Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Lawnless Front Yards:Strange Trend or Progress?

My (nearly) lawnless front yard

Under the big white pine that dwarfs my house and shades most of my front yard, that grassy plant is actually a carex 'Ice Dance'.

Near my porch, morning sun makes its way. Half my front yard is deep shade, half bright sun.

Recently, I have seen a lot of discussion about tearing up our front yards and ______________________. You can fill in the blank with "grow your own vegetables", "plant it to natives", "plant a more sustainable garden". The list is pretty long.

I'm not a big lawn advocate, but I do like a little well-grown lawn. There is something about the feel of a nice piece of grassy sod under my bare feet in early summer that speaks to me. My dog loves to stretch out on the lawn and watch me garden. She says she's supervising.

From a design point of view lawn has a place, especially in the front yard. There is something that to me looks a bit off when I drive through a neighborhood and there is no grass in a front yard. For a small village, there are a good number of lawnless front yards here. I am sure most passers-by would include mine among them. It is very possible mine actually started the trend here, although I do not consider mine "lawnless".

See that tiny patch of lawn under the Red jade weeping crab apple?

My shady side of my front yard is planted to hosta,azaleas, dutchman's pipe, astilbe, hydrangea and carex. The sunny side roses, daylilies, and privet. That small piece of grass I have often considered tearing out and bedding strawberries instead. I still may someday. Now, I still like that 8' by 8' of lawn, even though it is inconvenient to mow. To the designer in me, this area calls for a flat expanse of green. That's why I considered the strawberries. Don't get me wrong, I love strawberries, but I am not ready for them in my front yard.

As I mentioned, there are some other lawnless front yards in the village. Back before the esteemed Dr. Apps retired and moved home, buying the house across from mine, I could safely claim the best garden award. There was nothing going on here garden-wise. Then I tore out the pathetic grass under my white pine, planted hosta, and five other homeowners followed...in yards with full sun. We are talking some serious crispy critter hosta. Two of those moved on and realized their error and dumped fist-sized rock in their yards to cover its entirety. Not sure where that idea came from, but people do seem to like their rock here in central Wisconsin. For me, going with hosta was a good choice.

This house was built with these huge surrounding areas of foot-deep gravel and 200-300 pound boulders. I carefully choose plants and softened this effect, planting down deep into the gravel.

I also planted this nice side yard in a native cutting garden for the same homeowner late one fall.

This picture was taken the next year. This is a one-year-old garden!

Those rock gardeners are also the ones with the strange plastic garden art and drift wood stumps.

No one in the village has torn out their front yard and planted a vegetable garden. Gardening in the front yard is demanding. Sometimes, some years, it has been the only part of my yard that has gotten enough attention...appearances you know.

Some will argue that natives are less work and that natives are a good solution. In my mind, they need editing and crowd control as much as the next garden. Left unchecked, many yards in my village would grow into mini-forests of weed trees with boxelder and silver maple seedlings running riot within ten years. I know the village maintenance guy says the boxelder and silver maples are the bane of the sewer lines in our village. The village actually has a plan of grinding/rooting out roots in the sewer main.

Most of the time natives just look weedy.

I think a front yard should be a matter of choice. It should enhance your home and lifestyle. It should fit your neighborhood. Lawn would look silly in Arizona, just as the rock in front yards here looks... wrong. Maybe someday that strawberry patch will happen out front. I think the house finches would have a hay day! And when people in this area actually learn to design with natives, I'll open my mind to that idea, but outside of Piet Oudolf (who does not live in my village), it hasn't happened yet.


  1. I tried de-lawning good portions of my yard, but maintaining it has become too much work. It is much easier to simply mow than mulch and weed and water and deadhead and prune.

  2. I don't disagree that lawn has its uses. We keep about half the back garden in lawn mainly for lounging and socializing. In the front the lawn is limited to paths. I think people should keep as much lawn as they need. Some, like families with small children, can use a lot more than others. But I would say that most people have far more lawn than they need. And there are alternatives that require less work, such as grasses, groundcovers, and dwarf shrubs.

  3. In decided to remove lawn from an area in front of my house two years ago since the lawn wasn't thriving there to begin with. I planted it entirely with natives, but left small areas of lawn around the perimeter. It helps reduce the "weedy" look of it.

    I think the key to any successful lawn removal is the planning stages. You can't just throw a bunch of natives into a spot and hope for the best, especially if it's in an area that is highly visible.