees, and the retaining wall is urbanite (i.e. my old concrete front walk!) We had fun working with what we had...

  5. Loved seeing the real life examples of how to use that space that too many devote to lawn. And sure like reading your words: "tiptoeing out to catch the sunrise with my first cup of tea"...

  6. Haha, Saxon, I'm known to tiptoe when the ground is cold and my feet are bare! And in a shady, cool garden I want to tiptoe on nice, dry paving, not damp, wet grass!

  7. I love seeing photos of your previous garden -ahhh….what a delightful place you created! The perfect example of how gorgeous a garden can truly be without a lawn!

  8. Thanks, Rebecca...I haven't looked at pictures of it for sure was purty.

  9. So beautiful with the sunlight shining through those colorful leaves out front. And you created such welcoming spaces to live in the garden, front and back. Just lovely, Laura, and very inspiring.

  10. Laura, I love all the beautiful examples you shown us here, and I was especially taken by these words..."your alternative to a lawn To garden, to live, to dream, to tuck your latest nursery treasures." Wonderful!

  11. Pam, Shirley & Jocelyn...thanks for the kind words!

  12. Laura, You've offered so much inspiration with all your photos. I especially love the shady oasis with the red umbrella. I can imagine curling up and reading a good book in one of those chairs.

  13. Not heard the expression 'the stink-eye' before and feel I may use it quite a lot over here!
    Seriously you have opened people's eyes to the cornucopia of delights that await them when they trash the lawn!
    Love your work.

  14. Wow! beautiful gardens. Love those pictures.

  15. That sea of thyme is just too beautiful for words.

    Laura,I have been trying to contact you, but can't find a contact email anywhere on your blog. I would appreciate it if you contacted me via my blog. Thanks, Ruth

    1. I have a lawn and I love it. Why should I not. Mind you it's 420 square meters out of 20000 square of wild field. See

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  17. Awesome Photos of shrubs with small grasses, garden and paved sitting area. Adding the elements like a low wall and a curved fence near the garden looks really great.