Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Plants not Lawns

Contrary to popular food growing discourse, I’d like to see front lawns replaced with beautiful plants, or replaced with a combination of plants and hardscapes (which, by the way, includes good, crunchy-sounding, permeable gravel). Of course, ornamentals can always be mixed with beautiful edible plants—blueberries, chard, kale, or rhubarb—for the best of both worlds.

I was walking the neighborhood with Barney, my adorable Golden Retriever, when I realized that there were quite a few front gardens where no lawn was visible. Design styles differ significantly though quite a few had an Asian aesthetic. The no-lawn approach works especially well on sloped lots. I hope you enjoy a few of the photos of no-lawn front gardens I’ve collected over the years of touring gardens.

Approximately 50,000 square miles in the US is planted in lawn (this includes golf courses). That’s a little bigger than Mississippi, a little smaller than Louisiana, and about half the size of Oregon. I was expecting it to be much more than that, actually. To put it in perspective, it’s more than the US has planted in corn or wheat.

America’s obsession with perfect lawns can be traced back to the rise of the suburbs in the 1950s when people took great pride in the perfection of the green expanse. I’d like to suggest that people can take great pride in the perfection of lovely plant combinations. I hope one day to replace my paltry, sparse front lawn with a no lawn design that invites neighbors to stop a visit, gives Barney something soft to roll around on and allows me to rake fall leaves from the large silver maple that dominates the space.

Click here to read an insightful—and a bit tongue-in-cheek—article, written in 1998 but which is still relevant today, on the physical and emotional toll of the lawn cult. The article is by Robert Fulford, a Toronto author, journalist, broadcaster, and editor.


  1. I love my no-front-lawn yard ... it's now a beautiful stopping place between sidewalk and front door that no one wants to leave. And am working on removing the backyard's lawn as well! Yay!

  2. Not entirely no-lawn yet, but I'm headed toward that goal. Beds are enlarged every year or two, more hardscape (dry creek, flagstone path), "hell strip" in herbs and sun annuals. Just a 12' diameter circle of buffalo grass left in the back yard, takes 5 minutes to mow 2x per year with a push mower.

  3. Maybe if all front gardens looked like the pictures. They won't and I don't want to look at weeds in my neighbors yards... Sorry you get my vote of no confidence.


  5. In my opinion, having a variety of landscape styles in a neighborhood enriches our environment, a sense of community and allows a garden to reflect personal style. There’s no question that a beautiful lawn has great eye appeal—my front lawn does not qualify because of the challenges posed by my 50+ year old silver maple. I use grass to set off the borders in my back garden and to give Barney, my adorable golden retriever, a place to play. Perhaps we can have a conversation in the coming months about the benefits of turf grass such as cooling, pollution control, soil erosion reduction, and filtering our water supply.

  6. I put fine crushed river rock in place of half of my front lawn last year. It is easy to keep looking good

  7. I'm posting this response to my blog on behalf of the turfgrass industry. I have to admit, I thought of grass more of as a living carpet than as plants per se; however, turfgrass apparently is classified by the government as ornamental nursery plant.

    "In the October 2, 2012 issue of Random Acts of Gardening, Ann Murphy, Oregon Association of Nursery’s Director of Marketing authored an article titled 'Plants Not Lawns' and stated a few things that were somewhat troubling.
    For starters, the title of the article is somewhat misleading as lawns are plants, so to use “Plants not Lawns” as the title of the article is a bit inaccurate. I certainly don’t take issue with the idea of creating a beautiful garden, be it flowering plants, assorted trees and shrubs, select vegetables, etc., but to totally dismiss the idea of having a lawn is troubling. Beautiful landscaping can incorporate numerous plants including turfgrass. The environmental benefits of natural turfgrass are considerable and should be taken into account when considering any landscaping endeavor and to suggest otherwise is most unfortunate. [Editor’s note: more on these benefits in an upcoming blog, or visit www.TurfGrassSod to learn more.] The intent of this rebuttal is not to dismiss Ann’s point of view, but rather broaden her perception of the role turfgrass plays when it comes to our environment. Lawns provide immeasurable benefits and to suggest otherwise by omission is a disservice and misleading."

    Jim Novak
    Public Relations Manager
    Turfgrass Producers International

  8. The pictures definetly show a place where lawns are not ideal. The steep grade would be a difficult place to mow and looks nice in plants. I know people who would love to eliminate their lawns for ease of upkeep, but I couldn't give up my grass for playing with the kids in the yard.
    Plants can be somewhat personal and giving differnt options is a good thing.

  9. I think small lawn spaces mixed in with plants are the best way to go.

  10. what a beautiful scene of Plants and Lawn Turf Supplies Sydney .

    Nice blog!!