No matter what kind of grass you have, shrinking the size of the lawn to include other kinds of plant material is good for wildlife and for visual interest.
And if you’re a gardener, it gives you more of that ever-elusive room to try new plants you’re always bringing home from the nursery.
If you have a small front lawn, it’s not hard to convert the whole thing to a garden that is attractive. Take a drive in the Uptown neighborhood, around the 100 block of North Volutsia and North Erie, and you can see charming examples of rock-lined front yards that may or may not have a patch of lawn attached.
When yards are bigger, it’s more of a challenge to landscape them in a way that is pleasing without a lawn. One easy way to reduce lawn size, however, is to add curvy beds that extend out from the front of the house and that wrap along any or all sides of the yard, with breaks in the beds for access to sidewalks, the street and the driveway.
Master gardener Lisa Folds – whose garden has been featured on past garden tours – has a history of making deep incursions into lawns. She helped her son convert his front yard into a – gasp – vegetable garden, because it was the only place he had for one. Her own backyard is full of gardens, and, in the front yard, deep garden beds extend out from the front of the house. She’s also done away with most of the lawn in the strip between the street and the front sidewalk.
“We had full lawn in there, and it seemed like I could never get the area right by the curb,” Folds said. “It was always weedy and yucky looking. It’s hotter there, and stuff splashes up all the time.”
She removed most of the grass in that area except one small strip and planted liriope, hostas and vinca vine where fescue used to be. Because the area has trees and is shady, Folds went with a variegated variety of liriope to add some color. Liriope is a ground cover and edging plant that features short fountains of grass-like leaves that serve as a good substitute for turfgrass in places that are too shady or where less lawn is desired. Folds planted it along the curb.
“That’s a good edge, and it keeps the weeds out,” Folds said. “I don’t have any weed problems at the street anymore, not a one.” Because liriope grows thickly, Folds occasionally has to remove plants to keep the edge uncrowded.
To finish off the shrub and flower beds by the house, they were edged with bricks last year. “It looks so much nicer,” she said.
Stone and mulch can go a long way in stretching non-lawn areas, as long as they’re placed as nature might sit them down.
“A lot of people are doing a lot of stone and a lot of mulch,” Eric Denneler of Tree Top Nursery said. “The more natural stone is what we would gravitate to and the more earth-colored mulch” – either in forest brown or all-bark cedar chunks that stay in place nicely. “We also do a lot of river gravels, mostly grays and browns.” Other options include egg-shaped rocks in three sizes from 1 1/2 inches to 6 inches.
The house next door to Folds is a rental, and its lawn melds into hers, so she takes care of that patch, too, for a seamless sea of green on which the eye can rest. “Care” does not include mowing, however.
“The neighbor kids mow. I have other things to do,” Folds said.