introduction 1 Part one:

beyond the Lawn

1: exploring the Possibilities 7 2: grasses You’ll never (or Seldom) Mow 21 3: ground-covering Plants 33 4: Small Perennials and Shrubs 41 5: Places to walk, Places to Sit 49 6: Ponds, Pavilions, Play Spaces, and other Fun Features 63 7: downsizing the lawn 73 Part two:

out with the Grass, in with a Garden

8: lawn, Begone! the Pros, cons, and how-tos of grass removal 81 9: designing and installing Your hardscape 93 10: Bed Preparation and Planting 109 11: Keeping it alive: ongoing Maintenance tips 117 Part tHree: the Politics, Health, and Safety of Going Lawnless 12: contending with hoas and city codes 125 13: working with Skeptical neighbors 131 14: unwelcome guests: ticks, deer, and rodents 135 15: Fire-resistant landscaping 139 regional Plant recommendations 142
northeast 145 Southeast 148 coastal South 150 Midwest 152 northern Plains 155 Southern Plains 157 Mountain west 160 Southwest 162 Pacific northwest 165 northern california 168 Southern california 170

recommended resources 174 acknowledgments 176 illustration and Photo credits 177 index 180


A green, neatly cut lawn has long been part of the American dream of homeownership.
Since the development of our earliest suburbs, lawn has occupied a privileged place as the default groundcover for builders and homeowners alike. In the late 1800s, Frederick Law Olmsted, the founding father of American landscape architecture, sought to elevate our nation’s homesteader aesthetic of bare dirt, vegetable patch, and fenced yard for keeping out livestock. He looked to the greenswards of grand English estates and envisioned an uninterrupted carpet of lawn spread across new suburban developments, unbroken by fence, hedge, or wall (unlike the aristocratic English model)—a commons shared by each homeowner, whose civic responsibility included maintaining his own piece of it. Lawn, proclaimed Olmsted, would be an expression of democracy. Drive the neighborhood streets of almost any town in the United States today and you’ll see Olmsted’s vision brought to life, with one lawn flowing into the next all the way down the block. It’s easy to see how the lawn became so popular. When maintained with water and regular grooming, it covers the ground superbly and can be used for play and relaxation. Installing a lawn is fairly inexpensive, and the tidy openness of a lawn is comfortably familiar. Lawn culture—weekly mowing and edging, running the sprinkler in summer, and applying

< ornamental grasses and easy-care perennials often require less water and maintenance than a traditional lawn.


chemical fertilizer, pesticides, and weed suppressants—became firmly entrenched in the 1950s, when home ownership surged, and today many homeowners’ associations (HOAs) and city councils have codified standards for a front lawn that each resident must maintain. Just look at the lawn-care aisles—packed with chemicals, hoses, and equipment— at your local home-improvement store to see what a big business lawn maintenance has become.

tHe GraSS iS not aLwaYS Greener
an arid albuquerque, new Mexico, garden employs Mexican feathergrass (Nassella tenuissima), yellow-flowering damianita (Chrysactinia mexicana), and prickly pear (Opuntia sp.), mulched with gravel, in lieu of thirsty lawn grass.

in this north carolina garden, a carpet of red creeping thyme (Thymus praecox ssp. arcticus ‘coccineus’) is a lowcare lawn substitute.

The fact is, however, that traditional lawn grasses aren’t well suited to large regions of our country—the arid Southwest and Mountain West, in particular, as well as the drought-prone Plains states—and lawns in the South and Midwest often require copious summer watering to be kept green. Lawn fertilizers and pesticides have proved toxic to birds, to beneficial insects, and, when they wash into watersheds, to fish and rivers. Lawns lack cover, food, and nesting material for wildlife. A typical lawn requires several hours of maintenance each week during the growing season, and the power tools used for this time-consuming maintenance come with a high cost in terms of air and noise pollution. Today, we have a better understanding of the lawn’s impact on the environment. We’re mindful of water shortages, runoff tainted by lawn chemicals, and air and noise pollution caused by maintenance equipment. We’ve come to recognize that the look of a more native landscape is worth cultivating and nurturing. Why should the average homeowner in the arid high country of the Southwest, for example, emulate a lush Southeastern landscape, or vice versa? In other words, why deny the particular beauty of your own region? All around the country you can find the same few species of lawn grasses and foundation shrubs making up a national, undifferentiated residential landscape. It’s like driving crosscountry on the interstate and seeing the same four fast-food restaurants at every exit. We deserve better—and we can make it happen.



a Greener waY
Most people hardly use their lawns, especially the front lawn, and it can seem an awful waste to maintain something that you never use. Moreover, other types of plants also do a beautiful job of covering the soil, and many of them require less water and maintenance. Simply by choosing to grow several different species of plants in your yard, you’ll help reduce the “lawn desert,” a monoculture of turf that afflicts so many neighborhoods. Also, by growing swaths of plants well adapted to your local conditions and including appropriately scaled hardscape—like paths and patios—you’ll ultimately use fewer resources and create a better-looking landscape for your home. You may also spend fewer hours maintaining it. Most rewardingly, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you aren’t harming the environment and you’re maintaining a landscape that invites you to enjoy it. Let’s reclaim our outdoor spaces for relaxation, natural beauty, wildlife habitat, and a sense of living more lightly on the earth.

a billowing swath of Mexican feathergrass (Nassella tenuissima) replaces lawn grass in this austin, texas, front yard that receives no supplemental water.



Lawn Gone! will inspire you with examples of real-life, lawn-free landscapes and show you how to achieve a beautiful yard with practical information about removing the lawn and landscaping without traditional grass (or, at least, with less of it). Whether you’re considering removing all or part of your lawn, Part One will show you different options for covering your soil with low, ground-covering plants, welcoming patios and paths, and enticing features like ponds, firepits, and garden pavilions. When you’re ready to begin, Part Two will walk you through the various methods of lawn removal and explain how to install hardscape and plant your new garden. If you have HOA rules or city ordinances to contend with, you’ll find Part Three especially helpful. This section also addresses garden pests and ways to minimize their impact and explains how to create a wildfire-resistant landscape. In Regional Plant Recommendations, you’ll find plant picks and local gardening information contributed by regional experts, helping you to pinpoint plants that will thrive in your region. By picking up this book, you’ve already taken the first step toward a greener way of landscaping. Now let’s explore the possibilities and get inspired!

> Massed groundcovers, like these near Seattle, washington, add texture and visual interest that lawn alone cannot provide. > oPPoSite Page : Shade-tolerant sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) flowers in the late spring.



Pa rt one

Beyond the Lawn

ch a P ter 1

Exploring the Possibilities
The primary question most people have, as they consider removing their lawn, is, “What do I replace it with?”
If you’re not an experienced gardener or you’ve moved to a different part of the country, you may feel daunted by the sheer number of unfamiliar plants at the garden center, worried that you’ll choose the wrong ones, and unsure of how to begin. You may feel overwhelmed trying to envision how to landscape your yard with anything other than lawn. Conversely, if you are a plant lover, you may be so excited about replacing your lawn with a garden that you make hasty choices, forget to plan for paths and other “people places,” and end up having to redo much of it later. In either case, it pays to do some planning first, and this book is designed to help you with that. A mix of plants and paving will likely replace your lawn (you don’t generally replace a lawn with just one type of plant), so you need to consider the big picture before you start ripping up sod. There’s no need to choose specific plants just yet though; that comes later. Instead, as you read through Part One, make note of the kinds of plants and features that appeal to you: a lawnlike mix of grasses,

< Sedums, Nassella tenuissima, and white-flowered gazania mingle to create a Persian carpet of lowmaintenance groundcovers in this los angeles, california, garden.


flowering perennials, a patio for entertaining, a shady spot for a hammock, a pond to attract wildlife, and so on. Also, go outside and get to know your property before you begin. What parts of your yard are sunny, shady, wet, or dry? Is your soil rocky, clayey, sandy, or clogged with tree roots? Differing conditions will require different plants, and maybe even different types of paving materials. If you have the luxury of time, observe your yard over the course of a year, noting how sun and shade patterns change with the seasons, where runoff goes during heavy rains, how dry the soil gets in the summer. Taking the time to understand your existing conditions will help you make smart plant choices and avoid costly do-overs as you begin relandscaping. You may even wish to hire a landscape designer to help you design your yard. A good designer will focus your ideas to come up with a pleasing



< fountain

Brick patio


front Yard, no Lawn



layout, appealing features, and a plant list well suited to your climate and specific conditions. Some designers offer design-only services, which you may prefer if you wish to do the installation on your own; others are fullservice and will design and install your new landscaping for you. If you’d rather create your own design, a helpful method is to enlarge and make several copies of your property survey and draw on them, making rough sketches of planting beds, patios/decks, and paths, trying out different configurations and just playing around with the design. Another good method is to print out an eight-by-ten-inch photo of your yard, lay tracing paper over it, and sketch rough drawings of key plants, garden beds, and outdoor living spaces. Experiment with different designs by simply replacing the tracing paper and drawing something new. Dream big at first, and then narrow your choices to suit your space and budget. Here are three examples of professional landscape designs, which illustrate a front yard with no lawn, a front yard with a reduced lawn, and

house porch


< arBor


< retaining wall

front Yard, reduced Lawn

Exploring the Possibilities


compost area screen

sheD gravel

< ponD



backYard, no Lawn



vegetaBle BeDs >

a backyard with no lawn. Use these examples for design inspiration or simply to see how you might sketch out your own unique design. To get your creative juices flowing, here are some shortcuts to chapters throughout the book that may help you to refine your vision for your own yard: • If you live in a neighborhood that prizes or requires a front lawn, a native lawn or sedge lawn might keep the peace while allowing you to water and mow less often (see pages 22 and 27). You may also benefit from the tips on dealing with HOAs (see page 125) and working with neighbors (see page 131). • If you have young children, you might want to keep at least a small portion of your lawn, as shown in chapter 7 (see page 73), or install a play space in place of lawn (see page 69). • If you want a peaceful retreat, some billowing grasses (see page 24) and soft pea-gravel pathways (see page 53) might suit your style. Add a contemplative labyrinth or relaxing garden pavilion, as shown in chapter 6 (see page 63). • If you like to entertain, you may want a large patio or deck (see pages 49 and 93). • If you live in an arid region, you’ll love the sections on droughttolerant grasses (see page 21), succulents (see page 36), and gravel and stone patios in chapter 5 (see page 49). • If you live in a moist woodland region, you’ll be inspired by moss lawns (see page 38), using wood mulch as a groundcover (see page 60), and perhaps a low deck elevated over tree roots and damp ground (see page 98). • If you want a yard that requires the lowest amount of maintenance possible, consider a combination of hardscaping (see page 49) and artificial grass (see page 29), but don’t discount a low-care groundcover, too (see page 33). Now, let’s look at several examples of lawn-replacement projects and the design decisions that drove them.

Exploring the Possibilities



To my mother and father, who both love a garden more than lawn, and especially to David, Aaron, and Julia, whose support and love mean so much to me.

Copyright © 2013 by Pam Penick All photographs and illustrations, except as noted on page 177, copyright © 2013 by Pam Penick All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. www.crownpublishing.com www.tenspeed.com Ten Speed Press and the Ten Speed Press colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Penick, Pam. Lawn gone! : low-maintenance, sustainable, attractive alternatives for your yard / by Pam Penick. — 1st ed. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. 1. Landscape gardening. 2. Landscape design. 3. Lawns. I. Title. II. Title: Low-maintenance, sustainable, attractive alternatives for your yard. SB473.P428 2013 712—dc23 2012029997 ISBN 978-1-60774-314-9 eISBN 978-1-60774-315-6 Printed in China Design by Chloe Rawlins 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 First Edition
< Page ii : widen a front walk into a patio with room for a bench or a table and chairs, and surround it with garden beds filled with a mix of evergreen shrubs for year-round interest and flowering perennials for color, scent, and butterflies. add a couple of ornamental trees for shade and height, and you’ve created a beautiful courtyard garden to enjoy instead of a lawn to mow. < PreviouS Page : Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica) frames a path to an intimate patio backed by Miscanthus sinensis ‘dixieland’.