On the road we're always looking to see different plants and landscaping ideas. Something that always catches our attention is an alternative to lawn.
There's more on lawnlessness, in:
Design without a lawn, and
designing along the roadside without lawn
Here, from a trip Steven made through Massachusetts and are some ocean community answers to lawn.
We start simply: Bare ground!
Almost as simple: Native grasses, naturalized. Below, a dune grass, and grass/beach wildflower mix.
(Which grass? Perhaps an Ammophila such as American beach grass, A. breviligulata. Tony Reznicek, our Expert Moderator, has taught us it can be graduate-level work to sort out native sedges and grasses. Tony's PhD is in that field and the work he continues to do in that regard takes him all around the world.)
Some people say, of this or other native plants, "I can't find that anywhere." We find them by using the botanical name and an Internet search beginning with the word "buy". That's how we found a supplier on Cape Cod (Cape Coastal Nursery in South Dennis), for our work in that area.
Massed perennials. It's more maintenance than lawn, although that's a matter of perspective. Passersby sometimes comment about our non-lawn, when they see and greet us there, "Got a lot of work there, I see," Our reply is, generally, "A lot of time, yes, but to us it's not work. It's what we like to do. Mowing, that would be work for us!"
Plain ole mulch or a mass of groundcover juniper, works. People often say to us, when they look at a new planting of spreading junipers, "But what goes in that space, there?" We answer, "Junipers go there. Consider that space theirs. Just wait!"Some are faster to spread, some (blue star, below right) are slower. But they all spread.
Choose shrubs to fit a site and then allow them to grow naturally. That makes the simplest-care landscape. It can be weeded thoroughly once a year in fall to stay ahead of trees that try to insinuate themselves. If something gets too big, remove it or chop it to the ground and let it grow back.
The mistake some people make, when they have that landscape where shrubs are the groundcover, is that they should but don't leave the bushes alone. Once a person begins to cut shrubs to size or to impose a shape on them (below, right), that chore must be repeated every year. This is better, and simpler: If they get too big or seem gangly, you can cut the shrubs all the way to the ground every five or six years. Then just let them grow back.
Below: We call it a quilt, to plant three or more types of perennial groundcovers, then let them grow to "see who wins." Since green roof plantings are catching on, more and more nurseries have mixtures like this for sale. (The green roof divisions of two companies we know -- Sunny Border Nurseries in Connecticut and Hortech in western lower Michigan -- are wholesale producers who have done a great deal of testing to learn which plants and plant mixtures work. You can check their websites to learn about these species and combinations. However, the average gardener won't be able to buy the plants directly, so ask your local garden center to order from Sunny Border or Hortech.)
Man has proliferated, water has not. Most of the people in the world do not have any access to running, fresh water. Even within water-rich, developed countries, people have fought over water rights for centuries, and the battles are heating up. The time's coming when it will not only be morally and ethically wrong to spread fresh water simply to keep this lawn green, it will be illegal.
Makes us glad we've learned a thing or two about designing
for minimal lawn!