Designing landscapes without lawn has become one of the signature tenets of sustainable landscapes. The ‘no’ lawn or ‘kill the lawn’ look is forcing designers and architects to get creative with both alternative planting schemes and new and expanded hard and soft surface elements. In the past, placing a large swath of lawn in a landscape saved time and energy at the drafting board. Installing sod was like carpet – rolled out as an instant blanket of green. But that was before the water bill escalated to the price of a new car payment. Turf grass is the worst offender of all the water suckling plantings in the landscape. Hundreds of tiny plants fill each square foot of earth, each with a root system constantly searching for water. So for many homeowners, the expanse of green lawn is a memory from the past. They are insisting on environmentally responsible gardens without turf.
Tips for the lawnless landscape:
- Horizontal space is still important. Low alternative plantings, gravel and cobble areas, and patio and walkway surfaces all become more intregral in achieving a feeling of openness in the outdoors.
- Lawn establishes a low blanket of green that helps showcase trees, shrubs, and other plantings. Without lawn, alternative low plantings can be massed or mixed with the same effect, while proving much more interesting than the monotone sea of green. Use low grasses, ground cover plantings, and leafy perennials in areas that would otherwise be taken by lawn.
- It is easy to overindulge in flowering plants with or without lawn. Without lawn, we can get carried away with an outdoor creation by loading up on the blooming plants, creating a landscape that is garishly busy. Unless a cottage garden is being developed, the majority of plants should be chosen primarily for foliage shapes and textures.
- Lawn serves as a living walkable surface. Adding pathways and small patio spaces in amongst planter beds will create usable space and direct foot traffic through delicate plantings. Rock mulches allow casual strolling off pathways and through plant beds.
- Some plant species will tolerate occasional foot traffic, although none as well as turf grasses. Plants that tolerate the occasional stomp of a foot include: Roman chamomile, yarrow, ground cover thyme, dymondia, pennyroyal (dwarf is best), and of course many low grasses: blue fescue, blue gramma, creeping red fescue, and Carex pansa among them.
- Avoid the temptation of using too many plant species in the landscape scene. A garden can become disconcertingly busy with too many varieties of plants vying for attention. Instead of going back to the plant selection book again and again for new plant selections, first check the species already penciled into the design for likely candidates. Less variety is often more.