Now, THAT’s What I’m Talking About


Heatherlawn2Spotted while driving down the street:  this fantastic front yard garden made of heathers, ornamental grasses, and junipers.  It’s incredibly colorful, requires almost no care, and is perfectly adapted to coastal California’s chilly temps and dry summers.  It’s the ultimate anti-lawn.

I particularly like the way they used big, beefy grass-like plants in place of hedges.  A stand of New Zealand flax serves as a border between this house and the neighbor’s, and against the house, a row of miscanthus (or something miscanthus-like) acts kind of like a foundation planting.  It gives the whole thing a little structureHeatherlawn, and it’s easy to control:  the flax basically needs no care at all, and the miscanthus had just recently gotten a haircut to make it stand up a little straighter, but even that is hardly necessary.

I looked at this garden and thought, "Why don’t I do this?  I could easily plant a front yard garden exactly like this."

But the answer was obvious. This is not the garden of a plant acquirer.  This is the garden of someone who can make a decision about what will grow in their garden, plant whatever that is, and sit back and enjoy it for the next ten years.  This is not the garden of someone who hits three or four nurseries on a Saturday morning and comes home with more plants than they know what to do with.  My garden will always be something of a jumble, because my garden is a place to put the plants I have bought.  Period.

I could tell somebody else how to plant a garden that looks like this, but that would be predicated on the idea that their garden didn’t have to accommodate their shopping habit.  Do as I say, not as I do.

It’s been too long since we’ve had a GardenRant poll, so in that spirit:


  1. Wow, that is a great looking planting! You are right though, it is the garden of someone who doesn’t want to be in one 24/7 which is okay but not for most of us! Although today, when I am feeling a bit overwhelmed by the ‘native plant’ takeover, it looks inviting!

  2. What a great front yard! I voted “dabbler” but I could just as easily have said “all of the above” because in my unending quest to eliminate as much lawn as possible, I have fit in all of the categories at one time or another in my life. I think the point is that a gardener is never static.

  3. I love the photos, too. I guess I’m more design-inspired than plant-inspired, but to me that means wanting the overall garden to be the outstanding feature, and design is essential for that to happen. But I do more than tweak because I love trying new designs. So, both orientations can be consuming enough to keep a gardener busy.
    And btw, I’m currently engrossed in designing my neighbor’s garden (more on that later), which in this case is simply arranging the existing plants in a more pleasing way. So I conclude that one can be a plant collector and still have good design, though some restraint on the impulse purchases would sure help. But your point is that that would spoil the fun, I suppose. Okay, never mind.

  4. This is similar to what we went with for my parents front yard (save that really nice blood red phormium). It stay static which is fine as its the front yard and they don’t spend much time out front. Out back is where the nursery habit is fully indulged. Hence I ticked dabbler; designer out front, collector out back

  5. That is a really elegant garden. It looks relatively easy to look after, too.

    Like others, I had a hard time choosing a category in the poll. I picked farmer, because I’ve always liked my veg, but dabbler is probably equally true and I’m currently in a big design phase as I redo my front yard.

  6. I think you live in the same metropolitan area as I do, Amy, and I wish I could find out where this house is so I could see that beautiful front yard in person!

  7. As for the poll, I started very much as a “farmer”. I wanted an intense edible landscape. No plants that didn’t earn their keep somehow – fruit, vegetables, kitchen herbs, medicinal herbs… but I find that learning more about how habitats work has led me to plant ornamentals that make good companion plants. And I even ended up going back on my vow not to plant roses. While I still have to fight to get what I want (the landscaper we hired bought flowering currants instead of the fruiting currants I specified, for instance), I’m more flexible now. I know that planting a little something for everyone makes my garden a more balance ecosystem.

  8. My first two years, I was a shopper/accumulator. Now I’m a dabbler. It’s all I can do to keep up with the plants I already have, and while I have picked up a few replacements, such as for annuals, or vines that I didn’t end up liking, I’m having a terrible time actually getting them in the ground before they dry up right in their pots and die. Ugh. Bad garden mommy.

  9. Spidra and anyone else who wants to see this garden–I guess it would not be too intrusive for the owners if I told you where it was, because it’s on a major street (by Ferndale standards). If you’re in Humboldt County, take the one and only road from the highway into Ferndale, and you’ll see it just before you get into town.

  10. That is a beautiful example of a well designed lawnless and ‘low’ maintenance front yard !!

    But don’t be fooled, it is not a NO maintenance garden.
    This garden looks great because someone is ‘working it’.
    The heathers have to be sheared right after they bloom to retain their shape and continue to bloom the following year or they will get woody and soon die out.
    Judging from the varieties in this photo it appears that they have heathers that bloom throughout the spring, summer and a big burst in September.
    The ornamental grasses require cutting back in late winter , fertilizing and dividing every 3 to 4 years and for phormiums to look that good they have to be cleaned out at least once a month to clip off their shedding leaves.

    When I lived up in Mendocino this was a very common style of planting out.
    Designers such as Gary Rattway of The Digging Dog Nursery took this style to an art form and many of us budding designers/ gardeners took his lead, studied his process and perfected our own moderately low maintenace coastal gardens.

    This style works especially well for homeowners who have large sweeps of property such as the one linked below.
    It is a 7 acre parcel planted in the same style as the lovely small residential garden pictured above.
    The homeowner and her gardener work in it about 8 hours a week, depending on the season.

  11. I think I would want my front yard to be designed and pretty much stay the same (it’s not now), much like that one, unless I find a better way of doing it. The back is another matter.

    A front garden and a back garden are very different, at least to me. They are viewed–and used–in different ways. When you’re on a city street, you want your front garden to be able to be appreciated at a glance–as that is. I would, anyway.

  12. I started out with 1/3 acre 13 yrs ago, a stock plan from a landscaper that I started amending the first year, then purchased plants and made space. Finally last year I decided that I wanted to be a Horticultural Therapist the second time around in college, so I went back to our local community college and have finished 2 semesters of Hort/Landscape Design, however I am still a fan of the wild garden due to my husband, 4 almost grown kids and the dogs/cat that I share the space with. I amended our center island/koi pond in the backyard this spring to the path that the dogs have worn in it. Why fight?

  13. That’s an amazing yard!!

    I chose “Other” in the poll because I’m a combination… if you’d had one more catagory named “Lover” I’d have picked that one. I love to shop, love to plant, love to weed, love to eat what we raise, love cut flowers, love how the yard looks (though I’m no designer. . . many things have to get moved around till I get it right).

  14. I garden because I enjoy it, but this makes it easy to buy more plants (the more unique the better), and this in turn, makes me garden more. So… is that dabbling?? I don’t think I’m a dabbler because pulling out all foundation planting (by myself) just because I was SICK of it, doesn’t seem like dabbling — it’s hard work dang it. I do have a vague design in mind, but not on paper so designer doesn’t work for me either. Veg and herbs are everywhere, but sometimes I harvest, sometimes I don’t — I think I’m an other. I love the photos of this garden, but I know I could never have that — I would get bored.

  15. For my clients I’m a designer, for myself I’m a shopper – that’s why I need to keep working as a designer! I just can’t help myself when I see new cultivars of plants I love, I just have to try them!

  16. I checked Other in the survey because I’m a collector – kind of a snobby shopper, I guess.

    ps Great front yard in the post – beats grass in that climate any day!

  17. i like the “lover” denomination above! it almost feels like what i wanted. i picked “other” also. i probably could have picked “dabbler”, but i’m going with “naturalist”. not like native plants only naturalist, but i buy plants and garden with the idea that i’m adding to an experiment already in progress. i get things that i want to watch, and as things establish, i let them be to see what sorts of things they attract. “passive” maybe? i’m actively trying not to dominate it, rather i’d like to see how it evolves without a great deal of interference.

  18. What a beautiful alternative to a lawn. I love that river of color. And it really makes me wish that flax grew well in Austin.

    But Michells Derviss is right that there is no such thing as a no-maintenance landscape. Sometimes I think that the more effortless it looks, the more work it actually takes.

  19. I checked “Other” because I am obsessed with daylilies. I guess I could have checked that I garden so I’ll have a place for them. But what I usually do is just look for a hole and plop the new one in.

  20. Thanks for sharing such a lovely find! I agree that it’s a great application of planning and practicality, but it would never work for me either.

    I’m not a “shopper” gardener because I work on a tight budget. I’m more of a dabbler – I like to trade plants with friends, grow veggies and herbs and flowers, cultivate “weeds” with exotics, try new things, and of course, plant whatever comes home in the front seat when I have a little cash to blow on the Saturday morning garden shop rounds. 😉

  21. Like others, I’m a lover–a compulsive gardener who adores plants (except goutweed) and likes to mix old with new, heritage with hybrids, strong colours, lots of foliage…I spend more on plants in a year than on clothing, easily. I hate to grocery or clothing shop…but will spend days in a nursery.

  22. I adore this. I could see having this low maintenance part of the front yard and then your backyard being more ineractive and experimental.

    I think that might make a nice ballence- part of the land that requires a lot from you so that you fulfill that higher calling that working the land provides – and part of the land that requires little from you so that you can have a respite and sanctuary?

    I am a psychophrenic gardener. I have a career that makes my lifestyle VERY chaotic and uneven. So I cannot say what kind of gardener I really am if I were to have much discressionary time. If I were retire, I think I would be farmer/designer. But I do like the idea of having a space that I just enjoy – sit and have a cup of tea and not be nagged by the weeds that need addressing.

    Secondly- since many modern people are not gardeners in our communities, I wonder about something like this as an example to the neighborhood of something beautiful that is not a lawn.

  23. What a gorgeous yard! Like you, I have NO discipline to stick to a design — oh, I start out all full of plans and good intentions – but as I start planting somehow things just go in where they go in and I may move them later or I may not, Right now I’m just in ‘survival gardening mode’ – meaning I’m sticking plants in wherever I can – in shade, sun or part shade as appropriate as fast as possible to beat the oncoming summer inferno.

  24. I put “other” for the type of gardener I am because I aspire to be a designer, but I’ve a tendency toward the shopper. That doesn’t work for me either, as I haven’t the $$. Moreover, my OCD results in extensive research (& agonizing) over what I will plant & where it will do best. Sometimes I think I’m happier reading about plants than actually planting them.
    JLB & I must be kindred spirits – my idea of Hell is an eternity stuck in the Mall at Christmastime.

  25. I think I’d categorize myself as a shopper/farmer/dabbler. I love to shop at Master Gardener Spring Fairs, bring plants home and then try to figure out where they should go. I’ve always liked the look of Heather and just recently created a section with several varieties in one of the front flower beds. Since I’ve also become intrigued with grasses which I know nothing about, this particular bed is beginning to look like it has potential for turning out to look like your picture (I would hope!). On the other hand, we have a large vegetable garden that feeds us and most of our friends. I’m just into dirt and seeing things grow. It’s my therapy!

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