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No-mow lawn alternatives

This prairie-style garden in Minnesota makes a lively backdrop through the seasons, with showy blossoms of purple coneflower attracting butterflies and people. (Photo Credit: Saxon Holt)

This prairie-style garden in Minnesota makes a lively backdrop through the seasons, with showy blossoms of purple coneflower attracting butterflies and people. (Photo Credit: Saxon Holt)

What if there were no-mow lawn alternatives? What if you could replace all or part of your lawn with a low, living carpet of plants that would never need mowing, water or fertilizer? Plants that would green up earlier than your lawn every spring, maybe even stay green all winter. Plants that could stay dense and healthy in the shade, or take summer’s heat and drought without going dormant or dying off altogether.

What if these plants also flowered once a year or had aromatic foliage? What if they attracted butterflies?

No matter where your garden is located, no matter what your site conditions, there are plants that will do these things for you. Maybe you won’t find one plant that will do them all, but then again, maybe you will.

Try sweet woodruff in the damp, shady area on the east side of your house; creeping yarrow or a mix of low sedums in a hot, dry spot surrounded by pavement; lilyturf under your big southern magnolia; strawberries and winecups running down your slope; dwarf crested iris on a boggy bank … and so many more.

“I think a lawn is really boring after the kids grow up and don’t need it for play.” – Peter La Tourrette, homeowner

With a little research and a one-time conversion, you could be living a different life outdoors. You could stop cutting down grass and then encouraging it to grow and then cutting it down again. Instead, you could spend your time stretched out on a blanket listening to crickets chirp while the leaves of your locust tree flutter above you.

The changing of the seasons would no longer bring to mind a chemical concoction that must be added to your lawn or a note to change the oil in your mower; you could anticipate more pleasant seasonal events like the spicy scent of mint underfoot or the sunset-colored haze that appears above purple love grass from midsummer to frost.

Every square foot of your property would no longer be under your thumb. The plants would be free to grow naturally to their mature sizes, undergoing seasonal changes and perhaps even reproducing, and you would be free to enjoy them.

This garden in California took eight months to complete but has saved many hours or lawn work and brought many hours of pleasure. (Photo Credit: Saxon Holt)

This garden in California took eight months to complete but has saved many hours or lawn work and brought many hours of pleasure. (Photo Credit: Saxon Holt)

Rethinking your yard

Ours is a continent with a remarkable variety of climates, topographies and ecologies. When we spend time outdoors, we don’t all wear the same clothes or pursue the same activities. How could we expect the same landscape to fit everybody’s needs?

Just as we have learned to accept and appreciate many different cultures in our new world melting pot, we are learning to welcome (or at least tolerate) diversity in our yards and public landscapes. Those of us who still love lawns are learning to accept that some of the neighbours may not love them too. Those of us who feel all lawns should be eliminated are learning to accept that, for some, a lawn is central to their desired lifestyle.

We are in the process of redefining lawns as just one of many possible landscape elements, to be used when the situation dictates, rather than as the only socially acceptable choice for certain places. These changes in our landscaping styles are coming hand-in-hand with a new appreciation for our regional plants and animals, and for the characteristic landscapes of the areas in which we live.

When we realize that lawns aren’t a required part of a landscape, we are free to create (or leave untouched) places that inspire us, that make it easier and more pleasant to spend time outdoors. We can invite birds and other wildlife back into our yards. We can breathe fresh air and grow fresh food to share with our families and friends. We can fix or prevent drainage issues caused by stormwater running across our properties. We can restore nearby water bodies to pristine health and productivity. We can admire the drama of the ever-changing seasons.

We can bring the natural world back into our yards, our neighbourhoods and our daily lives.

Excerpted from Beautiful No-Mow Yards by Evelyn J. Hadden. All rights reserved. Published by Timber Press, Portland, Oregon, and used by permission of the publisher. Evelyn Hadden is an award-winning author and a founding member of the national Lawn Reform Coalition. She helps people create and maintain comfortable, functional, nature-friendly landscapes with less or no lawn.

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