Read about my alternative lawn in Fine Gardening Magazine!

by Susan Harris
Fine Gardening
was my main source of gardening education and inspiration for years and years, and it got me through many a winter (though none as long as this one!)  And though I haven’t seen it yet, I’ve been told by dozens of people who have that the new (April 2010) issue includes an article by yours truly chronicling the de-lawning of my garden and recommending all sorts of cool plants that I’ve used to create a multi-species, long-blooming mosaic of low-growing plants that can even take some stepping on.  (Not as much stepping on as turfgrass can handle, so I won’t be playing frisbee here – but then I never did, anyway.)

My back yard: the "before" on the left and the painful "just planted" on the right.

The Plants

At first I thought I’d cover this 1,000-square-foot space with thyme but that would have cost over $1,000 and taken too long to fill in.  (Because my backyard is on a considerable incline, I needed plants that would fill in fast to prevent erosion.)  So I decided to go with what was available, and cheap.  The fastest-growing sun-loving groundcover in the garden already was the Sedum acre growing along the dry streambed in the extreme left of the photos above.  I removed plugs of it, planted them across the space, then watched as they spread fast and filled in completely in about three months.

Then I spread some seed of a long-maligned but wonderful plant – white clover!  Old-timers will remember when it was deliberately included in grass-seed mixes because it “fixes” nitrogen – turns nitrogen from the air into a form that plants use as fertilizer.  So it’s self-fertilizing, and clover feeds the pollinators, too.   Another great quality?  Like the Sedum acre, it’s quite drought-tolerant.

Here in the second spring it's totally filled in.

So long to maintenance
No mowing.  No watering.  No feeding.  And by the second season, no weeding.   Now I just sit in my garden chair and admire the view, usually swarming with tiny pollinating bees.

Next, I’ll show you the front-yard ex-lawn.  It’s a more formal mix of thymes and other short groundcovers that are filling in much more slowly but will be prettier to some eyes than the wilder look you see here.

Photos by Susan Harris.

7 Responses to Read about my alternative lawn in Fine Gardening Magazine!

  1. Karen Sloan says:

    Great article & photos. I agree with all points, especially about reduced maintenance!
    So many good lawn alternatives (as opposed to grass), available that are better, both aesthetically, and environmentally.

  2. Charles says:

    Dear Susan,

    I was wondering about these plants as we are trying to get some kind of “steppable” for our Capitol Hill back yard. I feel motivated to plant native plants (or at least non-invasive aliens), so I was hoping the plants here would work.

    I am a little confused though. The Sedum acre is listed as being from Central Europe. It seems to spread, so would I be contributing to a problem by planting it? Also, is clover native despite the “Dutch” in its name?

    I appreciate any help you can give us. We really don’t want to plant plain turf or something that will be a problem for the environment. I’ve gone on several trips to clear invasives over the last few years, and I know what kind of problem they can be.

    Thanks in advance,


    • Charles, good for you! Alternatives to lawn are favorite topic, and I’ve compiled lots of examples here on my website:
      Neither Sedum acre nor Dutch clover are native to this area and because this region was once mostly forest, we don’t have lots of great groundcovers for sun to choose from among our natives. Your best bet among natives is probably something in the Carex family – there are several native carexes to choose from.

  3. Genevieve says:

    I loved seeing you in Fine Gardening, Susan! I’ve enjoyed watching the progress of your lawn project, or shall I say anti-lawn project!!

  4. That is magnificent. I love the texture, and that it is happy growing there, filling in the space so quickly.

  5. Pingback: GBDW – Covering the Ground Wrap-Up

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