I Can’t Believe We’re Even Having This Conversation.


Front yard4

Actual words used on GardenRant to talk about what people do with their front yards:

"Practically no one wants a meadow out
their front door."

"A meadow in a suburban development looks
suspiciously like a weedy, unkempt yard at an abandoned property. 
Neighbors are not amused."

"Mowing requires no experience at all to
do it right.  Contrast that with the largely unknown and
misunderstood methods
of creating and maintaining meadows."

"I'd be shocked to see them turning to
meadows for the answer.  Not in my lifetime, anyway."

"Down here,
with an automatic sprinkler system and a lawn crew, you can maintain a
St. Augustine grass lawn with a minimal investment in time and money.
The same cannot be said of a rain garden, a native plant garden, a
butterfly garden, a wildlife habitat, a meadow, a front-yard vegetable
garden, or any other hort-trendy theme gardens."

Now.  I don't really think of my front yard as a meadow, but apparently Saxon Holt does, and that's good enough for me.

Front yard2

I also don't think that I have the most beautiful, perfect front yard meadow/garden/thingy in the world, but that's not the point of these photos.

The point is to show that my house is on a block that is an uninterrupted expanse of green lawn except for my little whatever-the-hell-I-feel-like-doing-with-it garden.  And it's not a quarter-acre lot, it's an eighth-acre lot.

I know that there are various definitions of "meadow." One of the reasons that I would not call my front yard a meadow is that I can't be bothered to walk around with a clipboard and make sure I fit the criteria. What I do have is an assortment of ornamental grasses, chosen because they look interesting in the wind and the rain, and we get nothing but wind and rain and overcast skies from about November through April, and in between the ornamental grasses are some flowering perennials and a few self-sowing annuals. Is it a meadow or a perennial border or a mess?  I don't know. I don't care.

These pulled-back photos are hardly glamor shots, but at least they let you see the garden in context. In the neighborhood.  Next to the neighbors with their green mowed lawns.  Who, by the way, have nothing but compliments for my garden.  At least to my face, that is.  Which is the same thing as having nothing but compliments, as far as I'm concerned.

Front yard3

Here's a bit more of a close-up.  You can see that there are some weedy-looking gaps to the left.  I've got some small perennials that will take a few years to fill in, but give it a little time and the left will look like the right:  masses of green, orange, and red stuff, mixed with flowering stuff, so densely planted that there are no weeds to pull, ever.

Front yard close up

This is a more carefully-chosen shot that gives you a sense of what about 75% of it looks like now, and what the whole thing will look like once the last few gaps are filled in.

Okay, so:  we can all agree that this maybe isn't the textbook definition of a meadow.  It's a bunch of perennial grasses, combined with flowering perennials like salvia and nepeta, along with some self-sowing annuals like California poppy and nigella. We can also agree that I don't worry much about wild animals and ticks and the truly horrible Lyme disease, although we do have our neighborhood population of skunks, raccoons, and possum, who seem to find a home anywhere, not just in my garden. 

And it's
true that I don't live in the suburbs with its opinionated neighbors and
deed restrictions.  I live in a mixed neighborhood of Victorians,
bungalows, and marijuana grow houses. These are the least controversial plants you'll see in Humboldt County.

And, of course, I live in an area where it never snows, so that's different, too.

But.  I get no rain from June through October.  None.  Not a drop.  Not once.  No. Rain.

So here's my "unknown and misunderstood method" of caring for my whatever-it-is front garden:

1. On some decent day in the middle of winter, I go outside with pruning shears and whack down the dead flower stalks.

2.  Maybe on the same day, or maybe on some other winter day, I go outside with a rake and comb through the ornamental grasses, removing the dead grass as if I'm brushing its hair (which turns out to be a deeply pleasurable task that satisfies some primal grooming instinct, sort of like combing nits out of a child's hair, something I've always wanted to do, not enough to actually have a child, but enough to think I might volunteer for the task if it ever came up.)

That's it.  That's all.  Now, when there are empty spaces that hold nothing but small, growing plants, those spaces must be weeded.  So I do that maybe once or twice a month in summer.

When there are small, growing plants, they need water during our annual drought.  So once every three or four weeks during the summer, I stand outside with a hose in one hand and a martini in the other.

But for the areas that are all filled in, I don't even do that. Repeat:  I do not water. I do not weed.

Automated sprinkler system?  Lawn crew? Mowing?  Blowing?


You mean that's easier?  Or cheaper?  I've never mowed anything in my life, but I'm pretty sure it involves a big noisy piece of machinery that must get cranked up about as often as I run my washing machine. And I've never had an automated sprinkler system or a lawn crew, but that sounds like a lot of money and trouble to me.

I will suggest this: the front yard meadow is maybe not the same thing as the "we have acres of property in the country" meadow.  But you can get pretty darn meadow-esque, with plants appropriate for your region, and come up with something that looks nothing like "a weedy, unkempt yard at an abandoned property" and requires far less maintenance than that machinery-and-paid-help thing you people call a front yard.



  1. Inspirational photos. I’ve been trying to get a somewhat more homogeneous look beside my house (on a corner lot). Currently, it is desirable and undesirable weeds. Even with the variety in your yard, there is still a similarity in shape, bringing it together. Well done.

  2. I think it comes down to education — everyone knows how to maintain a lawn, and if they don’t, they can hire someone to do it. Though a front yard like yours is easy to take care of, it does require choosing plants that will thrive in your climate (I’m sure most of those tough, easy, plants in your yard would be all but impossible to grow here in wet, cold, Michigan) and putting them together in a design that doesn’t look like a weedy mess.

  3. It’s lovely — I’d live next to you in a heartbeat. I have a front garden (as opposed to grass), but it must contend with a mix of dry shade from 50-year-old trees, hot afternoon sun and infrequent rain from May through September as well as constant vinca and burning bush seedlings that pop up out of nowhere. I’m still looking for a workable mix, so I unfortunately must both weed and water. Lucky you!

  4. So there, Saxon Holt (who obviously thinks no one knows what a ‘meadow’ is unless he designs it?). Your garden — and that’s what it is, a lovely, varied mixed perennial garden (your grasses are mostly perennial, yes?) — is beautiful, interesting, and obviously well-thought-out and maintained. Neener!

  5. Terrific perennial garden you have there and what a great alternative to lawn! You’ve chosen plants well, so it’s easy and gorgeous.

    But this type of garden isn’t at all what I mean by “meadow”, ever. Common usage and my usage – a large area of mainly tall grasses. Both height and area are implied, like they are in words like field and forest, though they can’t be quantified exactly.

    And if the AHS had trouble figuring out how to create a meadow, and the maintenance that meadows most need is banned in most suburbs and cities (fire), then I call the whole endeavor pretty unknown and misunderstood.

  6. Like it, like it a lot & it fits my definition of meadow. Even John Greenlee, the guru of grass, uses perennials in his meadows.

  7. Amy’s post was sparked by the earlier post questioning who might want to actually have a meadow as a lawn alternative. I jumped to the defense of meadows, because I have spent years advocating for them. They CAN look nice even in residential settings, though this is not yet common and does take some gardening sense.
    I thought of Amy’s front yard as a great example of someone who has a wonderful garden, chaotic and bug-ridden, an attribute much like a designed meadow. Whether she or anyone else wants to call this a meadow, it looks remarkably like one and is never-the-less a sustainable alternative to lawn. For more photos of Amy’s front yard, click here:
    http://tinyurl.com/249q8ml and use the password eureka.

  8. I like your front yard — and I agree that it’s prettier than the homogeneous expanse of lawn we normally see. But you’re a gardening professional, right? My point was that this sort of garden is difficult for the typical front-yard owner to even contemplate, much less achieve. You only spend a few hours a year maintaining it? Maybe two days? What about the time you spent figuring out how to do all that in the first place? Put yourself in the shoes of a 30-something new homeowner, with a husband and maybe a kid or two, and a job and other interests. She can figure out how to mow a lawn and pop some annuals in, but maybe not how to do this. They’re not all gardeners out there…

  9. At some point, I’m going to be tying in residential meadows to flood management in my area, and maybe I’ll get some attention. But in the meantime, yes — lawn replacement is still what I have in mind.

    I confess to being a horribly negligent landowner. After three weeks of zero maintenance to my Chicago suburban property, guess which looks worse – the 4″ grass or the butterfly garden in bloom?

    My negligence is more a lifestyle choice than a passing phase, so if I have to look up the difference between a meadow and a prairie to keep the neighbors happy (apparently, prairies are non-transitional and easier to take care of!) I’ll happily keep chugging along on the road to lower maintenance. Because I do a pretty crappy job of maintenance now.

  10. Amy, I agree, you’re meadow- garden thingy is gorgeous. But I’d like to point out that your growing conditions–no rain April-October–is not necessarily the most challenging environments. We in the Mid-Atlantic are currently in a record heat wave with very warm nights and high humidity,preceded by a wet spring, all which are death to many xeriscape plants. As to meadows, my yard is jinxed by a very big black walnut tree that taints the soil with juglone and produces hundreds of seedlings if left unmowed. I’d love a meadow, but I’d have to shell out a lot of money to whack a perfectly nice healthy tree, then dig up all the roots.

  11. Thank you, Amy. Some of the comments yesterday made me want to tear my hair out. Seriously, a St. Augustine grass lawn as model of economic efficiency? And the poor, harried, 30-something new homeowner can’t be bothered to ask a few questions at a local nursery, or read a book, or search the web? This is NOT the time to retreat to the bad, old, boring, wasteful practices that are finally giving way to vibrant, fascinating, low-impact front gardens all across the country.

  12. Amy,
    You have a nice cultivated garden with some attractive ornamental grasses, native flowers and flowering shrubs.
    It’s not what most who have designed or grew up surrounded by common meadows would call it a meadow, but as you said, you don’t care, so why should we ?
    It is what it is. enjoy it for that, a cultivated front yard.

  13. Interesting topic. I find it interesting that people seem to think that just because they have somehow achieved yard garden perfection in their own very small part of the world that the exact same thing is going to work everywhere.
    We literally built our own home and here is my experience with landscaping, grass, etc…
    After the building process is complete, one is left with a nightmare of a landscape. THe ground is compacted,scrapped, and full of weed seeds. Where I live there is very little topsoil natively on top of decomposing granite. It has been a very time consuming process to create even a smallish area of drought tolerant,deer resistant (lol) plantings. Topsoil had to be purchased, graded etc. As I am on the 3rd year, I still am out there quite a bit weeding etc. ALso even though everything I have planted is pretty stinkin tough it does require some water as I live where the summers are hot(90-100 and it is extremely dry,like 16%. I am fairly confident that if I did what the author is able to do where she lives and not water, all my plants would be dead at the end of the summer.
    We also will be installingsome sod grass. It is a locally grown sod that yes, needs some watering but not like a bluegrass. Umm it will just grow, we won’t feel compelled to water it obsessively nor does it require that. nor cut it much either. I don’t like walking thru tall grass so a little area will be cut for walking. We also will have reclaimation mix of grasses seeded and they will not watered or cut. This goes along with about 2 acres of already established native grass that is never cut or watered. I can say it is certainly way less complicated of a process to just put in some grass and call her good. Not everyone has the time,money or skills to do it. I think people need to appreciate this fact.

  14. Well, I would just say, in general response the comments thus far, that first, we all have our weather & site challenges. Mine happens to be no rain for several months. Other people have snow or a big tree or heat. You choose what works in your situation.

    Also, while it may seem that this garden requires a lot of skill or knowledge, spend a little time with me and you’ll be astonished at how little I know. I’m a writer, not a professional gardener. You could point to a dozen trees I can see from my own window and I couldn’t tell you what one of them are. Much less anything that grows outside my little zone. The plants in my front yard are so ordinary that they are practically cliches. You could buy them at any garden center. Not a lot of knowledge required–a little help from any sales clerk would get you these plants.

    And finally, yeah, it’s not a real meadow, but I think Saxon’s point is that it “reads” as meadow to passers-by. It’s naturalistic and grassy.

  15. Amy, you know I’m a fan. But …

    I’ve combed grass to remove the dead stems. I’ve also recently dealt with not one but two rounds of lice infestation in my children’s hair. There’s nothing pleasurable about the nit-picking process. My son’s hair is about an inch long and incredibly thick. It took me 2 hours total to work my way through his hair looking for nits. My daughter’s hair is nearly to her waist & so thick you can scarcely see scalp. Eight hours to go through that mane.

    That was just the first treatment. At minimum, you have to do two treatments to get rid of the critters. Three is much better.

    Perhaps next time (God forbid !!) someone in their school gets a little too share-y, I can call you to help me out ? It would be most appreciated :~)

    Love the shots of your meadow-yard. It’s pretty much exactly what I’ve been trying to convince my husband that we need to do !

  16. “So densely planted that there are no weeds to pull, ever.” I need your magic touch because I maintain a large area of a public garden and even the really packed perennial beds that look meadow-esque take about 8 hours every two weeks to weed and keep in check. It is a lot of work, but it’s beautiful. I saw it’s worth it even if it isn’t completely weed free.

  17. A gorgeous garden that shows it is possible to have a sustainable alternative to a lawn without being a horticultural expert or spending every week maintaining it.

    For those who have commented the average person does not have the time, money or skill to achieve something like this, it IS more work in the beginning, but with a much more satisfactory pay off in the long run than lawn. Granted sod is cheaper to install, provides instant gratification and it’s easy to find someone to do the weekly maintenance. Between the cost of irrigating, mowing and maintaning, however, over time, a garden like Amy’s is potentially less time, work and money to maintain. Nurseries and master gardener groups host websites and offer classes, there are zillions of books on the topic and a few hours of consultation from a garden coach or deisgner is a relatively small investment to learn the basics of creating a garden like Amy’s – one that benefits the environment as a whole rather than just the aesthetic preferences of the homeowner.

  18. Beautiful front yard – something for me to aspire to. Could you post a few pictures of how it looks in the winter? It would be interesting to see what the bones look like – especially the month(s)between cutting the grasses and when they begin to regrow.

  19. Amen, Amy! Your front garden looks wonderful…especially next to the boring green swaths of your neighbors. I have the little sister version of your garden in Monterey, CA. It’s only 2 years old. But I don’t have to water anything either. Most of the neighbors like my garden and are jealous that I don’t have to pay for water in the summer. One old lady makes comments that are borderline rude, but she’s just uptight and has nothing else to do. So that’s ok.

  20. It’s also not clear to me that a home meadow has to have grasses in it. A crowded wildflower bed of any size, created by sowing seeds, rather than planting perennials should qualify. It’s only mowed once a year. That was the effect we tried to create with the meadow demonstration garden. Some native bees don’t like mulched beds, so bare patches are acceptable. We used Wildseed Farms Northeast mix, and augment with some self-sowing annuals each year (didn’t do anything this year). We’ve added some later blooming perennials to keep a season long nectar source. It’s not at all formal looking, and had no design to it (we used a seeding method based on establishing turf, just as an ironic twist, including cross broadcasting, and straw.) I sent Amy a PDF with pictures. We started Fall, 2005, created the bed and seeded in Spring, 2006, and the final picture in the pdf is from the Spring 2007. I linked to 2008, and 2010 pictures in the last thread. We followed the directions from Wildseed Farms here:


    We’re zone 6, Chambersburg, PA.

  21. HeII yeah, Amy!

    And if one doesn’t have the time to take care of their yard, how about buying a house with a smaller yard next time? You’ll have time to take care of it and enjoy it.

    I’m reel mowing my itty bitty yard while I slowly replace the lawn. Exercise + yard maintenance in one. 30 minutes max.

  22. Absolutely beautiful! If I had even the slightest idea how to do that I would. Or if I had any money I’d pay someone to do that for me. In the meantime the best I’ve done is plant grass that doesn’t quite look normal but requires no mowing unless it pours rain for 3 weeks in the spring (around here that is rare). I do wish I knew the name of a book at least that could lead me in that general direction way up here, north of the boarder in the middle of the prairies.

    Your yard is what I dream mine could look like some day, but I do understand why people don’t think it will take off. My neighbours, in suburbia, look down their noses at me all the time. And thats for having 4 perennials instead of a bed full of annuals out front.

  23. I like it a lot. My own lawn is getting cluttered with trees, a sort of ex-meadow becoming a little forest. The red currant bushes are very productive this year, enabling me to create currant cobblers, which are much appreciated by friends & family.

  24. @ Ray – I know about lice. Way more than I ever wanted to know. I was simply responding to Amy’s 2nd point in her ‘”unknown and misunderstood method” of caring’ for her meadow-yard.

  25. I can’t let it pass without saying something about nit picking a child’s hair! Take four children, all sent home, two boys, shave their heads and back to school. Two girls with waist length hair and aversion to combs. Nearly shaved, think pixies with shaved sides and lightning bolts cut in to jazz it up. Combing grasses, especially Blue Sapphire grass is soooo much more enjoyable. Your garden looks wonderful.
    ps nits are sticky buggars

  26. That makes much more sense, Laura, now that I re-read. I thought it had something to do with the tick issue, and my pedantic gene kicked in. Apologies.

  27. I WAS a thirty year old homeowner with a new house and two small kids (and work/graduate school). Did our first perennial garden look pathetic and did many plants die?


    Did we learn over the years until we are now at the point where there’s mostly a bit of routine weeding, lots of deadheading (I love enthusiastically flowering perennials), watering during droughts (here in NC) – and lovely blooms from Febrary through November?


    Strangely, we now have three kids who’d rather help in the garden than help mow.

    I love your front meadow/garden/thingy!

  28. Amy – GLORIOUS garden! LOVE! And it does have meadow-like characteristics, which obviously works beautifully for you. Having a meadow (or near-meadow) doesn’t HAVE to be about creating an authentic meadow experience (complete with lightning strikes and fire) – it just has to integrate ornamental grasses, tough perennials, and wildflowers. Basta. Of course I am making it very simple – but just like you pointed out, IT IS SIMPLE!!!
    I won’t even listen to those who say “gardening takes too much time I’m going to stick with lawn” or “only garden professionals can have gardens like that”. WRONG. I became a garden professional BECAUSE of what I did in my front yard. I ripped out my lawn and realized that there was a better way, an EASIER way! Amy’s experience of maintaining her garden is similar to mine … if I can’t do it with a martini in one hand, it doesn’t get done. My front yard is crammed with plants, and I guarantee I spend less time tending to it than the average mow&blow guy spends on a lawn.
    I understand why people would have problems with getting rid of lawn. It is a tradition. It looks “neat”. Emerald green swaths set off ornamental beds in a very English way. But lawn reform is an idea whose time has come. I can’t wait for the day when our neighborhoods are full of beautifully personal, idiosyncratic gardens that reflect the style and passion of the homeowner. What fun it will be to take evening walks in these future neighborhoods!

  29. There are too few voices of dissent in this dialogue. It simply can’t be possible that no one who has read this post finds your front lawn inappropriate for their neighborhood.

    I like the meadowy garden that you have placed in front of your home instead of a lawn. However, I know that if I were to try that treatment in my neighborhood, the market value of my home would plummet.

  30. I would not want a lawn like this. I would be afraid of snakes and all of the other creepy crawly things to go along with it. I do love a garden, but this is not beauty. I hope the city will do something about this.

  31. Well, I like it, and I’d love to have it in my front yard. The market value of my house would only go up because I live in an older relaxed neighborhood. However, even after 9 years of trying my darndest to get my perennials to grow close enough together to crowd out the weeds, it’s not happened, and I feel I’m a pretty knowledgeable gardener.

    I don’t think low maintenance is possible in all climates. I wish it were! The Texas heat, humidity, BAD soil (caliche), drought, followed by monsoon rains never allows all of the plants to thrive except of course for the Bermuda grass.–A nuclear bomb couldn’t kill it.

  32. You’re lucky to even have the ability to plant such meadows! Pretty much every subdivision here in Jacksonville won’t allow beautiful plantings like those, and its only the old neighborhoods where you get a taste of how it could really be. I think its just a case of neighbors (not yours of course!) seeing front yard gardens as black sheep, like sore thumbs in a sea of boredom.

  33. I would NEVER live in an area where having a beautiful, wild front yard garden would “affect my property values”. My value system is so different, I can’t even encompass the thought.
    There are those of us who value individualism, personal choice, ecological responsibility, and variety. The front lawn is an example of horticultural xenophobia, and many of these posts are clear examples of that.
    But I am clearly biased.

  34. Amy,your post title says it all. Simply put, your “front yard”, is beautiful! Well done!

    To those of you complaining about what the neighbors would say, or about the maintenance questions, I have a one word answer to all, Education!

    Enjoyed all the comments BTW, and when it comes to my garden and maintenance, make mine a Bourbon Manhatten!

  35. To all the “I could never do that or live in an area with a front yard like that because my property value would plummet” naysayers…

    Water’s a hot commodity, and if the ‘you need a lawn in order to create curb appeal’ paradigm is not shifted in the next couple years, we’re all in trouble.

  36. This is it! This is the front yard I envision for our house. Lovely! Amy, I’m still wiping the tears away after laughing my way through this post. Yes, nitpicking a child’s head IS disturbingly satisfying! But yeah, do not have a child just for that. I can let you know when my kid gets her next bout of lice, ‘k? And watering with the hose in one hand, martini in the other is my preferred method of watering too! Cheers!

  37. My garden is now intensely planted, mostly in vegetables, to that point of needing minimal weeding. We spent a great deal of work in digging out every stinking weed bulb, etc and then even more time starting seeds indoors, transplanting, seeding, plus shopping for perennials but we’re crazy “Rome can be built in a day” types. A rational person, wanting to transform a lawn into a meadow or perennial bed will do it a little at a time over a period of years. That solves the “don’t know how to do it” problem, because after a few years, you’ll have made many of the mistakes and will know a few things.

  38. Remember the book “Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche”? I think there are lots of those who think that the title today should be “Real Men Don’t Hand Weed, They garden with Power Equipment”. Weeding and deadheading, that is wussy work. And combing out grass?! Whack it down to the ground with a chainsaw would be the “manly” solution.

  39. Amy, Another option for your nit-removing-hair-combing pleasure: My sister in law Nancy bought a “Furminator” at the Pet Supermart and when she brushes her dogs (plus she also takes it to the Rescue/Pound when she volunteers) it removes the matted undercoat, allowing the main coat to become shiny and silky. Also ok on cats, skunks, racoons, etc. 🙂

  40. Beautiful garden and I am seeing more of its ilk in my part of the world (Colorado) but I think many people here are underestimating how far up the learning curve we have all traveled and how intimidating a front yard garden can be to the average homeowner. Just keep planting and educating, but don’t be surprised if change is slow.

  41. I use the word “meadow” for gardens that are predominantly low and medium grasses. The rest is up to the ecology you’re hoping to create and your artistic abilities. I love Amy’s garden, but I wouldn’t describe it as a meadow.

  42. I have a front yard (and backyard) meadow garden, but I call it a prairie. Before the settlers, this part of Texas was tall grass prairies. I am trying to focus on plants that originally grew here. I do throw in a few Texas natives from other regions if I like their looks and think they will survive the conditions.

    I don’t know what my neighbors think about my yard. They may comment or ask a question about a specific plant, but never a comment about the overall design.

    My yard is different and people do not like or try to understand things that are different.

  43. I too have a front yard garden here in Florida, while my neighbors all have water, gas and pollution guzzling lawns that require more than their share of water to keep the grass alive, and air and noise polluting gas to keep it constantly mowed and trimmed. I hope “our” way is the wave of the future because it’s so much better for the environment, while requiring way less maintenance and environmental abuse. Win-win for everyone except those who just don’t get it. On top of all that, it’s quite beautiful and a haven for endangered bees, butterflies and nature in general. Thank you to all.


  44. I am getting inspired to try for my front yard meadow again and be damned to the City Ordinance that mandates the yard cannot be taller than 8 inches.

    I believe from looking at your photos that what will be the way to convince them that it is a garden and not a weed infested unmowed lawn is the existence of the large clumps of perennial grass. I think if I start installing those first and then allow them to fill in I will be able to get away with this.

    Also, I have to reply to Mary, who posted a comment above, that the weed seeds are the pioneer plants of your meadow garden.

    More power to you Amy, and Saxon, and all ye front yard meadow activists. The suburban lawn has had its day. Now it’s time to try something else.


  45. Your garden is fantastic and I would be thrilled to have you as a neighbor but as others have said that won’t work in most of the country. At least not as a low maintenance garden.

    I’ve gardened on both coasts and while the west coast has its own special challenges the summer dry season and the overall mild climate tend to create a slow and steady very tidy sort of growth pattern.

    Trying to pull that off in the heat, humidity and rain of an east coast, mid-west, or southern garden is going to require a ton of maintenance or you are going to have a weedy mess of a jungle in no time.

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