Landscape trend: Lawn elimination

Updated Apr 8, 2020

Ross NW WatergardensI have never been accused of being a trendsetter. Yes, I did have a pair of chunky “Mad Men” style glasses before everyone else, but I was 12 and also had an overbite and knee braces. Middle school was rough…

So, when I highlight a landscape trend, it’s not to start one. I am just shining a light on what I am seeing in my area. And this spring, it seems that every other landscape consultation involves the same issue: how to reduce or eliminate a lawn.

Why lawns are going

Academic Adam Grant says people can be categorized, generally speaking, as givers, matchers or takers. Lawns are takers.

Lawns take space. Lawns take fertilizer. Lawns take water. Lawns take mowing, edging, thatching, aerating, lime, iron…You get the picture.

Lawns are not evil, and they don’t have to be environmentally unfriendly. More and more people, however, are finding that large swaths of turf just don’t fit their lifestyle. Who am I to argue with that?

How to reduce lawn size

For some, the solution is lawn reduction: less maintenance, less water but still a place to lay a picnic blanket or for the dog to do his business.

The first step is to decide how large your lawn should be. What do you use your lawn for? How much time and money can you spend on the replacement? Use marking paint to draw out the desired contour of your new, svelte lawn.

Next, get to work removing that grass. You can be old-fashioned and use a shovel and pick. If you have a large area of grass to remove you should consider renting a sod cutter.

Ideas for replacing the lawn

Once the lawn is gone, you will have a hole in the landscape. Here are the ways you can fill it:

  • Plants. Depending on the size and proportions of the yard, you may be able to fill the vacated area with new plant material. Choosing drought-tolerant or native plant material will ensure you drastically reduce the water the yard uses.
  • Hardscape. If the area is very large, you will find that you have a design challenge. It is likely the lawn was anchoring your landscape. It was the focal point and all of the planting beds were created by the lawn’s existence. If you just fill the space with plants, it won’t make any sense. Use boulders, a dry creek or an informal patio to give the landscape the focus it needs.
  • Raised beds. Replace the lawn with raised beds filled with organic garden soil. Instead of lawn clippings and grass stains, the client can harvest kale, corn, thyme and whatever else their heart desires.
  • Water feature. Swap the roar of a mower for the soothing sounds of running water. And did you know that a well-designed water feature uses less water than a lawn of comparable size?

Have a client who isn’t attached to their lawn? Join the movement and downsize their lawn. Or, be really bold and remove it completely.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was written by Ben Bowen, landscape manager for Ross NW Watergardens in Portland, Oregon. Find him on Google+ or read more of his blogs here.

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