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Beautiful No-Mow Yards: 50 Amazing Lawn Alternatives

Beautiful No-Mow Yards: 50 Amazing Lawn Alternatives

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Beautiful No-Mow Yards: 50 Amazing Lawn Alternatives

3/5 (16 peringkat)
447 pages
3 hours
May 17, 2012


 “A compelling rationale for ignoring the siren song of the ‘perfect’ lawn, and step-by-step instructions for creating easy-care, planet-friendly patches of paradise.” —Fine Gardening
In Beautiful No-Mow Yards, Evelyn Hadden offers the ultimate guide to rethinking your lawn-dominated yard. With inspiring color photos and cutting-edge advice about how to work with nature, Hadden offers a diverse set of alternatives to demanding green turf. Beautiful No-Mow Yards includes detailed profiles for 100 of the best ground-layer plants, design tips to reduce maintenance, and guidelines for making smaller and smarter lawns. Whether you are motivated by saving time and money, reducing your ecological footprint, or a desire to reconnect with nature daily in your own yard, it's time to turn your lawn into a livable garden!
May 17, 2012

Tentang penulis

National speaker and award-winning author Evelyn Hadden encourages property owners to convert unused, unloved lawns to more rewarding landscapes. She is a founder of lesslawn.com, a partner at the lauded and provocative blog Garden Rant, and a founding member of the National Lawn Reform Coalition.

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Beautiful No-Mow Yards - Evelyn Hadden

beautiful no-mow yards

beautiful no-mow yards

50 amazing lawn alternatives

Evelyn J. Hadden

Copyright © 2012 by Evelyn J. Hadden. All rights reserved.

Frontispiece by Saxon Holt.

Published in 2012 by Timber Press, Inc.

The Haseltine Building

133 S.W. Second Avenue, Suite 450

Portland, Oregon 97204-3527


2 The Quadrant

135 Salusbury Road

London NW6 6RJ


Printed in China

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Hadden, Evelyn J.

Beautiful no-mow yards: 50 amazing lawn alternatives/Evelyn J. Hadden.–1st ed.

    p. cm.

Includes bibliographical references and index.

ISBN 978-1-60469-238-9

1. Gardens–Design. 2. Ground cover plants. I. Title. II. Title: Fifty amazing lawn alternatives.

SB473.H25 2012



A catalog record for this book is also available from the British Library.

To the many fabulous, fascinating gardeners who

shared their stories with me and invited me into their

gardens. Not just those who made it into these pages,

but every one of you. It has been an inspiration to

meet you all and see (or just hear about) the magical

places you have made and loved. Your connections with

your gardens feed my hope for humanity.


Foreword by Susan Harris



part one  design inspiration: the many possibilities

Living Carpets

Shade Gardens

Meadow and Prairie Gardens

Rain Gardens


Play Areas


Xeric Gardens

Edible Gardens

Stroll Gardens

Smarter Lawns

part two  how to get there

Converting Your Lawn to a Garden

Designing an Eco-friendly Garden

Maintaining Your Garden

Making an Eco-friendly Lawn

part three  choice ground-layer plants

Mounding Plants

Mat-forming Plants

Fill-in Plants


Recommended References

Useful Conversions

Photo Locations and Credits



For decades, gardeners on this side of the Atlantic have emulated the vast, perfect lawns of English estate-owners, who flaunted their wealth by devoting their land to an unproductive use. We’ve coddled and fussed with our lawns in hopes of creating something that meets the high expectations of golfers, all too often by following the advice in ubiquitous ads telling us to green up our lawns with repeated applications of products. But finally we’re beginning to see that we don’t have to conform to that crazy standard anymore. People are starting to challenge local laws and homeowner association rules that require the growing of lawn or, even worse, that lawns be green all summer—and they’re winning those challenges.

Slowly we’re learning about the environmental damage done in the name of the Great American Lawn—the wasted water, the fertilizers running off into waterways, the lawn pesticides harming everything they touch: pollinators, soil, humans, and pets. We’re seeing connections between disappearing wildlife and the vast acreage we’ve devoted to a single plant that provides virtually nothing for wildlife. And then there are those fume-spewing mowers and blowers.

I had a lawn for many years myself, but eventually all those negatives plus being bored to tears by lawn care inspired me to remove it all—done! Well, not so easy. To replace it with what? Researching lawn replacement usually yielded just one solution: a big meadow. Where were the inspiring design ideas for regular-sized yards? Or the array of plants that had proven tough and sustainable in spots that were once lawn? Or some realistic advice about how to maintain them? Despite my decades of gardening, I had no idea how to convert my lawn to something that might really work.

But in my search for alternatives I did find someone who’d been speaking and writing about lawn reduction for a decade already, and it was Minnesota rabble-rouser Evelyn Hadden. So I enlisted her and a few others excited about this subject, and we formed the Lawn Reform Coalition to spread the word about natural lawn care, better types of grasses, and ways to reduce or eliminate lawns altogether.

But the coalition’s website (lawnreform.org) can’t showcase the whole range of alternatives to the bad old ways of lawns and lawn care, with stories about real gardeners who’ve created gardens that are healthier and far more satisfying. To fill that void, we now have Beautiful No-Mow Yards. It’s packed with photos (many by the renowned Saxon Holt) of real gardens, including my own, where I endured several failures in the search for effective lawn alternatives. If only this book had existed a few years ago!

In her book Evelyn has used the same inclusive approach adopted by the Lawn Reform Coalition—avoiding finger-pointing and the simplistic one-solution-for-everyone advice we find in so much information about sustainable gardening. Instead, she gently leads readers to make peace with their land by growing plants that connect them with nature, and by creating spaces to gather, play, and calm their overworked souls.

Beautiful No-Mow Yards is an important book not just because it’s so darn definitive, but because it’s for such a large audience: eco-minded non-gardeners trying to reduce their lawn, beginning gardeners who want gardens filled with glorious plants, and experienced gardeners like myself who are taking their gardens into unknown territory. I predict that first you’ll enjoy this book, then you’ll really enjoy the new life it helps you create just outside your back door. Your front door, too. Go for it!

Susan Harris, co-founder of the team blog GardenRant and founder of the Lawn Reform Coalition


as a nature lover who also happens to enjoy gardening, I have been avidly studying, experimenting with, and having conversations about lawn alternatives ever since I bought my first house (and lawn). During the year in which I assembled the photos and wrote the text for this book, I came to appreciate anew the diverse personalities of gardens and their gardeners, and the stories that both contain.

A garden is a dynamic art form that depends on people for its ongoing life. The art does not exist merely within the garden but is also held and nurtured within the soul of the gardener; a real and powerful part of any garden is the relationship between it and the people who cherish it.

I have seen the heart go out of gardens whose gardener moved away. I have felt the amplified energy of gardens that are loved and cared for by a group of people. There are so many ways that a place can be enlivened by connections with people that I hesitate to say, as I once did, that land left to its own devices will be more full of life than land that is intensively cared for by people.

And that gives me hope that, in the future, our landscapes will be as varied and alive and artful and touching as the people who shape them. All that we need to do is rediscover the many wonderful things that can happen when you take a serious interest in your landscape’s individual character and its good health. These revelations are what this book is really about.


Many thanks to those who have contributed important ideas and inspiration to this book through their photos: Kelly Broich, Lucy Dinsmore, Jeff Epping, Billy Good-nick, Diane Hilscher, Lindsay Rebhan, Michael Schumacher, Lisa Weidema, and most especially to the poetic and philosophical Saxon Holt.

My deep appreciation goes to the many supportive and insightful people who have helped with thinking, organizing, and generating ideas and solutions for this book: Jason Doran, Fran Kiesling, Billy Goodnick, Karen Graham, Susan Harris, Diane Hilscher, Angela Hohler, Saxon Holt, Susan Morrison, Erik James Olsen, Nancy Schumacher, Carmen Simonet, Ginny Stibolt, Paula Westmoreland, and Peggy Willenberg. I am particularly indebted to dear friends Julie Kostroski and Kristin Matthews Long, and to my amazing, admirable sister Sherilyn, for pivotal conversations. Also my sincere thanks to the gardeners and designers whose stories fill these pages. All have provided crucial details and corrections; the text is much better for their gentle feedback and helpful suggestions.

Thanks to Susan Carpenter, native plant specialist at University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum; Don Cisler, head gardener/horticulturist at West of the Lake Gardens; Barbara DeGroot, public relations specialist, and Duane Otto, landscape gardener, at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum; Janet Draper, horticulturist at Mary Livingston Ripley Garden; Jeff Epping, director of horticulture at Olbrich Botanical Gardens; Nancy Eshelman, proprietor of Morning Glory Inn in Pittsburgh; Randee Humphrey, director of education at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden; Mary Meyer and Robert Mugaas, extension educators at the University of Minnesota; and other experts who answered my endless questions and waxed poetic about gardens, gardening, nature, and people’s roles in different types of landscapes.

Kaitlen Brennan and Channing McKinley have my heartfelt gratitude for keeping me well and sane during the time that I wrote this book, and for several years leading up to it.

Thank you so much to my hard-working research assistants Julie Kostroski and Maggie Moffett. Thanks also to my models: Sarah, Phillip, Natalie, Levi, Doug, and Clara.

I am grateful to my editor Juree Sondker for making the project run smoothly, and to gem-cutter Franni Farrell for the work and love she heaped on this manuscript. Working with Timber Press has been a dream come true.

Thank you, Mom, forever and for everything.

Last but not least, I want to thank George, who has loved and believed in me for many years now, and who has made it possible for me to do work that I adore in the context of a balanced and fulfilling life. How lucky I am!

A backyard can hold a lawn … or a couple of patios, a couple of woodlands, a prairie walk, and a pond.


for the past century, we gardeners have loved our lawns. They have grown from an occasional play area (or status symbol) for the richest among us to a ubiquitous affordable groundcover. But the tide is turning. For a variety of reasons, from our changing environmental awareness to our changing lifestyles, some of us are shrinking our lawns. Others are leaving them behind altogether.

you don’t need a lawn

In different areas of our diverse land, the local climate makes it hard to grow a healthy lawn. It may not be practical or worth the cost to give traditional turfgrass the care it needs to grow in those places, especially when we realize that drinkable water is becoming more scarce and water restrictions are on the rise. One easy first step to conserving potable water is to stop irrigating our lawns with it. Instead we can spread succulents, desert flowers, meadow and prairie gardens, and other dry-adapted landscapes across the drier midwestern, intermountain, and southwestern regions of this continent. We can hang a hammock in the shade of a vine-clad arbor and watch hummingbirds feasting on nectar and battling over all the new nesting sites we created by planting native shrubs.

Those of us who have the good fortune to live near a lake or stream are coming to understand that mown lawns can direct pollutant-laden runoff straight into the water, and are restoring our shorelines to naturalistic wetlands and woodlands. We hear the difference in the varied voices of waterbirds that repopulate those refurbished shorelines. They now have perches, cover, and food supplied by insects on land and water, plus fish that flourish in the clean water.

Through our successful efforts to help monarch butterflies by planting milkweed waystations all along their migration routes, and to bring bluebird populations back from the brink of extinction by building special houses for them, we have seen evidence that even one landowner on one small city lot can make an enormous difference to the survival of other species. Every one of us can take action in our own yard to help conserve global biodiversity, expand our urban forests, mitigate climate change, and at the same time make life richer and more fulfilling for our families and ourselves.

It used to be that only serious gardeners would take on the challenge of straying from the default home landscape of lawn and foundation plantings. Well, more of us are serious about gardening nowadays; a number of folks who might not lift a finger for an ornamental plant are determined to put in the effort of growing some of their own food. And luckily, even busy non-gardeners who don’t have the time or desire to learn can find local resources and examples to help them exchange their lawns for satisfying alternative landscapes.

Lawn alternatives have always been around, but now with the tools and materials available—not to mention skilled experts for hire—there are more reasons than ever to bypass a lawn and choose something else. Whether you remove all your lawn or just a part of it, you can add new beauty, comfort, and ease to your life.

our changing definition of beauty

We’ve all heard that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but an enjoyable landscape isn’t simply a pretty picture with the right colors and a strong design. We do more than look at landscapes, after all. We walk through them. We sit in them. We appreciate them with all our senses.

Different landscapes appeal to different people. Some enjoy a view of mountains, while others like to see to the horizon. For some, color is everything. For others, dramatic shapes and textures are more important. Without even realizing it, we all respond to subtle cues in our surroundings: the pattern of dappled light coming through the trees, the distant sound of trickling water, the changing barometric pressure that precedes a thunderstorm. These messages from our senses cause us to have certain feelings about a place.

Familiarity is also part of what makes something (or someone) beautiful to us. So landscapes dominated by lawns may feel safe and welcoming if we have grown up with them, and other kinds of landscapes may be less appealing because they don’t feel like home.

But as we come to know a place (or person) better, our opinion can change. A wooded landscape may feel oppressive at first if we are used to seeing the sky, but on spending more time among the trees, we may come to appreciate them as havens from the sun and wind, sources of scents that permeate the garden, or nesting places for the songbirds that serenade us each morning. We can grow to love a mossy glade that we can sink our bare feet into, or the soothing murmur of the ocean, or the way the wind ruffles meadow grass, just as we come to adore a friend who always surprises us into a laugh, a neighbor who brings a fresh-baked pie, or a child who reawakens our curiosity about the world.

A lush and colorful dry-adapted hillside presents an attractive alternative to thirsty lawns and gravel-dominated xeriscapes.

In the Midwest, homeowners are embracing a new aesthetic with prairie gardens like this one, which replaced an unused suburban front lawn and features regionally adapted plants that thrive without supplemental water.

Our tastes are swayed by the people who surround us. Through the history of garden-making, different styles and elements have been preferred by certain cultures. A water feature was expected in an Arabian courtyard garden. Asian-style gardens, traditional and modern, embrace rocks and shun exuberant floral displays. And in North America, until quite recently, lush green lawns have been widely admired.

The pressure to conform to the widespread preference for lawns still exists; in some places, it is nothing less than unpatriotic to think of removing your front lawn and putting in a wild mix of vegetables and flowers. However, in more and more city blocks, neighborhoods, metropolitan areas, watersheds, and even entire regions, new and diverse aesthetics are evolving.

returning life to our landscapes

In a way, our lawns reflect our modern lives. Some people prefer cyberspace and temperature-controlled buildings to the mysterious, often messy outdoors. Fear of strangers and aversion to annoyances like biting bugs and humidity—coupled with an unlimited supply of TV shows, crafts, organized events, and other attractive ways to spend an evening—are making us less interested in going out to watch the stars or the sunset. If you live in an urban area, chances are you cannot see them anyway.

The outdoors is often just space that we move through on our way from appointment to appointment. We may not spend much time there. Many of us don’t have landscapes that are interesting enough to pull us away from electronic devices and screens and the rest of our human-generated indoor world. Lawns certainly aren’t interesting enough to do that.

Here’s why: life is what interests us.

Human beings have a natural affinity for other forms of life. Another living creature draws our attention in any type of setting, and most of us want to see birds, butterflies, and other animals as well as plants in our landscapes. Life—in all its variability, changeability, and potential to surprise and delight—is beautiful. And life is what our lawns are missing.

Biologically speaking, our lawns are nearly dead. Only a handful of plant and animal species (such as Kentucky bluegrass, grubs, and robins here in Minnesota) are able to survive the chemical applications and cutting regimens we commonly practice when we aim for perfect turf. Lawns won’t ever fade away completely; they will always be the preferred flooring for some types of outdoor play, and they will continue to be grown in the few regions where they thrive with little care. But we are collectively realizing that perfect lawns are unnecessary for most of us, and that the price we pay for them in clean water and urban serenity is far too high.

We have converted thousands upon thousands of acres of land from wild areas into turf, so much land that lawn is now recognized as the largest irrigated crop in the United States. Compacted urban and suburban lawns shed stormwater, contributing to runoff that is causing swollen streams to erode their banks, lakes and wetlands to flood nearby areas, and precious topsoil to be swept downriver and lost to our oceans. The chemical fertilizers and pesticides we use on our lawns have polluted our surface water and contaminated our groundwater. Meanwhile, motorized mowers and blowers create noise and air pollution in our neighborhoods.

Our lawns also cost too much in terms of our own schedules and pocketbooks. With lives that are busier than ever before, painstakingly grooming turf (or paying someone to do it) has become a luxury and pastime shared by fewer and fewer homeowners. As we tighten our belts in the shrinking modern economy, we are putting our money toward our top priorities and trimming unnecessary expenses. Just think, you won’t need to keep trimming that lawn if you trim it out of your budget!

Where we need open spaces to play, periodically mown fields would do just as well in most cases, at much lower cost. When you are running after a ball, you don’t stop to count the dandelions. And we also need places for doing things besides playing ball. Like watching the dragonflies, or picking a fresh organic lunch, or reading this book outside in a lawn chair with a tall cool drink.

We are the ones who bring life to our lawns—with a game, or a picnic, or a party with a tent and tables and chairs and food and music… Lawns are merely outdoor carpets on which we carry out the business of living our lives.

In contrast, a lawnless or less-lawn landscape can fascinate us with its beauty, complexity, and variability. It can cool us in the summer and hoard warmth in the winter. It can open our senses to new aromas and flavors, sounds and textures. It can be a window into the daily lives of an astonishing variety of other creatures. It can spur us to wonder and to explore. It can revive our bodies and recharge our minds. Far beyond just providing an open-air stage for our lives, a robust and vibrant landscape can enrich them immeasurably.

the future of the north american lawn

Ours is a continent with remarkable variety of climates, topographies, and ecologies. When we spend time outdoors, we don’t all wear the same clothes or pursue the same activities. How could we expect the same landscape to fit everybody’s needs?

Just as we have learned to accept and appreciate many different cultures in our new world melting pot, we are learning to welcome (or at least tolerate) diversity in our yards and public landscapes. Those of us who still love lawns are learning to accept that some of the

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  • (3/5)
    A good overview of different strategies, but its biggest failing for me is in not addressing disease-carrying pests drawn to unmowed or saturated areas (e.g. ticks and mosquitoes), which are a particular concern in New England.
  • (4/5)
    Excellent examples and ideas for those focused on other aspects of outdoor living, including transitional no-mow spaces between differently-purposed surfaces. Climactic, mini-ecological and water-use ratings, as well as colour groupings are listed as useful indices.