On the road we're always looking to see different plants and
landscaping ideas. Something that always catches our attention is
an alternative to lawn.
There's more on
Design without a lawn, and
designing along the roadside without lawn
Here, from a trip Steven made through Massachusetts and are some
ocean community answers to lawn.
We start simply: Bare ground!
Almost as simple: Native grasses, naturalized. Below, a dune
grass, and grass/beach wildflower mix.
(Which grass? Perhaps an Ammophila such as American beach grass, A.
breviligulata. Tony Reznicek, our Expert Moderator, has taught
us it can be graduate-level work to sort out native sedges
and grasses. Tony's PhD is in that field and the work he continues
to do in that regard takes him all around the world.)
Some people say, of this or other native plants, "I can't find
that anywhere." We find them by using the botanical name and an
Internet search beginning with the word "buy". That's how we found
a supplier on Cape Cod (Cape Coastal Nursery in South Dennis), for
our work in that area.
Massed perennials. It's more maintenance than lawn, although
that's a matter of perspective. Passersby sometimes comment about
our non-lawn, when they see and greet us there, "Got a lot of work
there, I see," Our reply is, generally, "A lot of time, yes, but to
us it's not work. It's what we like to do. Mowing, that
would be work for us!"
Plain ole mulch or a mass of groundcover juniper, works. People
often say to us, when they look at a new planting of spreading
junipers, "But what goes in that space, there?" We answer,
"Junipers go there. Consider that space theirs. Just wait!"Some are
faster to spread, some (blue star, below right) are slower. But
they all spread.
Choose shrubs to fit a site and then allow them to grow
naturally. That makes the simplest-care landscape. It can be weeded
thoroughly once a year in fall to stay ahead of trees that try to
insinuate themselves. If something gets too big, remove it or chop
it to the ground and let it grow back.
The mistake some people make, when they have that landscape where
shrubs are the groundcover, is that they should but don't leave the
bushes alone. Once a person begins to cut shrubs to size or to
impose a shape on them (below, right), that chore must be repeated
every year. This is better, and simpler: If they get too big or
seem gangly, you can cut the shrubs all the way to the ground every
five or six years. Then just let them grow back.
Below: We call it a quilt, to plant three or more types of
perennial groundcovers, then let them grow to "see who wins." Since
green roof plantings are catching on, more and more nurseries have
mixtures like this for sale. (The green roof divisions of two
companies we know -- Sunny Border
Nurseries in Connecticut and Hortech in western
lower Michigan -- are wholesale producers who have done a great
deal of testing to learn which plants and plant mixtures work. You
can check their websites to learn about these species and
combinations. However, the average gardener won't be able to buy
the plants directly, so ask your local garden center to
order from Sunny Border or Hortech.)
Man has proliferated, water has not. Most of the people in the
world do not have any access to running, fresh water. Even within
water-rich, developed countries, people have fought over water
rights for centuries, and the battles are heating up. The time's
coming when it will not only be morally and ethically wrong to
spread fresh water simply to keep this lawn green, it will be
Makes us glad we've learned a thing or two about designing
for minimal lawn!