Want your kids to play outside? Rip out the lawn!

Pam's kids loved their lawnless front yard.
Pam’s kids loved their lawnless front yard.

Guest Rant by Pam Penick

Lawns are for kids, right? After all, they need that big, green carpet to enjoy the outdoors. Would it be an exaggeration to say it borders on neglect not to keep a lawn for your children or grandchildren to play on?

Some people think so. In a recent article in the New York Times about drought-prone cities paying homeowners to rip out water-hogging lawns, one critic implied that families should keep their lawns for their children’s sake. “It’s getting to the point where kids live in apartments, and they don’t even see grass, except in magazines,” a Los Angeles mother was quoted as saying, vowing to keep her emerald turf. I hear this a lot: kids need lawns so they can go outside and play.

As a mother of two, a garden designer who works with plenty of young families, and a former kid myself, I think that’s hogwash.

The sad truth is that most kids hardly set foot in their own yards today thanks to the indoor lure of video games, texting, Instagram, and whatever the latest cool app is. Sure, kids still play a lot of sports, but these activities are scheduled on school and municipal fields. They’re not the casual pickup games with the neighbors’ kids in the front yard that some of us remember. Heck, kids aren’t even at home that much these days. After school they’re at piano practice, karate lessons, and tutoring sessions. If the family lawn is meant to entice kids outdoors, it’s clearly not working.

The bad news, much lamented by wellness experts over the past decade, is that kids are spending less time than ever in nature.

The good news is that means the yard is yours! Even you young parents can feel justified in ripping out the lawn and remaking your yard to your gardener’s heart’s content.

The really good news is that doing so can actually make your yard more enticing to your kids than a lawn ever could.

Here’s why. Kids like big rocks to climb on. They like bushes to hide under. They like trees to climb. They like water to splash in. They love trying to catch lizards and holding out a sweaty hand to see if a passing butterfly will land for a moment. They love riding trikes and scooters on circuitous routes through a garden, the junglier the better. They like digging in dirt.

I remember as a kid my favorite spot in my big, suburban back yard was the woodpile stacked between two trees, which my friends and I, caped like superheroes, climbed onto and pretended was the Bat Cave. The lawn was of no interest to us. Next door lived the luckiest kids in the world, or so it seemed to me, because the recent construction of their home had left a 6-foot mound of lumpy soil, overgrown with weeds, which was perfect for creeping up commando-style and spying on grownups from the high, secret perch. When we moved a few years later to a house in an established, more landscaped neighborhood, I loved to hang out in the woodsy, overgrown area at the back of the yard, not the open lawn. During the mild South Carolina winter my sister and I raided our garden’s pine trees and Camellia sasanqua hedge to make tiny bark boats adorned with frilly, pink blossoms, and floated them on the waterlogged cover of the pool.

My own kids, when they were little, confirmed my memories of what children find to be fun. They loved scampering on boulders at the local park, leaping from rock to rock. They barreled around our lawnless front garden on their scooters, cruising the garden paths that I’d paved with ramps rather than steps, ducking under overhanging branches and crazily skirting my planting beds as I hollered, “Watch out!”

They taught me, and I remembered from experience, that the best yard you can create for your kids is one that they can explore. An expanse of lawn gives you no reason to step outside and see what’s going on. You can see everything there is to see from the window. But a garden! A garden beckons and entices. Flowers and seeds attract all manner of entertaining and beautiful birds and insects. Leafy plants offer touchable texture and help hide parts of the garden from view, making even a short garden stroll an adventure: what new bloom or butterfly will appear around the bend? And, if you like, a small lawn fits quite nicely into such a space, offering a restful spot for the eye and the body – and even a game of catch.

So I say to those who reject the idea of a no-lawn yard as detrimental to children, think again. Unless your children are playing on that lawn regularly, you could transform your yard from a lawn desert into a diverse, interesting, enticing place of discovery for your whole family to enjoy, and likely conserve water and create wildlife habitat in the process. When you think about it that way, a lawn is depriving your children of experiences with nature that they’re unlikely to get elsewhere.

But don’t worry – it’s an easy fix. Just get out the shovel and start digging. Find a few extra shovels, tell the kids it’s OK to get dirty, and they may even join you.lawngone

BOOK GIVEAWAY: Whether you’re ripping out your lawn for you or your kids, you may be interested in my book Lawn Gone! Low-Maintenance, Sustainable, Attractive Alternatives for Your Yard, which I wrote for beginning gardeners and anyone concerned about the environmental costs of maintaining a lawn. Filled with how-to information, design ideas, plant suggestions, and plenty of inspirational photographs, it’ll show you how rewarding a lawnless or less-lawn garden can be.

How to enter? Just leave a comment on this post; one comment per person, please. Entries close at 11:59 pm EST on Wednesday, August 21. Winner must reside in the U.S.

Pam Penick is a garden designer in Austin, TX and blogs at Digging.


    • It is very refreshing to read this. I have a big yard with a lot of grass right in the center. We play croquet and bocci sometimes, but I think I would really like to have some meandering paths and hideaways for my kids. That seems like a wonderful idea. It is really hard, though, to take that step into the unknown.

  1. I was lucky to grow up on an acre with the grandparents’ and also the cousin’s house sharing the space with our own family house. The lawn areas were fine, but all the exploration took place in the wild areas of “weeds” out beyond civilization. There we discovered the toads and horny toads, rode the nearly horizontal mesquite branch like it was our own wild stallion, and were free to explore the wild flowers and rocks like it was our own magical kingdom. Lawn be gone, indeed.

  2. My yard is the most interesting place for children and adults to explore! No lawn but lots of plants, rocks, water features, birds, butterflies, dragonflies, toads and lizards create surprises everywhere you look. I already have the book and if you are looking for ideas, inspiration and practical advice about transforming your outdoor space you should get a copy for yourself.

  3. My favorite place to hang out in the yard was in the “side” yard where it was mainly sand and dirt. I spent hours in the sandbox. I used to cover the sprinkler head closes to the box to create a flood. I played in the mud a lot. Mom used to make us strip by the backdoor and hose us down before we were allowed inside.

    On the other side of the house was the veggie garden where we could find fat tomato worms and creepy crawly things. The only thing that we used the lawn for was running through the sprinklers.

  4. Growing up we had lawns but my favorite stop was a huge (or at least it seemed to me) rock that was in the middle of the backyard. Great place for my Little Kiddles to have a camping trip! And our guinea pigs loved to sit in the lettuce patch and eat (with a laundry basket over them to keep from wandering).

  5. When we’d walk around our neighborhood, our favorite place to go was the “yard with the jungle” – they had beautiful, tall perennials and grasses that would flow over onto the sidewalk a bit, and it was like walking through a jungle – well, probably not for the adults, but for us kids it was magic. Nothing sparks the imagination like a landscape that invokes a faraway place to a child. There are plenty of places in the world to throw a ball, but the places that make us (even us adults) imagine something else seem fewer and further between.

  6. Fun read. I have been working with our HOA about this for sometime. Yes we need to get kids outdoors more for sure. I appreciate the blog. Keep it up.

  7. When I was a kid our favorite outdoor play area was the backyard of an abandoned house. No manicured lawn there, the grass was high and the bushes were overgrown. There was one particular bush that grew in an umbrella shape down to the grown, with a marvelous large hiding area in it. We spent hours in there, giggling and playing Lost in Space. Yep, that Lost in Space. Our imaginations got a huge workout in that yard, we were castaways, pirates, explorers, heck, we were kids.
    As an adult I don’t want to abandon my yard to overgrown shrubbery, but I have gradually been eliminating lawn through the years. Now I’m at the point where I would love to find some way to get rid of what’s left, but I don’t want anything high maintenance and really don’t know how much more weeding I can deal with. I’d love this book!

  8. Fellow Lawn Reformer Paul Tukey recommends that families ask themselves what lawn sports they really play at home, then create a lawn that provides for that sport (if any). With the land that’s left, space for unstructured lawnless play.

  9. I am replacing my yard piece by piece. Every year we add something new. I’m planning a mazelike installation for the back so the dogs have somewhere to run and hunt bunnies. Up front I want to build butterfly and bird habitats.
    We used to play all over the neighborhood wherever there were weeds or washouts to explore. We’d come home filthy and happy. 🙂

  10. Kids don’t like lawn. Parents do, because they can spy on their kids easier, I mean “watch” their kids and see what they’re doing and keep them “safe”. In a lawn, there are no dangerous trees to climb and no secret hiding places and no berries or flowers to pick and no dirty dirt.

  11. As a child, one of my favourite spaces was my grandmother’s overgrown “secret garden”. The trees and shrubs had gotten out of hand and there were self seeded flowers everywhere.

    When I had a large yard, my children were never on the lawn area, but always in my garden parts. But I had planned it for them. All the neighbourhood kids would come and scramble through my gardens, picking flowers, and checking out butterflies and caterpillars. Their mother’s would have a fit, but I assured them that they were allowed to pick whatever they wanted.

    Now we have a much smaller yard. I have removed all grass from the back yard, but I have been informed that I must leave a bit of grass in the front yard so they can make snowmen in the winter. ( I do frown on rolling snowballs through my gardens).

  12. I couldn’t agree more. My son always enjoyed playing in the woods behind our house. The lawn was the evil thing that Dad made him mow from time to time. We still have a small portion of that lawn today, but most of it is gone. The birds and butterflies have flourished as a result of replacing the lawn with native plants. I don’t miss the lawn at all!

  13. YES!! I think, when I was a kid, 95% of our outdoor games were played in non-lawn areas. Even sports, like playing catch and kicking the soccer ball, we played in the street. Keep spreading the less-lawn gospel, Pam!

  14. My childhood (a long long long time ago) was spent trying to be a kid in what at the time was the world’s largest city (Tokyo, Japan) and alternating summers at my grandfathers farm in western Oklahoma. Sometimes I missed the other place and sometimes I was just thrilled that I got to do both. Looking back I’m surprised I survived the smog and traffic during the year and the rattlesnakes and lemon-sized hail stones of the summer – I do remember always being dirty no matter what.

  15. Amen!
    When I was a kid, I could be found playing in the irrigation canals and woods/brush fields behind our house. There was also a grand old mesquite tree that was easy to climb and perfect for hiding.
    The lawn was just an afterthought.
    I really need to get this book. I keep missing the book signings.

  16. I still fondly remember how much I loved our wild desert backyard and eventually front yard. There were some trees to climb in, and so many cool succulents.

    It’s also nice to have a place where kids can dig. I loved digging and making little hobbit holes.

  17. I grew up in England where lawns grow naturally with no help from humans. When I was a child, we did not go out to play on the lawn. We climbed and explored and had wonderful times. We did not play lawn tennis. We ranged among trees and shrubs and had a wonderful, wonderful time.

    This is one of my favorite posts. Thank you.

  18. When I was a kid, we did play statues on the lawn. But we only needed a small space on one lawn to do it. Mostly we made forts out in the woods. We’d find a good spot, gather sticks and weave them together to make “walls” and then create paths through the area. Then we’d have all kinds of pretend adventures until we had to build a new fort the next year. We also loved to rearrange the stones in small streams, redirecting the water flow and making small pools of water.

  19. I think that if it’s possible, and if there’s room, having both is ideal. I have 5 kids and they absolutely do love the trees, the rocks, the pond, the pathways, BUT they also frequently use the lawn for games of bocce ball, catch, frisbee, croquette, etc.

    You hit the nail on the head that with video games and electronics in most kid’s pockets, they just aren’t playing outside as much. When we moved into this house 9 years ago, we were now in an area that we’d have to get a satellite dish to get TV service. We planned to get it done, but with all the moving-in tasks, we were slow in getting that scheduled. After a couple of weeks, we realized that the kids were playing outside more and that we were all happier over-all without TV, so we never did get it installed. It was a great decision.

    We never bought video games, but the distraction now is cell phones. Don’t get me wrong, I think cell phones are hugely convenient and I’m glad my kids over 16 have them. However, I’m regretting getting them Smart Phones. So regretting it. After all the work we’ve done to keep our kids active and outside, they’re now spending way too much time in their bedrooms with their phones. We’ll remedy that soon with basic call and text phones!

    We just finished a whole yard remodel, adding sod where there had only been dead weedy grass, and so many borders that now I’m wondering if I’m in over my head and should have added more sod! When the sod went in, all 5 kids ran outside and played on it and rolled on it for over an hour. But for overall interest, the other stuff beats the lawn by a long-shot! However, I’m doubting the lawn-takes-more-time-than-borders idea. I just took pictures of our new yard, and I’m loving it, but holy cow, the lawn will be easier than the borders!


    • You are correct that lawns can be lower maintenance than some types of gardens. Some people enjoy that kind of puttering more than mowing and edging, and that works for them. But for those who want less maintenance, I do have suggestions in my book, including the use of more shrubs and grasses, massing plants, use of quality edging and mulch; also, increasing the amount of hardscaping.

  20. We just bought our house earlier this year. Our modest backyard has no grass. Instead it’s a backyard garden full of other plants, including bushes and trees. My family lamented, wondering where my 7 year old would play. The bushes provide far more hours of fun than the bushless and treeless backyard on the other house that we seriously considered.

  21. And, for those of us who grew up walking behind a mower cutting a half acre of grass, digging crabgrass and generally “missing all the fun”….death to lawns!!!

  22. Such a relief that it may be OK to design a lawnless garden for clients with children! There is this idea that if you have kids, you must have lawns. Wow I feel so free!

  23. My play area, being on a farm, was a “house” we’d constructed of bales of hay. After we moved to town, we had a “fort” that we constructed by digging into a bare patch of ground. That was in the days when no one considered landscaping as a must. We had a lawn in front, vegetable garden in the back and the rest was left up to whatever happened.

    I’m much interested in your book. It’s my husband that loves our lawn. I’d go for native plants myself.

  24. Thank you! I’ve been trying to tell my husband that our upper lawn area doesn’t need to exist… if our kids someday want a lawn, there’s a park down the street!

  25. We grew up in Dallas. In those days, a lawn was an important part of the landscape.

    When we married, we moved to a suburb…and again, the lawn was important.
    The kids used it, but liked to take their bikes to ‘the trails’, in the wooded area that was around our neighborhood, at that time.

    The front yard belonged to Mr. P. I think a thick, green lawn was a competition among the neighborhood men.

    I slowly started eating away at the back lawn and making planting beds. He kept saying I’d kill myself, digging in that dirt. Well…I didn’t, and now I’m digging in limestone and clay.

    There is very little lawn here. But I must say, I do enjoy that small bit. Old habits die hard.

  26. We just bought a house earlier this year and are in the process of redesigning our yard to get rid of the lawns. We are excited and hopeful that the results are good! Nice article, thanks.

  27. I bet if I went through my photos from the last 19 years living in coastal Southern California I could not find one photo of my kids playing on the small patch of lawn my husband insisted we needed for them. All the fun took place in trees, digging the sandstone or digging up potatoes! That bit of lawn is gone and replaced with raised beds and my three kids love to come home for visits and see what’s growing…or ask me to ship lemons to their new homes in colder climes.

  28. I have an unused rectangle of front lawn that I long to make beautiful and useful. My kids certainly aren’t too interested in a plain stretch of grass like we have there now!

  29. I remember one of my Landscape Design professors asserting that a child who really wanted to stand out in the middle of a big empty lawn might be disturbed. Of course they want intimate, interesting places as much as adults. Good rant!

  30. The drought in Texas has decimated any lawn I once had. I would love the book for ideas on what to do with bald patches.

  31. I grew up in suburbia in a house with a 3/4 acre lot. The lawn was used predominantly for croquet, the occasional game of catch, and my mother’s vegetable garden. My favorite places to hang out were in the tree outside my bedroom window and in the woods that bordered the property.

    It’s hard to balance lawn vs. garden. I would not want to give up my year round vegetable garden. Part of our lawn has been converted to a patio, but it’s hard to envision what to do with the rest of it. I look forward to reading your book!

  32. Having trails and obstacles through the yard would have been much better than a boring plane of grass! Kids like color, and only having one color outside (green) is not very enticing.
    And Pam, the wood pile also makes a great Pride Rock.

  33. My son is only 6 months and already we have to work on keeping him away from the smart phone, laptop, and television! My husband and I will need to start working on our backyard pronto!

  34. A lot of kids are missing out on the chance to discover unknown plants (aka weeds)
    Who would want their kids playing in one of those toxic lawns where the bugs and birds dare not go?

    So… How are you gonna sneak this book past the turf nazis? There are a lot of people spending time inside of court rooms for daring to rip out their useless turf…

    • I believe the twin motivators of widespread drought/water shortages (the stick) and the desire to help the environment (the carrot) will continue to change the way people in this country view lawns. As more people go lawnless, especially in the front yard, it will become more acceptable — and eventually, hopefully, the norm.

  35. Couldn’t agree more! My kids would much rather climb trees and study the bugs in our garden than play on the grass.

  36. Omg, yes! The water waste on grass is beyond comprehension. We have a large, flat, lot and I would love to add little trails and play patches for the kid and dogs to enjoy!

  37. We recently bought a house in FL, and we can’t stand the St. Augustine grass lawn. I would love to rip it all out and plant native, drought-tolerant, flowering bushes and plants. My kids would love it too!

    • I often remind people that dogs will be just as “regular” if they have to do their business on mulch rather than lawn. My dog does just fine without a lawn. Oftentimes dogs will destroy a lawn anyway. Of course, they may do the same to a garden. In that case, fencing off part of the yard for dogs and part for you is a good solution.

  38. I soooo want your book and like everyother book on ripping out lawns.
    I want most of mine gone but my issue is I want native groundcovers for PA to replace it and most people writing these books are from TX and CA and AZ. I want to know how to keep weeds out in a good way, in a limited funds and limited time way….hence the need for more books on the subject!

  39. Guess the pets are the only excuse left! I am a garden designer that is into ripping out lawns-would love your book!

  40. I’m slowly getting rid of about 80% of our grass at our home in Northfield, MN. It is finally becoming a little more acceptable in our town to not have a lawn. Your book is wonderful–I would love to win it!

  41. I can’t help but agree. My kids prefer to have plants growing that attract the nearby wildlife than have grass that “makes them itchy.”

  42. How timely! Hubby and I were just discussing last night removing a large chunk of the back lawn & what we’d do with it instead. It was put in when the kids were babies & we thought they’d love to play out there. Then we thought the dog would enjoy it. And later, I thought it helped cool the house during summer afternoons. But this section has never been any of those things & I’m now envisioning a rock/sculpture garden, a fountain, a grove of miniature fruit trees, a meditation labyrinth … all of which are more likely to draw the kids & the dog more than sod ever has.

    I do remember that, growing up on 14 acres (more if you count the neighbors’ properties we were welcome to play on), my siblings, cousins, and I traipsed through jungles of blackberries & “the swamp” & climbed trees & built huts in the woods … Sure, my parents had a lawn. Ill-tended, weedy, sometimes muddy. It was mowed, but rarely played on. And as we grew, we outgrew that turf for our sports, helped along by Mom’s love of tulip magnolias and azaleas which encroached the edges more & more. If we needed grass for football, soccer, or baseball there was always the hayfield next door, or the lawn down at the church. Yeah, kids don’t need grass much at all. They need nature.

  43. I think less lawn would be better suited for pets. My dog likes to “hunt,” mostly just chase anything alive. He never gets anything but a little cover might help even the playing field. And my dog is terrible for a lawn. Small dead patches and a muddy trail around the perimeter are his contributions. He loves sticking his head into bushes or under hosts leaved to see what’s new. Lawns don’t offer much.

    • I agree. I had a golden retriever that turned out to be allergic to grass. And my current dogs are trained to go in groundcover.

      • And how easy is it to scoop the poop out of the ground cover? I am not at all squeamish, but the time some dog used the myrtle as a bathroom and I grabbed it as I was cleaning out leaves….yuck!

  44. I grew up, and lived my whole life in New England, until we moved to tropical Cape Coral, FL last year. I always had beautiful gardens and pathways and woods AND lawns on our acre and a half in CT. I now have 10,000 sq ft of, you guessed it, lush green lawn! I know NOTHING of tropical (Zone 9/10) plants and landscaping, but trying desperately to learn. After seeing that picture of Pam’s yard at the top of the article, my heart skipped a few beats and I found myself contemplating how I could travel to Austin and perform a garden design mind meld with her! Short of that stroke of brilliance, I guess the next best thing to do would be to purchase her book, “Lawn Gone!” =o) Great article, Pam!

    • Deb, while we’re practicing our mind meld skills, take time to visit the beautiful blog of Florida garden coach Meems called Hoe and Shovel: http://www.hoeandshovel.com/ . She blogs regularly about removing lawn and low-maintenance groundcovers and shrubs for Florida gardeners, AND she’s the contributor of Lawn Gone!’s plant recommendations for the Coastal South region.

  45. I agree so much with Pam’s post! And it also gets me thinking…. I had a lot of people say, “oh…poor kids, you are not going to have grass for them?” It made me feel totally obligated to put in a green space, that I ultimately didn’t want. And you know, they play everywhere else in the garden BUT the green groundcover space more often then not. I really appreciate how Pam wrote this article – there is every reason to feel proud of attracting wildlife for kids, and not guilty that they don’t have grass! Rock on Pam Penick!

    • Heather, it sounds like the frogfruit lawn’s days might be numbered. 😉 Your garden is great example of how appealing a no-lawn yard can be for a young family.

  46. I absolutely agree with you! What you describe is fantastic for kids. I feel compelled to add, though, that when I had my house and 1 acre, which was mostly lawn, with a field of about 150 feet by 90 feet on one side, my pre-teen son and about 6 or 7 of his friends from the neighborhood were frequently out there playing whichever ball game they felt like…football, baseball, soccer, lacrosse, whatever. I would limit the videogame time, kick them outside and that’s where they’d play. Of course if I had had lots of boulders and such, they may have just played “terrorist” (current kid version of “cops and robbers”) more often instead!

  47. We have begun doing this here in Florida zone 9B.. Using Florida Friendly Plantings that need less water once established. Would love to have other ideas as we proceed. Great article!

  48. My daughter just bought a new home with a HUGE lawn … or at least a lawn wannabe. I am working on convincing her that going lawnless will be lots more fun and I hope this post helps me with the convincing!

  49. So true! I thought we needed a lawn for our son but I can never get him to do anything outside, and when he does, it seldom involves the lawn. I’ve been dying to tear it out, but don’t know quite what to do with the space that’s within my budget. Maybe your book will help!

  50. So happy to find here the words I was unable to formulate correctly to my husband when we argued about this New York Times article!

    I see the same thing here with my kids: pleasures and discoveries are everywhere in the garden and grass is the last place where they find them…

  51. I love this idea! I can’t wait to design our backyard to get rid of the lawn, it’ll be great for us and our chickens!

  52. Amen, sister! These are the kid favorites in our yard:
    – Stepping stones through the rain garden
    – Splashing in the water/mud after a rain
    – Swings in the tree
    – Sandbox bakery topped with flowers and leaves
    – Anything you can climb!
    – Digging for worms
    – Picking flowers and veggies
    – The tee-pee we built from fallen branches and brush

    … and hard tops like the patio and driveway for biking and basket ball. To be fair, they DO find use for the lawn too, amidst all the other things: for croquet or chase or soccer, but it’s the variability that inspires, I think.

  53. When we were kids, in my suburban New Jersey neighborhood, we’d go play in what we called “the woods”, the three or so undeveloped lots around the corner. Or we climbed the huge cherry tree in our own yard, rode bikes, walked to the library – but not much playing on the lawn.

  54. Wonderful post! I suspect those people who say kids need lawns are the football/soccer/softball crowd. I remember fondly the big weeping willow tree in my parents’ yard. When I was a kid my cousin and I used to play for hours under that.

  55. Just moving into a new home. The yard is just grass (boring). The grandkids don’t even like it. I need help. Would like to see more and learn more of your ideas.

  56. I have refused to waste water on my yard for years and now it ain’t looking so nice. This book would help me make my neighbors very happy! I would be sure to put it to good use if I was the winner.

  57. What a fantastic idea! We’ve lived in this house four three years, and the yard has become a bit of a wasteland (it was a construction site three years ago). There’s too much area to maintain grass, and a fun garden would be perfect. But I’m about as much a beginner as any beginner can be. 🙂

  58. My yard is about a half-acre in size, and slowly but surely, I’m trying to make the lawn smaller. Progress is slow, but I’m enjoying the process. Posts like this one are very encouraging!

  59. My parents are aging, and their lawn has degraded to be a weed patch. Your theory n book will help make their yard a grand children haven! Love your ideas!

  60. I hated mowing and was inspired by a wonderful show , A Gardeners Diary, to change the way I viewed my own landscape. I now happily garden and never have to mow because I no longer have turf. I have two daughters and a dog and they don’t feel neglected. The girls and their friends have had hours of fun exploring and playing in the paths and hiding places. Our dog loves the yard as his own private jungle to protect and hunt squirrels in !!!

    Who needs a lawn ?

  61. Like seemingly everyone else here, and like most of the children I knew as a child and know now, I loved whatever wilderness I could find. Behind my suburban yard was a thicket which now looks completely inconsequential but which was the joy of my siblings’ and my life: We were jungle explorers, and it even had a little stream!

    I live on three acres in rural western Maryland these days, cultivating (with culinary crops and native ornamental grasses, perennials, and shrubs) about one acre of that. I’d be very happy to have “Lawn Gone” for more inspiration and more ideas on the course I’ve already chosen. Thank you, Pam.

  62. Very good article and beautiful design. I am down to one small oval of grass in my backyard, and am reducing the lawn on either side of my front entry path in the front this fall. I like a small, shaped lawn area to set off my beds, but totally agree that neither kids nor dogs require a lawn to enjoy time in their yards. I plan to read your book. I am very interested in hardscape and path ideas. Thanks for the post.

  63. Great post! I want to get rid of my lawn, but it has to be replaced with a relatively low-cost, low-maintenance alternative, as I plan to move and use this house as a rental property a few years from now. Are there any resources out there for no-lawn landlords?

  64. Growing up our yard was green but not because of the grass. The neighbor kids would play in our yard. We had so much fun! Our children liked to play in the back behind the dogwood bushes. They would play there and make options and make mud. We tore out our front lawn. My grandson like this better then the backyard.

  65. I still don’t get the concept that lawns are less work than ground cover, beds, and shrubs. I like taking care of all that but don’t know of my knees and back will hold into my old age. Which is why most gorgeous gardens seem to get converted slowly to more lawn because it is less hands on maintenance ( at least here in zone 5/6 ohio. And if you aren’t aiming for a puting green). If this book can tell me a better way of removing exsessive amounts (not all) fall leaves besides blowers or by hand I would be thrilled.

  66. Where else are you going to play hide and seek, if it weren’t for the trees and bushes? When our son graduated from high school, we hosted a party, Tacos and Tag. (BTW: 8 years later, he still talks about it as the best party ever.) High schoolers can’t hide in the grass. The 6 foot diameter yew sure came in handy. The shadows from the shrubs gave great cover for their rousing rounds of flashlight tag.

  67. I’ve ripped out part of the lawn in every house I’ve lived in. For veggies and for flowers. Every time I learn something new. And someday I might even do it well. But I like lawn, just about 100 sq ft of it. A 10 by 10 square ought to be enough to set a blanket on.

  68. This is a great idea. Most people put a lot of chemicals on their lawn to kill the weeds and keep it green. These chemicals can be very dangerous to children who spend time rolling around on the grass, not to mention all the chemicals getting washed into the rivers. Thanks for the ideas and beautiful design.

  69. What a great, great post! My daughter is 2 but loves climbing on the boulders in our gardent and picking flowers/examining bugs/digging up worms in the garden more than anything else. Thank you for the inspiration to include more child-friendly exploration areas in my yard!

  70. My kids hardly ever use the lawn. They love being under the deck, hiding in the shrubs around the house, or playing in the driveway. When we seeded our yard after the house was built, the North Dakota winds blew most of it into the street and it’s been hard to even establish green grass let alone a ‘lush’ carpet of the stuff. It looks horrible with the missing vegetation and crates in the clay soil … but the planting beds look great… I have intentions to incorporate more lawn every year 🙂

  71. I’m gardening in a tiny square in our rental house, and planning for the day when we’ll have a house of our own. I’m already hoping to slowly convert the lawn in our new house into a no-lawn garden of some sort, so I’m adding this book to my list of things to read- even if I don’t get a free copy.

  72. We’ve just had 1400 sq ft of concrete and brick removed, to be replaced by raised beds for veggies, flowers, some flagstone, and dymondia. We’ve never had grass to mow here, but I’m looking forward to a permeable yard, one that won’t drain into our house when it rains, if it ever rains again.

  73. I saw that NYT article and found the one (obligatory?) naysayer’s comments not very persuasive. Everything you’ve written echoes my experience. Great rebuttal, Pam!

  74. We actually did play in our yard growing up, but what we had a couple of acres. I don’t remember ever watering the yard though. When you live way out in the country surrounded by cattle pasture, you’re lawn isn’t held up to the same standards as here in the city.

  75. love the ideas but you need to convince my husband that he doesn’t need a half acre lawn to play ball with the last child at home.

  76. My small HOA consists of seven cottages on an acre, and our largest expense every year is to mow, blow, and edge the lawns. We are actively looking for ways to change parts of the lawns over to more interesting low-care plants and hardscapes, so we need your book for ideas! We’ve already stopped applying chemicals and have started small experiments with rain garden types of plants for the drainage areas. Thank you for the nice article and the motivating front yard picture!

  77. I’ve been ripping out lawn and putting in borders since I bought the house. I was just thinking today how am I going to manipulate my husband into giving me the last bit of grass we have left in the front and back. For the most part he’s been supportive of my beds/less grass but I’m not sure he’ll agree to NO grass. Regardless, it’s going to happen 😉
    And for the record, when my boys are playing outside they are usually in our woods/woodland garden or in the culdesac playing basketball. Thank God I have no nearby neighbors so the road is basically private.

  78. We just moved from Michigan last year to La Vernia tx. We have tried to grow grass without any luck. I’ve finally talked my husband into xeroscape. Only thong is we don’t know what to plant. We have sand and don’t know if we sjould plant for acidic soil or not. Need help badly. Lived in Michigan for 58 years. Retired to Texas. Help

    • Welcome to Texas, Cathy. You asked for help in learning what plants work well in your new hometown near San Antonio, so I’m going to suggest you spend one Saturday a month visiting San Antonio Botanical Garden, specifically Watersaver Lane. There you’ll see demonstration gardens in different styles that use less lawn and drought-tolerant plants. Plant recommendations are also available online: http://www.sabot.org/?nd=watersavers . For more tough plants for central Texas, check out the City of Austin’s Grow Green website, which also includes a link to an excellent plant guide: http://austintexas.gov/department/grow-green . Happy gardening!

  79. Lovely article….kids really do need to connect with nature on a personal level, and wide open spans of grass leave nothing to the imagination! I lived in a Japanese maple from 6-11 years of age…..until one day….”Harry” threw me out and gave me stitches- oops! I connected to nature without grass, and I hope my children will do the same! I live in an area where my garden center customers are perfectly content with their wide open areas- and do not mind spending a whole Saturday mowing their space, and I always find it shocking! The insanity…..plant it up and enjoy what you have created!

  80. Such a timely article. I would love a copy of the book – I dream of taking out the whole front lawn and replacing it with fruit trees and perennials.

  81. Great article. I don’t have a lawn. My “yard” is the side of a hill under trees. I’ve planted some hostas but want to put down some moss. Some of my trees are pines so I have a hard time getting anything to grow there. I know I don’t want grass but I’m not sure what to do. I have about a quarter acre of land that needs some help. Would love to win the book.

  82. Living in the Hill Country helps you get past NOT having a lot of Lawn. I admit we have sodded some areas just for the dog’s sake and to get awake from all the sand burs. I love a garden of flowers without the lawn attached!

    Any suggested on burs? I have a Goldendoodle and she is always coming in eating them and having them stuck all over her!

  83. This book sounds great, would love to own a copy. We do not have lawn and could use some good advice as to how to fill our space.

  84. Thank you for this post! My husband and I are trying to convince our parents and siblings (all of us living in water-scarce California) to remove their lawns, and the children excuse is what they always tell us. Thank you for such an articulate response to exactly that argument!

  85. I’m amazed at how my now 3 year old is interested and drawn to everything BUT the lawn. A couple inspirational things: blogger Girl’s Gone Child’s amazing grandmother Pat Welsh has created fascinating spaces for her great (!) grandchildren to explore and discover. I wish I had something half as enchanting to have hunted for Easter eggs in during my childhood!



  86. I’m planning to rip most of my lawn out. I have a 2 year old daughter and she doesn’t really use the lawn for much. She loves watering my beds and flowers in the backyard and I plan to go more that route in the front as well. We have a large community park with lots of grass and a playground so keeping our front lawn as a large expanse of water hungry turf is a huge waste. I may also put in a small sitting area. Our neighbors down the block have one and they are always sitting out talking with folks walking down the street. It seems like a lot of fun.

  87. Wonderful post! My toddler is happiest when “helping” me garden or playing in the flower beds. We already don’t water our yard in south Texas and your photo is inspiring to do more.

  88. I don’t have any grass at all and my grandkids have such a great time running the paths – it’s magical to them to run under the arbors and play on the paths and watch the hummers and butterflies. It sparks the imagination. I have several neighbors that walk in the evenings and their kids insist on running the path in the front yard.

    • I’m not sure where you live Gina, but in Texas the state legislature passed a law requiring home owners associations to not discriminate against water conserving landscapes. It goes into effect on 9/1 – just two weeks away. Of course, you still have to have plans reviewed by the HOA, but in theory the law says they can’t reject plans simply because they are drought tolerant. It will be interesting to see how this plays out as the law still leaves huge gray areas.

  89. I love this idea! I remember when my sister and I were kids, we had a huge front yard, half grass, half woods with rocks and trees to climb on. Guess where we spent 95% of our time?, in the woods climbing on the rocks, tying ropes to tree branches to make a pulley to bring up our snacks and toys to our tree fort, playing “spies”. We played in the yard, but it was to make a giant tent, get a game of kickball going or to paint our cat’s outdoor house..which usually ended up in a silly paint fight. I look down my parents road now, which is a beautiful cul-de-sac and there are zero kids outside out of the 6-8 of them that live on that road now, everyone is inside on nice days, playing video games and texting on their own phones at the age of 9…quite saddening. What ever happened to a little adventure and parents saying “go play outside and don’t come in until dinner time.”?

  90. As a child long ago, pre-TV and air conditioning, I loved the lawn, trees, bushes, weedy places and the woods. We played baseball on the lawn, rode our bikes, and ran all the time. We chased each other and the dogs all over the lawn. My children did not have a lawn that was acres-wide. But, they did enjoy the lawn with the same type activities.

    The loved the ac for relief. They had ball practice, dance lessons, piano lessons. However, the like the relief of being outdoors. My youngest must have spent most of two summers either up a tree or underneath it, looking at the grass, finding bugs, and generally enjoying the lawn. Walking barefoot in the grass was something all three enjoyed.

    I think the lawn is important, but no without all the other interesting elements of outdoors. Likewise, no lawn would rob me, even at my age, of a life-affirming experience.

    The book would be useful because at my age, I only need so much lawn and am not able to mow as easily, even if I do have a handy little reel mower.

  91. My grandparents had a backyard in California landscaped like a Japanese garden, with wooden structures like pergolas and different levels of deck surrounded by leafy trees and shrubs. It looked like it had always been that way. My grandfather was always encouraging moss to grow between the pavers. It was a cool, mystical place to be. If we weren’t in the garden, one of our favorite things was to sit in the house and look at the garden.

    I’ve slowly been transforming our square blank backyard (which only contained a small Magnolia tree when we moved in), to a thriving spot for all kinds of native trees. Three Texas Redbuds, a Texas persimmon, a Blanco Crabapple, a Mexican Plum, an American Smoke Tree, a Golden Leadball Tree and a Kidneywood all call it home now. I’d love to make pathways and add more rocks and groundcover instead of lawn. Plus Bermuda grass invades everything! This is a beautiful idea, to transform lawns into gardens, and I hope it takes hold more and more.

  92. Great rant Pam. We’re downsizing in the Austin area and plan on going lawn gone in our new place, doing some rainwater harvesting, and trying to go as low maintenance and low water as possible.

  93. We’re slowly knocking out the lawn in both the front and back yards. The front is now about 2/3 fruit & veg & herb & flower garden. We’re currently just starting to renovate the backyard (i.e., pull the invasive weeds, trim up the scads of low-hanging and/or dead branches, try to make it all into something even kind of nice). Between the shade from the trees and no one’s interest in mowing, I’d like to find some nice ways of working the backyard into something relatively simple to maintain and that makes for a desirable spot to hang out.

  94. The quickest cure to the lawn argument in my household is to make the kids cut the lawn. I had a lawn for the kids and they did play and so did we; crochet, horseshoes, catch. But, as we have all aged I am slowly turning the lawn to garden. My son is eternally grateful when I tell him every few weeks that he no longer has to cut a certain portion.

  95. We actually did this in our backyard over the last two years! Our back yard is on the north side of the house, surrounded by trees and the house blocking the majority of the sun — no amount of seeding, watering, sodding would get grass to grow out there. SO two years ago we created paths and walk-ways to replace most of the grass and then made planting beds for shade-loving plants and shrubs!! SO much better!! And you’re right — kids love it. Our granddaughter has a ball out there running on the paths! Would love a copy of your book to see what other cool ideas you might have that we could incorporate into our yard!

  96. My wife and I just purchased 2 acres. There will be a patch of native grass that doesn’t require mowing, the rest will be gardens, orchard and wooded grove. My goal is to give my children (5 and 8 y.o.) the same opportunities to explore all the amazing things nature has to offer. We had a small patch of lawn when I was a kid. We never played there. We played in the garden, on dirt piles, in the wheat fields near the house or in the woods over the hill. We went to the school yard to play pick-up games/sports. Large expanses of lawns are unnecessary and expensive to maintain.

  97. We have long discussed a garden railway with our son and I hope to make that a reality within the next year. That’s for the back yard. With the coming law regarding xeriscaping in HOAs, for our front yard I’m looking forward to ripping up our (small, but still) front lawn filled with builder-planted St. Augustine.

  98. I agree whole heartedly, Pam. So glad your book is selling well. I recommend it every chance I get, including while I’m working in the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center store. 🙂

  99. Not very long ago, I too was sucked into believing that I needed the greenest, lush yard in the neighborhood. I worked very hard at maintaining it. The older I get, the more I realize that it shouldn’t be that way. Why spend the energy, time and money trying to support something that was very un-natural. I am just beginning to look at natural alternatives. Keep up the great work of redirecting peoples efforts to a sustainable ecological alternative.

  100. i have let the st. augustine all die out, so i have dirt and scraggly horse weed between my rock lined beds. time for crushed granite, flagstone, brick and/or yummy ground cover i think. i believe kids would love the things that i love: rocks to perch on, shells to move around, bird baths to run fingers through and surprises around the next curve.

  101. What a great read! Inspiring and brought back memories of my three sons making adventures in the back yard which was part lawn and crossed fenced for just dirt with horse stalls in the back. Summers we usually planted & tended a vegetable garden. Would enjoy your book… could use some magic in the back and maybe add some interest to the front lawn, too.

  102. So true! When we go to parks, the boys don’t play on the huge swaths of green (maybe because it’s so overwatered it’s a swamp), but choose to play up in the hills and bushes. With sticks! (gasp) We ripped out part of the front yard and turned it into a big edible garden. The rest is still lawn, just waiting to become something else!

  103. I live in finger lakes area of NY. I have replaced a third of my lawn with Vinca and Crown Vetch. I also own a home in zone 9 in florida and would like to replace my lawn there. The water is too expensive!! My homeowners association fights us on any changes we make to our lawns to make them drought tolerant. very irritating. maybe I will suggest your book to them! Kids are going to play outside if there is grass or not.

  104. What a great idea! I already plan to have a huge veggie garden in my yard, but why not turn it into an exciting place with lots of hidden treasures?! Heck, with such a cool yard, I may be tempted to join in on the fun 😉

  105. I love this idea! I had always thought that a nice lawn will entice kids to go out and play, but the windy path around the yard would make a great race track for bikes – just add shade and it can be used during the summer!!

  106. Thank you for validation of my plan for a small amount of lawn and a large amount of garden. I hope to put it in place soon for all the neighborhood children to enjoy!

  107. I have a 9-month old and have been wanting to rip up our boring front yard but everyone keeps saying–but where will he play? This is EXACTLY the post I needed to read!! I’m forwarding it to everyone whose said such nonsense! Thank you!

  108. This is what I have been moving toward for years! Thanks for getting the word out about how wonderful a yard can be to explore without being flat, square or rectangular, and kelly green!

  109. We have replaced about 1/3 of 1 acre with local prairie grasses and my my are those fawns born there every year just love it! Rocks and ponds and zip lines and climby things! Great work!

  110. My kids don’t play in our yard. I think it’s because there’s too much open space and not enough for them to climb on/play around.

  111. Brilliant column. My kids are grown, and I live in a rural wilderness, so lawns are not a problem for me. However, I have been appalled to learn that parents who share this rural wilderness, where lawns are surrounded by trees to climg and bushes to hide under, are afraid to let their children out among the trees. Even older children of 10 or 12 – or more. Bad people might be hiding there. They might be kidnapped or attacked. Not that this has ever happened. Not ever. But there is an unreasonable fear.

  112. This book changed my yard’s life… I’m constantly looking for the next patch of Kentucky blue grass to rip out. My automatic sprinkler system has been turned off for two years now. My landscape looks natural and the money I save on my water bill more than pays for, what my wife call, my “little projects.” Warning: traditional lawn removal — It’s addicting!

    I think it takes action to realize that one’s little plot of earth — which most incorrectly consider environmentally friendly — are an extension of the natural environment and, therefore, need to be in-tune with their geographical location. Society needs to be educated so as not to enable misplaced lawns that consume unbelievable amounts of H2O. Penick’s work educates in a simple and understandable way. No professional help needed.

    A fight with my local HOA over going waterwise truly opened my eyes to how entrenched people are the outdated “water and mow” standards in America. Pam’s advice on dealing with HOAs is invaluable… keep it low key and, sometimes it easier to ask for forgiveness instead of permission.

    I hope the grass removal movement gains momentum… it is long overdue!

  113. It’s funny, I was thinking the same thing when I read the NYT article. Kids don’t need lawns, which are just big green sterile outdoor carpets. I like your observation about sports playing fields– it’s much better and more social to use a shared, community playing field than have each person create their own small version!

  114. What a marvelous idea! I want to share this with all my friends!
    Everyone wants the perfect “grass” sprayed with chemicals which also means no kids or animals on the grass. Kudos!

  115. My son always runs for the big sand circle left behind from the previous owners, just keeping him out of the vegetable garden isn’t always easy. He loves to pick those green tomatoes.

  116. We would love to figure out an easy way to have less grass in our yard. Maybe a fire pit and/or seating area!

  117. I completely agree! For my own kids, the place to be is by the pond, creating boats out of magnolia leaves and racing them. I’m considering tearing out what little turf I have left into a vegetable parterre….

  118. What a treat it’s been to read everyone’s comments about how they played as children and how their own children play — and you all have confirmed that lawn is not what entices kids outside. Thanks for sharing your stories. There’s a lot of inspiration here!

    And now to announce the winner of the copy of Lawn Gone! The randomly drawn winner is….#22 Emily. Congratulations, Emily!

  119. lawns are for children because grass is cheap and the little rugrats can step on the plants amd not damage them. That expensive layered designer landscape is far too fragile. I mean how is my landscape supposed to look like a sunset spread if they keep running through the lillies?

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