It's a new year and it's a new chance to rethink our garden spaces and what we're getting out of all that square footage beyond the front and back doors all the way up to our property lines. I'm always shocked at how many people spend hours a month watering, fertilizing and mowing a lawn they never use that provides no benefit to the environment (quite the opposite in most cases), and is so visually UNinteresting it makes the street trees yawn in indifference. And on top of that even more people are letting the backyard go to weeds- putting off enjoying their outdoor real estate another year. I'm here to tell you that there are lots of design options to reclaim that water loving, mower demanding, often unused space of yours. Here are just a few thoughts on taking back the lawn... and trust me there's much more where this comes from.
1. NO MOW GRASS. Now true, this is still technically a lawn- but this is the best option for those of you who still want the low open airy mono-swath of green without any deadheading, trimming or mowing. No mow blends require much less water, especially since the water you'd be removing from regular mowing is allowed to percolate and absorb. Depending on your micro-climate and the chosen blend, one could get away with anything from weekly, monthly or as needed in the summer. The texture of no mow lawns are much softer, finer and airy and I think look especially great in part shade landscape dotted by trees. Imagine this: a simple grove of interesting white barked trees, a soft no mow lawn and a few large boulders. Simple elegant and aside from supplemental summer watering and fall raking, low maintenance. There are also native grass blend sods and eco-lawns (blends of yarrow, grasses, clover, etc) available that are mowable but cut water use in half if not more- for those that have reason to keep a piece of lawn in their yards. I've worked on projects where lawn was replaced with groundcovers such as low growing thyme chamomile, dymondia, yarrow as well as projects where the lawn size was drastically reduced and replaced with a "hard as nails" turf blend to keep a space for children and dogs to roll around.
2. MIXED MEADOW: NATIVE GRASSES, WILDFLOWERS & PERENNIALS. Imagine hiking through our native grasslands, chapparal or coastal sage scrub- now imagine a slightly more tidy tame version in smaller scale in your front or back yard. Native grasses of blues, golds and greens, orange poppies, monkey flowers, lupine, etc. This is a less manicured look for a garden, but can be made more streamline by creating groups of similar plants in repetition and tidy borders. Initially it can take some work establishing a native mixed meadow, but once it's established it will take care of itself, aside from the occasional weeding and deadheading. I always say we don't have to get STUCK on all natives. Personally I think it's fine to throw in other Mediterranean region (Australians and South African included) plants with similar water and soil requirements such as lavender, rosemary, etc. Benefits include- little to no water required once established, attracting pollinators, butterflies, birds, and lots of color.
3. MIXED PERENNIALS, SHRUBS, AND TREES. Great for front gardens especially. Do people EVER use their front lawns? Plenty of us have use for back lawns with children, dogs, croquet, soccer, etc- but FRONT lawns? The sky is the limit when redesigning the front yard for curb appeal- depending on style, use, function and climate. This photo of a Ventura garden from an article in Sunset is a great example of a lawnless front yard design.
4. GROW SOME FOOD. Sheetmulch over that lawn and put in some raised vegetable beds, spiral gardens or how about a mini orchard? If you're willing to put in the effort, the reward will be bountiful. Get your community involved and see if your neighbors want to help in exchange for some of the harvest. And contrary to popular belief, edible gardens don't have to be unsightly. With a little thought and planning (possibly from your local landscape designer / horticulturist) your edible garden can be a beautiful space to not only garden in, but sit in, entertain in, etc.
5. ENTERTAIN SPACE. I'm all for enjoying the garden. Reclaiming our unused lawns is ALL about that. I live for a client calling me to tell me how grateful they are that they're actually spending time in and enjoying their garden. Lawn is negative space- but sometime we need negative space for a firepit and adirondack chairs, a bbq, outdoor bar and dining table or maybe a bocce ball court (see DIY bocce court link). Or how about a covered party deck/porch with twinkle lights and lounge seating to enjoy wine on the evenings? I say do it where the lawn is and replace with a flagstone patio or gravel- preferably a surface that is permeable- then surround that new space with awesome plants.
6. SECRET GARDENS. Other thoughtful uses of spaces is carving out a portion of the lawn or planting areas for seating and secret garden areas- different vantage points as to enjoy the garden, or little play structures- such as cloth tents or bean teepees for the little ones to explore their imaginations. Secret garden spaces are also great for retreating from our day- such as a meditation / prayer space, possibly including inspirational statuary or lighting.
7. OTHER OR ALL OF THE ABOVE. Landscaping is like cooking, not baking. You can add a little bit of this and a touch of that. So take some from all columns stir and enjoy- If it tastes good, it works. It's all about getting the right balance. I just encourage you to NOT default to lawn.
For further ideas and design consulting, contact Andrea Doonan Horticulture + Design.
For more information visit www.AndreaDoonan.com