An Anti-Valentine to the Lawn


Lawn flickr sunstarr For Valentine's Day, Timber Books has invited some bloggers to write anti-valentines to lawns, to help spread the word about Beautiful No-Mow Yards. (Click here to see the anti-Valentines of my blogging buddies.)

I'll start with a photo that shows lawn at its most perfect and ridiculous.  Next, here are some tidbits gleaned from the 160 or so comments competing for a copy of the No-Mow book:

Husbands are frequently blamed for hanging onto their lawns for dear life, no matter what the gardening wife wants.  But wives can be sneaky:

My husband asked me, "Is it my imagination, or is it taking me less and less time each year to cut the grass?" I have gotten rid of about half of it.

There are plenty of reasons for lawns not doing well: shade, drought+flood cycles, black walnut trees, and DOGS.

On the other hand, dogs are what's keeping lots of respondents from removing their lawns, and they ask about plants that can stand up to them. One commenter is hoping that Carex can, another reports that moss definitely can't.  Another is resigned – only mulch or gravel will work.

Ingenious, adventuresome gardeners report replacing their lawns with everything imaginable – the expected veg plots and garden beds but also meditation gardens, an olive grove rising above native grasses (gotta see!), a sea of mondo grass, a permaculture forest, and prairies appropriate to the climate, like this Little Bluestem in the prettiest blog header I've ever seen.

Plano prairie

One writer reported great success with sheep's fescue, which needs mowing just once a year – and then only if the seedheads are looking ratty.  It's not happy in the sunniest spots, though, so she'll be overseeding there with clover.  (Wanna see!)

And lastly, a commenter needs a lawn alternative that's good for grazing dairy cows and chickens.  Oy, the challenges!

Now how about some eye candy?  These are my Valentines to lawnless gardens, from my travels around the U.S. 

Austin, TX

Buffalo, NY

Prairie Dropseed at Chanticleer Garden in PA

Poppie Field at the Chicago Botanic Garden

Salvia in Chicago's Lurie Garden

Long Island Garden of Dennis Schrader

Portland, OR

Portland Garden of Ketzel Levine (now living in Ecuador)

Seattle Garden of Linda Chalker-Scott

Takoma Park, MD

Lawn photo credit.


  1. Beautiful! The little bluestem header IS stunning! We are on a mission to reduce our lawn. Been working on it for years but we will take a big leap this year in our side yard that we never use and plant a meadow. So excited to watch it transform over the next few years- It could become the most traveled area of the yard. Wonderful post-so happy to see many people talking about this and I can’t wait to read and share the message the book.

  2. I need something for a path that I can pull my wheeled cart along. It’s partly to mostly shady and tends to have water run off along it. I don’t want grass but I don’t know what might even sort of grow. I’m thinking it should be straw mulch or pea gravel or some such non-plant like. I’m cheap and don’t want to buy any materials and also don’t know how to taper that off where I can maintain a grassy path. Ideas?

  3. Lawn as white space. My two cents – White space is for graphic design. I want my garden to be a painting. Paths through the garden are all the white space you need.

    On a related note, check out yesterday’s Fine Gardening’s “Garden Photo of the Day”
    I love the neighbor’s quote,
    “I don’t know why you put in all those plants. Now you’ve got no yard.”

  4. I, for one, love a beautiful greensward. A good landscape design requires a visual resting place in contrast to the textures, colors and shapes of the rest of the garden. A lawn provides this. In addition, a lawn allows kids and dogs a large playscape to romp in. I certainly understand the argument against grass space, after all I read Garden Rant, but a lawn can be accomplished with a variety of plant material as shown in the “prairie dropseed” photo for one example. I have nothing against a lovely cottage garden, but every yard on every block in every town? What ever happened to freedom of expression. A lawn, as an element of good landscape design with a reasonable physical function, should not be rejected off hand. Not with the variety of new grasses, plant material and information available to everyone today.

  5. Susan, so many different looks and styles in your photos! You really reinforce the book’s point that there are a lot of options for those who don’t want a traditional turfgrass-dominated yard.

    Cheryl, if it fits your climate zone, what about a low mint like pennyroyal (Mentha Pulegium) for a scented path? Or if that’s too much of a spreader for you, Mazus reptans is flat with fresh green foliage. I think both would do well in moist part shade and handle some foot (and cart) traffic.

  6. Play space is fine, but how much play ever goes on in most front yards? And I’d be in heaven if there were cottage gardens in every single front yard in my neighborhood.

    As for freedom of expression and “white space” to rest the eyes: 1) no one proposes making lawn alternatives compulsory (that’s for AFTER the revolution); and 2) you can have restful white/green space with excellent, attractive groundcovers other than turf.

  7. Wowza, I’d love to explore Ketzel Levine’s garden based on the photo you show. And of course I love Lucinda Hutson’s front yard cottage garden in Austin. And having visited Bluestem’s Plano Prairie garden last fall, I can tell you it’s even more stunning than his header image. Take a look:

    Evelyn’s book will, I’m sure, inspire many people to rip out their lawn who just aren’t sure how to begin. And Alan, regarding the negative space that lawn provides, shrinking it to a manageable, intentional space can still provide many benefits (reduction of noise and chemical pollution, and introduction of wildlife habitat, to name two) AND give you that negative space. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. And in hot-zone climates like mine, roomy decomposed-granite patio spaces can work well as negative space in lieu of thirsty grass. Different climates, different solutions.

  8. I understand everybody’s comments, and appreciate the discussion!

    I’m not saying there needs to be a huge expanse of turf, but all of these photos seem to indicate it’s an all-or-nothing proposition, and I don’t see it that way. It all depends on the size of the yard/garden too.

    Also, many of us need to follow city or subdivision rules. As beautiful as the prairie dropseed lawn looks, it technically wouldn’t be allowed in my city, as lawn grasses must be kept 6″ or shorter — or something like that.

  9. Keeping lawn for the dogs?

    Obviously the homeowners haven’t done any research on the correlation between herbicides and insecticides and cancer in dogs.

    Think about it, you put down pesticides and then your dog runs through the yard. Later, they lick their feet and ingest the chemicals. After years of exposure, it adds up.

  10. I love all the pictures of the lawn alternatives. I drool over some of them. That said:

    1. Can we see those same pictures in winter? Probably not so pretty and pretty messy. Where as a lawn is just blah.

    2. Not everyone who has a lawn uses herbiscides and insecticides. Or waters it.

    3. Can’t visualize that very formal facade in the first photo with a cottage garden or meadow. The Sheep grass, yeah.

  11. The area around my house is planted unconventionally – I hesitate to even call it a yard. Very little grass and only one traditional foundation plant. I keep debating whether to move the kalmia elsewhere or to add more bushes. The pictures you provided answered my question. Thank you!

  12. Interesting post for Valentin’s Day – especially for those of us like me, whose PARTNER steadfastly REFUSES to let me take over the STUPID LAWN! lol – sort of.

    Oh Well – Someone should have written an episode of “Murder She Wrote” about No-Mow motive.

  13. Oh, wow…the salvia! I would love (repeat – LOVE) to hear more about no-lawn gardening with dogs. Does letting creeping charlie take over the whole backyard count?


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