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The Lawn and Beyond

Garden design ideas and tips for when the days of groomed green grass are over.

I'LL ADMIT THAT I love the smell of freshly cut lawns. But it's the chemical fertilizers, mower noise, weed battles, and wasteful water consumption that I willingly trade in for more ecologically sustainable pastures. Here are garden design ideas to help you end the suburban turf romance and create a new environmentally friendly field of green.

“Consider removing your lawn and replacing it with areas of interest and stewardship, like a bocce ball court, veggie garden and conversation area,” says Michelle Derviss, owner of Michelle Derviss Landscape Design. For something different, she recommends Wildflower Farm’s Eco-Lawn grass seed. “Although the Eco grass requires a decent amount of water to look good, it is a reliable product and responds better to trimming.”


The first thing to ask yourself is “How do I want to use the space?” Do you want to occasionally walk on it, or is the area a play space for kids and pets? The answers determine your design and materials.

Consider creating a meadow where your lawn is now, adjusting the size to fit your space. Think ornamental grasses mixed with wildflowers.

Clean slate
Remove both vegetation and the weed seed left in the soil. Haul away the top 8 inches of soil, then water and see if anything rears its ugly head before moving on. Or try the more environmentally friendly sheet mulching technique — cover the area with cardboard or newspaper layers, add compost and mulch, then wait until the cover decomposes.

While native grasses could be the backbone of a natural lawn, adding other plants into the design like bulbs, succulents, annuals and perennials creates successive and seasonal waves of color and interest.

Did you know?
Nature dislikes a monoculture and loves diversity; mix a variety of plants together, but to avoid a hodgepodge look, use the same plants in groups of threes or fives.

Top secret
Use pavers to wind a mysterious path through the once-sod space and lusciously plant around it.

Raise it up
Build or buy raised beds and plant a vegetable garden.

Dry humor
Create a low-water gravel garden planted with hardy succulents and other drought-tolerant plants, then mulch with decorative gravel.

Thymus ‘Elfin’ or ‘Wooly’
Ophiopogon jap. ‘Nana’
Carex pansa or carex tumulicola
Dymondia margaretae
Myoporum parvifolium
No Mow mixed species blend

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