As a garden designer, I’ve noticed a growing trend over the past few years: more and more people are wanting to replace their unused, water chugging, labor intensive front lawn with a beautiful low-water, low-maintenance garden.
These days it seems no-lawn gardens make up about 75% of my business. The remaining 25% are people who’d like to remove their front lawn but aren’t quite sure what to do once it’s gone.
I hear variations of the same concerns: it’ll look too much like a desert, it won’t be lush, it’ll be too sparse and it won’t have enough color.
Oh, how I wish I had the ‘Before‘ before picture! You would’ve seen a very typical straight cement pathway (complete with cracks) leading directly from the sidewalk to the front door. While the lawn wasn’t huge, it also wasn’t used – EVER.
Well, that’s not entirely true. The only time anyone used the lawn was when walking to the gate on the side of the house. So, after removing the lawn we installed a side path that would not only serve a functional purpose but would provide a much nicer experience as you strolled through the garden.
You’ll also notice the main path approaches the front door from the driveway, which is not only functional but also divides the front garden into three distinct spaces.
More views of the side pathway, interplanted with ‘Elfin’ thyme (which lies very flat to the ground and doesn’t bunch up like many of the other thymes can do). While the main path is mortared, the side path is casually placed within the garden, inviting one to enter at a leisurely pace and enjoy the experience!
View of the garden while standing near the front of the house. As you can see, one of the main colors of this garden is gold, adding a sense of brightness and excitement. Gold is a warm-toned color and one that looks particularly rich against the grays and greens of the nearby hardscaping and other plantings.
One of the main challenges of this garden was the large tree in the center planting area. The tree’s roots made it almost impossible to plant anything deeper than a cell-pack, as well as stealing much needed water and nutrients from the nearby plants. As a result, nothing ever thrived in this area. Until we raised the soil level, that is….
To raise the soil level just a bit, one of my favorite methods is to install half-circles of stone. I’m not a fan of planting beds that have their edges completely lined with stones as they can end up looking a little contrived. Instead, I prefer creating half-circle shapes that are inside the bed, a few feet from the edge of the planting area. After you finish placing them, to have the stones look like they’ve been there forever don’t forget to bury them by a third. These stones now allow you to add several inches of much-needed soil for the new plants, as well as adding varying height (and interest!) to an otherwise flat space.
By placing a plant near the end of the half-circle, you blur the beginning and end points causing the stones to ‘quietly disappear’ into the bed, and creating a more natural look.
And now for the close-ups….
When using a lot of gold in the garden its important to temper the brightness by including plenty of complementary colors, such as the lavender color of the Nepeta’s flowers and the blue of the succulents. These colors visually ‘cool down’ the hot tones, providing much needed contrast and interest.
California’s native Salvia spatheca (Hummingbird Sage) is another long blooming favorite. As the name implies, its magenta spires are a magnet for hordes of hummingbirds. The majestic spires grow up to a 18″ high, and whenever I pass by I can’t help running my hand along them. Every time I do, my hand ends up lightly coated with a smooth and silky substance similar to hand lotion.
The steely blue blades of the Helictotrichon sempervirens (Blue Oat Grass) repeat the shape of the nearby Phormium ‘Maori Maiden‘. The drastically different sizes and colors, however, allow them to remain distinctly unique. The cooling blue tones are a welcome site in this brightly colored garden.
The bright leaves of the Abelia ‘Kaleidescope‘ are repeated with the foliage of Coprosma ‘Pink Splendor‘ and yellow flowers of the Phlomis fruiticosa. All are very low water, evergreen and tough as nails in our area. The gray-green foliage of nearby Nepeta and Sedum ‘Autumn Joy‘ provides color contrast as well as fall-blooming flowers.
Even the pot on the front porch sports brightly colored Agapanthus ‘Gold Strike‘, repeating the foliage shapes and colors in the planting area behind. The container, however, is a cooling shade of dark gray, blending in with the colors of the home and pathway.
For more information on removing your front lawn and other design ideas, please read Susan Morrison’s review of Reimagining the California Lawn.