Thinking about shrinking your lawn or making it more environmentally friendly this year? We are here to help! Here’s a quick run-down of what our Coalition members are up to this Spring.


February 20 at 6:30 pm: “Saving Water in the Landscape” (Susan Morrison) – Contra Costa Master Gardeners, Lafayette Library, Lafayette CALIFORNIA

  • guides you through a variety of practices to save water, including a hands-on drip irrigation demonstration (advance registration required)


February 22 at 12:30 & 3:30 pm: “New Models of Sustainable, Adapted Lawns” (Thomas Christopher) – Connecticut Flower and Garden Show, Connecticut Convention Center, Hartford CONNECTICUT  

  • how almost anyone can create a sustainable, adapted lawn in their own yard
  • alternative turf grasses and compatible wildflowers
  • how to design a seed mixture adapted to a particular soil and climate
  • low-impact, resource-conserving ways to convert a traditional lawn to one that demands much less mowing and fertilization, needs no summertime irrigation, fosters pollinators, and enhances local biodiversity.


February 28 and 29: “Crimes Against Horticulture” and “Design Like a Pro” (Billy Goodnick) – Portland Yard, Patio and Garden Show, Oregon Convention Center, Portland OREGON

March 7 from 11:00am – 12:30pm: Neil Diboll is a guest on “Garden Talk” with Larry Meiller, Wisconsin Public Radio Ideas Network – Listen to the Live Webcast


March 12 at 2:30 pm: “New Models of Sustainable, Adapted Lawns” (Thomas Christopher) – Boston Flower and Garden Show, Seaport World Trade Center, Boston MASSACHUSETTS

  • how almost anyone can create a sustainable, adapted lawn in their own yard
  • alternative turf grasses and compatible wildflowers
  • how to design a seed mixture adapted to a particular soil and climate
  • low-impact, resource-conserving ways to convert a traditional lawn to one that demands much less mowing and fertilization, needs no summertime irrigation, fosters pollinators, and enhances local biodiversity.

March 15: “Design Like a Pro: Seeing the Garden Through a Designer’s Eyes” (Billy Goodnick) – Filoli, Woodside CALIFORNIA


March 19: “Garden Photography” (Saxon Holt) – San Francisco Garden Show, San Mateo Event Center, San Francisco CALIFORNIA 


March 22: “Prairie and Savanna Plants for Attracting Birds and Butterflies” and “Five Steps to Successful Prairie Establishment” (Neil Diboll) – Northern Lights Master Gardeners, Spring Garden Conference, Marinette WISCONSIN


March 27: “Composing a Garden Statement” and “Crimes Against Horticulture” (Billy Goodnick) – San Diego Master Gardeners Spring Seminar, San Diego CALIFORNIA


April 5  from 10:00am – 12:30pm: “Integrating Native Prairies into Urban Landscapes” (Neil Diboll) – Northeast Wisconsin Master Gardener Association, Brown County Extension, Green Bay WISCONSIN


April 19: “Design Like a Pro Live Demo” (Billy Goodnick) – Roger’s Gardens, Corona del Mar CALIFORNIA


HOPE TO SEE YOU at an event near you! — The Lawn Reform Coalition

My favorite turf grass – sheep fescue

Sheep fescue path2-001
by Coalition member Thomas Christopher

Enhancing biodiversity is fundamental to transforming lawns from the polluted green deserts that they now are into the sustainable, environmentally constructive landscape features we desire.  For that reason, in my plantings I’ve avoided becoming too reliant on any one grass.  Instead, I try to include many different grasses (and increasingly, wildflowers) in my seed mixes – I combine not only different species of grasses, but also several different cultivars of any given species.   But if I were to nominate a favorite turf grass, it would probably be sheep fescue (Festuca ovina).

This overlooked species has traditionally been regarded, in the East at least, as useful only for soil erosion control on difficult and inaccessible sites.  It’s what highway departments plant on a steeply sloping highway shoulders that are difficult to mow – sheep fescue is so slow growing it requires only one or two cuttings a year and if left uncut forms a low, meadow-like carpet.  And sheep fescue is tough.  It flourishes on poor soils.  In fact, fertilizing sheep fescue is usually a mistake since the extra nutrients will benefit weeds more than they will benefit the grass.  Sheep fescue also thrives on acidic soils, something that few other turf grasses can do, and once established, it’s almost invulnerable to drought, at least in the Northeastern climate. 

Traditional turf managers, whose standard of beauty was the plush, emerald green of force-fed Kentucky bluegrass, dismiss sheep fescue as homely, but I like the soft texture created by its long, thin leaf-blades, and its delicate bluish-gray color.  And if I want a richer look, I can resort to one of the two commercially available cultivars:  ‘Azay’, which is a darker green than the species type, and ‘Azay Blue’, which offers an attractive blue-green.

Actually, genetic testing has suggested that these two cultivars may be types of hard fescue (Festuca longifolia) rather than sheep fescues, but for me the important point is that they look and behave like sheep fescue.  In addition to their self-sufficient hardiness, ‘Azay’ and ‘Azay Blue’ are both bunch grasses: they do not spread by stolons to form a solid web like a bluegrass but instead grow in tufts that expand outwards to eventually merge into a single carpet.  Bunch grasses are much better at sharing their territory with other low-growing plants, which makes them good partners for the perennial wildflowers I want to incorporate into the lawns I plant. 

Late last summer I created a turf path to bisect the cobbled courtyard I created in front of our house in the Berkshire Hills of southwestern Massachusetts.   For aesthetic reasons I wanted this small strip of greenery to have a uniform height and color, so I planted it solely with ‘Azay Blue’.  The effect of this soft turf juxtaposed with the rugged glacial cobbles (I’d collected and set these myself) was as dramatic as I had hoped.  I planted the grass in late August, and by late September when I began punching holes in it to plant bulbs, I found the ‘Azay Blue’ had already sent its roots down five inches. 

Early next spring the grass will be scattered with blue flowers of species crocuses and chionodoxas.  I’m starting bluets (Houstonia caerulea) and violet wood sorrel (Oxalis violacea) from seed this winter to provide follow-up color.  If the wood sorrel takes, this will significantly enhance the total population of its species in Massachusetts.   This native wildflower, which requires good sunlight, has been disappearing from Massachusetts as the second growth forest grows denser, so that now only five limited colonies survive.  I’m hoping to add a sixth. 

I’ve identified two other sheep fescue cultivars, a European type called ‘Quattro’, and another identified only as ‘MX-86’ which is especially low-growing and is inoculated with endophytic fungi, so it should prove especially insect and disease resistant.  I’m going to try both this coming spring and I would love to hear reports from anyone who has experience with either one. 

You won’t find seed of any of these grasses at your local garden center, but all are available at competitive prices by mail order.

Shades of Gray in a No-Lawn Garden

By Guest Poster Rebecca Sweet


Photo 1

I’m thrilled to say that, as a landscape designer, most of my clients have fully embraced the thought of trading in their un-used front lawns for a garden filled with color, scent, edibles and year-round beauty. 

In one of my favorite recent projects, we removed the threadbare, water-thirsty lawn and replaced it with a more sustainable, fun, and livable garden.  One that not only uses 40% less water, but also incorporates plenty of native plants to encourage all types of wildlife to visit.  My first step was to rip out the turf lawn and reinterpret a newer, smaller version using Dymondia.  I chose the tough, evergreen and drought-tolerant Dymondia as its also able to withstand a decent amount of foot traffic with ease. Plus, it's just so darn pretty.

Photo 2

Photo 3

My client did have an initial concern, however, which was a blinding, bright and parched effect might result from using such an expansive amount of gray in the garden. This is a perfectly valid concern, and one that I've often heard from others who have experienced the unintended 'glare' in their own gardens as a result of an overuse of gray plants.  

In my new book, Refresh Your Garden Design with Color, Texture and Form, I encourage gardeners to see colors in a whole new light – more as design workhorses than ‘pretty shades of pink’. The color gray is particularly interesting, with a unique ability to straddle both sides of the color wheel (ie: warm yet cold, lush yet bright), making it particularly useful – or challenging.  When using gray in the garden, here are a few tricks to help tone down the brightness while still enjoying all this color has to offer.

Shades of Gray

Photo 4-A

Photo 4-B


Photo 4-C


First, it's important to realize that there are different shades of gray ranging from light & bright, to medium gray all the way to dark, charcoal-like foliage.  And it’s because of this wide spectrum of shading that makes no two gray plants the same.  It's perfectly okay to use plenty of gray plants in the garden as long as you vary the shading.  No one really wants to look at one bright gray plant after another without a place for the eye to rest, so remember to use plenty of mid-level and dark gray plants sprinkled throughout.

Keeping it Lush

Photo 5

In order to prevent gray plants from creating a 'pass the sunglasses' effect in your garden it's important to include plenty of deep and rich colors nearby, such as burgundy, purple and dark green. In this garden, I included the brilliant blue flowers of our native Penstemon 'Blue Springs', vibrant purple lavender and deep burgundy stonecrop to soften the edges of the Dymondia lawn.

The lambs ear (in the above photo) is used sparingly throughout the garden as its a particularly bright shade of gray and could easily cause the Dymondia to seem brighter than it actually is.

Photo 6

Each thin, strappy Dymondia leaf actually consists of two colors – green on the bottom and gray on top.  To emphasize the green in the bi-colored foliage, I’ve included plenty of other surrounding plants with green colors, such as Carex divulsa (Berkeley sedge) and Calamagrostis foliosa (feather reed grass).

Many other gray plants have subtle hints of green in their foliage, as well. Take a closer look at lavenders, senecios and hostas and you'll often notice a layer of green beneath the gray.  Highlighting this hidden layer of green is what allows you to cool down a potentially bright planting combination.
Photo 7
To emphasize Dymondia’s blue tones, I included plenty of nearby blue plants in the garden, such as 'Beyond Blue' fescue, various succulents, and blue-flowered perennials.  My goal was to emphasize the tones and colors that I wanted while minimizing the tones that I didn’t.  Can you imagine how bright this garden would be if I had used an overabundance of white flowers and foliage?


Photo 8

Hardscaping (such as nearby flagstones, patios and sidewalks) play an important role when placed near gray plants as they, too, can serve to either tone down the brightness or amp it up to blinding proportions.  I've seen plenty of instances where drifts of bright gray lamb's ear or Artemesia were planted next to a bright cement sidewalk. And 9 times out of 10 that’s the area the homeowner is referring to when they say they don't like the color gray.  To eliminate this blinding effect, just remember to use hardscaping with warmer and/or darker colors.
For this garden, we chose flagstones with slightly creamy-pink tones to them. The warm, muted shades help to soften the bright gray colors of nearby plants.

Bio PhotoRebecca Sweet is a garden designer and writer in Los Altos, California. Her most recent book is Refresh Your Garden Design with Color, Texture and Form (Horticulture, 2013).




Help make the Arboretum’s Lawn Education Program a Good One!

I wrote a while back about a forthcoming lawn education program at the National Arboretum financed entirely by the turf industry. (Scroll down here to see the funders).  Well, it’s now a reality, with the official ground-breaking event last week, and I’m more concerned than ever.  Though I’m a big fan of the Arboretum (I even volunteer there) and they need financial support from somewhere, I think it’s important to nudge them to make their “Grass Roots Initiative” serve not just the turf industry but also the cause of promoting responsible lawn care.

The four-year $400,000 program is comprised of an exhibit in a very visible spot at the Arboretum, a website, workshops, demonstrations, and more.  The website’s listing of the goals of the program are the first red flag and indication that public input is needed:

What are the goals of Grass Roots?  Increase awareness of the importance of turfgrass and lawns to society and the environment.  Demonstrate new technologies within the turfgrass industry that improve maintenance practices and efficiencies. Review and update national research priorities for turfgrass.  Bring together policymakers and others interested in regulatory issues that impact the turfgrass industry.

Now I’m fine with their touting the benefits of lawn, especially compared to, say, asphalt.  Lawn isn’t the terrible-awful-bad thing that some folks make it out to be, at least in regions with adequate rainfall.  But I urge the Arboretum to use this prominent campaign to move the public toward smart, Bay-friendly fertilizing practices, more tolerance for diversity (“weeds”), and awareness of new seed mixes that require less water and mowing.

The Website

Instead, the website includes Mythbusters: The Truth about Turfgrass, which contains language you expect from an industry lobby group, not a scientific institution like the Arboretum.  The very first “myth” listed is about lawn fertilizers polluting the Chesapeake Bay, countered with the lame defense that agriculture is way worse than turfgrass when it comes to polluting the Bay – with nitrogen.  That’s disingenuous at best, considering that that nitrogen isn’t the primary cause of pollution at all.  The worst offender is phosphorus , which has recently been banned from lawn fertilizers sold in Maryland.

The website does include this link to EPA’s info about environmentally friendly lawn and garden practices, and the video about lawn fertilizers actually says: “If you fertilize this [a lawn], a lot of it would probably wash off into [the nearby creek].  One of the studies shows that there’s more pollution from fertilizers from homeowners’ lawns than there is from agriculture.”  Also, “Fertilizers can harm the environment because they can create a lot of nitrogen and phosphorus run-offs into the Bay.”

Kick-off Event

So that’s the website, which I’m told will have much more on it eventually, and there will be signage at the outdoor demonstration site, which had its ground-breaking ceremony last week.  Some garden writers received invitations to the event but not me – I heard about it accidentally.  Reporter/garden writer attendees were David Ellis, editor of American Gardener magazine, and myself.


So here’s what I heard from the speakers at the kick-off event: “Environment, environment, peer-reviewed, science, science, science-based!”  Everything in the program will be scientifically vetted because after all, the slogan at the Arboretum is “Where science meets beauty.”  So, who’s doing the vetting?  The turfgrass division of the Crop Science Society of America.  I wonder if how familiar they are with urban soil issues.

On the bright side, the outdoor exhibit  will include not just sports fields, lawn games and golf, but a green roof, a rain garden, “responsible” fertilization practices, and proper water use and re-use techniques.  In fact, the designers doing this demonstration site (pro bono) specialize in stormwater management.

Comments Sought!

Another positive note is that one Arboretum staffer (Nancy Luria) encouraged David and me to submit suggestions to the director of this project about what we’d like it to include, so let’s do it!  Let’s be pro-active and suggest ways to make this grass-education project in a prominent spot, with the imprimatur of the USDA, as good as possible.  Email the project director (email on that link) but if you do, please also post it here in a comment (or later today on the Lawn Reform Coalition site – link to come) so that it’s public.

My one big suggestion is that rather than re-inventing the wheel, the project simply follow the lawn recommendations already provided by experts within the federation government – at the EPA and elsewhere.  Maryland’s Home and Garden Information Center also has good science-based advice.

by Susan Harris

Plant ideas needed for biodiverse lawn


Christopher Biodiverse lawn 3

Biodiverse Lawn

by Coalition Member Thomas Christopher 

Like other members of this group, I believe that the contemporary model of
lawn has got to go. It does have its virtues, though we critics
tend to overlook them. For example, traditional lawn provides a
relatively inexpensive and easy way to maintain large expanses of the landscape
in a green and domesticated cover – I can think of no other landscape treatment
aside from meadow that can cover an acre or two of sunny ground and demand only
a couple of hours a week of maintenance, and though I prefer the beauty and
biodiversity of a meadow, it is not appropriate for heavily trafficked
areas. Lawn also provides a nearly ideal play space for children
and a relatively tick-free zone – an important benefit where I live, 30 miles
from Old Lyme, Connecticut, the original epicenter of the Lyme Disease

What if we could eliminate many of the environmental defects of lawns while
preserving its benefits? That was the question I asked myself 5
years ago, and one that I have been exploring ever since. Other
types of cultivated landscape used to be environmental disasters but have since
been updated. When I began my career as a horticulturist 40 years
ago, rose gardens were toxic from the constant application of pesticides, but
that has changed with the introduction of disease- and pest-resistant cultivars,
and a more environmentally sophisticated style of design and
maintenance. Likewise, the average vegetable garden was dependent
on constant inputs of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides a generation
ago. Could the lawn be similarly updated, I wondered.

My first pursuit was to identify types of grasses that in the Northeast where
I live that are less demanding of mowing, fertilization, irrigation, and
pesticides. A few emails put me in touch with turf breeders at
Rutgers, Cornell, and the University of Connecticut who very generously shared
the under-utilized low-maintenance turfs that they had created. A
visit to Dr. Stacy Bonos at Rutger’s turf-breeding station was particularly


I soon came to focus on mixes of different fine fescue cultivars as the most
promising alternative for my purposes. Once established on a site,
such blends require mowing no more than 2-3 times a year, they are
drought-resistant and much less hungry for nitrogen, and, if the cultivars are
chosen with care, naturally weed- and insect-resistant. However, I
found these blends challenging initially because they are slow-growing (that’s
why they require so little mowing) and so slow to establish.

It has taken several years of experimentation, but I have developed a routine
that will convert a conventional lawn to fine fescues in just 6
weeks at a price customers can afford, and which, with occasional interventions,
produces an mature, mostly weed-free lawn within 6 months.

By “weed-free” I do not mean that such a lawn is a grass monoculture.
In fact, the sustainable lawn model I have been seeking demands a more
diverse flora. In this case, I am defining “weeds” as plants that
make the lawn unsightly, increase the need for mowing, and which will overrun
their neighbors. The best way to keep such plants out of the lawn
is to fill their niches with other, more turf-compatible plants.
My inspiration for this came from first-hand experience, of
course, but also readings in guides to lawn maintenance dating back to the pre-chemical-care era – one such book from the 1920’s, for example, included more
than two dozen flowers it recommended including in the lawn.

White clover (Trifolium repens) provides an obvious example of the
benefits such plants can provide: not only does it enhances soil fertility but
it also flourishes where soils are too poor to support vigorous grass growth,
and continues to grow in conditions of heat and drought that push most northern
lawn grasses into dormancy. And of course clovers are a nectar
source for bees.  Strawberry clover (Trifolium fragiferum)
also integrates easily with turf grasses, providing similar benefits to those of
white clover and pretty flowers.


Christopher bluets

Bluets in the lawn.

 Our native violets and even Viola
add color and coexist quite comfortably with turf, providing food
for a variety of moth and butterfly caterpillars. Houstonia
, bluets, are also compatible and quite pretty and help to feed a
variety of native bees.

Other plants that I have identified
include Trifolium repens atropurpureum, the bronze Dutch clover (I want
to create a turf networked with its colorful foliage), Thymus serpyllum
(creeping thyme), Fragaria virginiana (wild strawberry), and
Potentilla indica (Indian strawberry). Some of these are
native while others are not, but I use the exotic species only where they are
already naturalized and non-invasive. I’ve also incorporated early
spring flowering, low-growing bulbs into my lawns, including the early crocuses,
snowdrops, grape hyacinths,
etc. as they have gone dormant by the time the fine
fescues need their first mowing.

I would like to expand this list of lawn-compatible forbs, and I am asking
for your suggestions. Ideally, any such plants should be easy to
start by direct seeding, as this will help to keep my sustainable-lawn model
affordable. In addition, they must be sufficiently low-growing
that they do not increase the need for mowing, and they should be either
perennial or reliable self-seeders.


Christopher violets 2

Violets in the lawn.


I am aware that many members of the Lawn Reform Coalition will object to continuing lawns in
any form. I myself was of that position for many years, but what I
found was that friends and customers often did not have the time, resources or
commitment required to transform their landscapes so fundamentally.
According to a NASA study, lawn is, like it or not, the largest irrigated
crop in the United States, covering an area equal to that of the states of
Virginia, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and ¼ of Vermont
combined. If we can make an immediate impact on this, reducing its
resource-use and turning it into a carbon-sink rather than a CO2
generator, wouldn’t that be worth doing?

Lawn Reform Coalition member Tom Christopher’s pioneering sustainable lawn company is aptly named Smart Lawn
Tom’s the author of Water-Wise Gardening, a guide to new styles of
gardening, editor of the wonderful New American Landscape, and more.   Tom also writes for HuffingtonPost and contributes to a blog about sustainable gardening, Green Perspectives. It’s a product of the New York Botanical Garden, where Tom earned his degree in professional horticulture.

Book Review of Pam Penick’s Lawn Gone!

by Susan Morrison

Peni_Lawn Gone

A few weeks ago, fellow LRC member Evelyn Hadden shared her thoughts on three new books that include helpful information on replacing or downsizing lawn. The following review, reprinted from Blue Planet Garden Blog, is a more in-depth review of Lawn Gone!: Low-Maintenance, Sustainable, Attractive Alternatives for Your Yard by popular blogger and garden designer Pam Penick. The latest
book to tackle the topic, its soup-to-nuts approach, inspiring
photos and emphasis on DIY solutions make it a must-have for anyone considering
reducing or eliminating lawn.

The book is divided into three parts. “Part One: Beyond the
Lawn” explores what to do with all the real estate eliminating or reducing a
lawn makes available. Low-growing plant alternatives are discussed in detail,
but Lawn Gone also makes a case for
replacing lawn with new living spaces and garden features, such as patios, ponds and play

LAWN mixed species lawn after p 17_Rebecca Sweet
Mixed species lawn. Design and photograph by Rebecca Sweet

“Part Two: Out with the Grass, In with a Garden” gives
step-by-step instructions on removing an existing lawn. This is an area
the book really shines, as Pam explores multiple methods, and provides
the pros
and cons of each. She knows her target audience of DIYers well, and also
includes instructions on planning and creating a range of garden
features, from how to edge pathways, to basics on bed preparation.

LAWN welcoming space for entertaining image p 76 bottom_Pam Penick
A welcoming space for entertaining. Photograph courtesy of Pam Penick

In “Part Three: The Politics, Health and Safety of Going
Lawnless,” Pam provides tips on dealing with both man-made obstacles (think
HOAs and city codes) and natural ones, such as lawn alternatives for fire prone

LAWN Opening photo chapter 11 p 116
Design and photograph by Kelly Kipatrick


What I liked

  • The book is one of the most well-organized and thorough
    resources I have yet to read on on lawn alternatives. What isn’t addressed?
     From removing lawn, to dealing with
    skeptical neighbors, Lawn Gone covers
    all your questions, including some you probably haven’t even thought of
  • I enjoyed the conversational tone of the book, which feels
    appropriate for both advanced and new gardeners. as even those with
    of gardening under their belts don’t necessarily have experience with
    and replacing lawn.
  • The inclusion of regional experts greatly broadens the Lawn Gone’s potential readership. In the
    final chapter, Pam taps garden experts from eleven regions of the country for
    suggestions on the best lawn alternatives for their specific area. Beyond
    that, throughout the book advice is regularly qualified as to what parts of
    the country the tips apply to.
  • Lawn Gone paints
    an enticing picture of the lawn-free lifestyle without sugarcoating the
    realities of what’s involved to get there. While you may be thrilled to ditch
    the lawnmower, Pam makes it clear that a successful garden still requires an
    ongoing commitment.



No quibbles this time, but be sure to do your research
before following any of the specific plant advice in the book. Many of
the plants mentioned, in particular the ornamental grasses, are invasive
in California and other regions
of the country – I counted more than one plant  I would hesitate to
recommend to my clients. This can’t really be avoided in a book geared
towards a national
audience, but follow the advice Pam includes in Lawn Gone, and be sure to check
online or with your county’s extension program before choosing plants for your

Confidential to California gardeners: The alternatives
provided that most closely mimic a lawn are mainly those grown from seed or
plugs. Since here in California we're addicted to the look of fresh sod rolled out in a new
garden, I usually specify no-mow native grass mixes in sod form for my clients. Check out Delta
for alternatives that work in a range of USDA zone 9 cultural

A must read for anyone considering reducing or eliminating a
lawn, Lawn Gone provides a thoughtful mix of inspiring photos, step-by-step
solutions and troubleshooting tips.

I received this book as a review copy. Photos reprinted with permission from Lawn Gone! Low-Maintenance, Sustainable, Attractive Alternatives for Your Yard by Pam Penick (Ten Speed Press, 2013).


Morrison bio picSusan Morrison is a landscape designer, master gardener, and the
co-author of Garden Up! Smart Vertical Gardening for Small and Large Spaces , an Amazon “Best Books of 2011”
A nationally recognized authority on small-space garden
design, Susan is the author of the garden app Foolproof Plants for Small Gardens (Sutro Media 2013). Her designs have
been featured in various publications, including the San Francisco Chronicle, Cottages
and Bungalows
, and Fine Gardening,
where she also contributes articles on design and plant selection.

Lawn Alternatives for the Front Yard: Three Helpful NEW Books

by Evelyn Hadden

I remember how thrilled I was back in 2003 to find Liz Primeau’s excellent book, Front Yard Gardens: Growing More Than Grass.
How unusual to see a design book focusing on the topic of lawnless (or less lawn) landscapes right out front in the public view. It even showcased a no-mow front lawn, which was extremely cutting edge. What joy to page through, taking an “armchair tour” of a dizzyingly diverse array of gardens without lawns.

At the time, I was speaking and writing about these topics and felt very much on the fringe. But in the years since then, a sea change has happened. All aspects of lawn reform — from waterwise and no-mow alternatives to fewer chemicals to wildlife habitat gardening to lawnless front yards — have moved from the fringe into the limelight.

Lawn reform has ranked among the top trends in gardening for the last few years, according to various polls. Most recently, the American Society of Landscape Architects issued a 2013 Trends news release stating, “Native or drought-tolerant plants, drip irrigation, permeable paving and reduced lawns are making their way into outdoor living spaces across the country.”

As if that weren’t exciting enough, there’s more… this very spring, the unthinkable happened, with the publication of not one but two beautiful, practical books that guide everyday folks through the process of designing a lawnless landscape.

Both books offer example after example in a mouthwatering variety of styles, along with solid instructions and advice. Both include plentiful, pointed, and inspiringly gorgeous photos. Both provide a good framework for the beginner embarking on a lawn-to-garden conversion. And both authors have plenty of direct experience designing lawn-free landscapes, as well as that enviable “designer’s sense of style” most of us can only sigh over.


Generous, Appealing, and Poetic


Billy Goodnick, a landscape architect in Santa Barbara, California, has been designing landscapes for 40 years and teaching for more than 20 years. Living in a state where droughts are a continuing threat, with a mild climate that allows an enormous selection of possible garden plants, Billy is continually emphasizing lawn alternatives for his clients’ gardens. He’s a founding member of the Lawn Reform Coalition.

Billy’s new book Yards: Turn Any Outdoor Space into the Garden of Your Dreams breaks down his accumulated wisdom into bite-sized insights that a layperson can understand and use. His writing is full of personality, lyrical throughout and often hilarious, as anyone who’s familiar with his Cool Green Gardens blog at Fine Gardening magazine knows. This hand-held design course edifies as it entertains, sharing a generous amount of detail with a solid undercurrent of sustainability, imparting secrets for improving the artistry of your design, and coaching you on how to find your own unique style. You’ll want to read it cover to cover just for the poetry of it.

Hardcover, US $17.95, St. Lynn’s Press.


No-Nonsense Advice and Encouragement


Pam Penick, a landscape designer based in Austin, Texas, has built a name for herself with her riveting, photo-rich, and deservedly popular blog Digging, as well as her leadership in creating an international community of garden bloggers. She is well versed in waterwise plants and lawn alternatives; the province of scorching summers, Austin is also suffering through a multi-year drought in which even hardy native trees are dying of thirst.

Pam’s book Lawn Gone!: Low-Maintenance, Sustainable, Attractive Alternatives for Your Yard guides beginners through the basics, giving clear, concise information for choosing and installing lawn substitutes, offering easy reduced-lawn designs, and tackling common concerns from fire to ticks to homeowners’ associations. To round out the book, Pam keeps it local, inviting ten experts to recommend well-adapted plants and strategies for gardening in their regions.

The organized layout and approachable tone make it easy to consult this practical guide whenever you face a challenge in your lawn makeover.

Paperback, US $19.99, Ten Speed Press.


Ecology and Horticulture Merge, FINALLY


One more new book I must rave about is Principles of Ecological Landscape Design by Travis Beck. I’ve been searching for a book like this since I began seeing my garden (or any piece of land) as an entity apart, with its own connections, preferences, and character, not just a blank slate.

Beck’s book puts ecology (the science of how nature works) into the context of our own gardens and the human-altered landscapes we encounter in our daily lives. Written in scientific language dense with ecological theory and case studies, this veritable textbook won’t appeal to the beginner or even to all professional landscape designers. But you might be interested to know about it — even if you are a beginner — because you may soon be able to hire someone who has read it.

And if you do happen to be interested in enlisting natural processes as you shape and steward your landscape, you might enjoy diving into the details, discovering new ways landscape architects and city planners are partnering with nature, and chewing on more philosophical aspects of the role we humans play in the natural world.

Paperback, US $40, Island Press.


These new books make it even easier to find the information, inspiration, or encouragement that you need to convert your unused and resource-intensive lawn areas to landscapes that are more rewarding for you and more beneficial for the environment. Happy gardening!



National speaker and award-winning author Evelyn Hadden shares strategies for making comfortable, functional, nature-friendly landscapes with less or no lawn. Her most recent book Beautiful No-Mow Yards has been a Timber Press bestseller since it was published in early 2012. Evelyn founded the informational website LessLawn and is a founding member of the national Lawn Reform Coalition. She is currently working on another book for Timber Press.

Gimmie Green, an award-winning film on lawns

Gimme Green300GIMME GREEN, a documentary that examines the American obsession with the residential lawn, was created by two students at the University of Florida in Gainesville in 2006.

Here are some of the lawn facts shared on their website:
-Lawns are America's most irrigated crop.
-Every day, more than 5,000 acres of land are converted to lawns in America.
-Americans spend more than 40 Billion dollars a year on their yards.
-Lawns cover 41 million acres.
-Americans apply more than 30,000 tons of pesticides to their yards every year.
-Of the 30 most used lawn pesticides, 17 are routinely detected in groundwater.
-The EPA finds that nearly half of these 30 pesticides are possible or probable carcinogens.
-The National Cancer Institute finds that children in households using lawn pesticides have a 6.5 times greater risk of developing leukemia.
-In the Southwest, lawn owners use more than 75% of their water on their yards.
-In an effort to save water, Las Vegas lawn owners are paid a dollar per sq. ft. to remove their grass.
-In 1989 more than 500,000 people made their living directly from the turf care and maintenance, and turf grass was a $25 billion industry.
-Once groundwater is polluted, it can stay that way for several thousand years.
-Families turn on water faucets an average of 70 times daily.
-If present consumption patterns continue, two out of every three people on Earth will live in water-stressed conditions by the year 2025.
-On average, Americans use 40 to 60 percent of their water on their landscapes.
-In order to maintain all the lawns in America, it would take approximately 200 gallons per person per day.

For more information and to view a preview of this film see: www.gimmegreen.com/

Posted by Ginny Stibolt www.greengardeningmatters.com

What is the Lawn Reform Coalition?

The Lawn Reform Coalition was started by a group of environmental writers and activists who recognized the need for a centralized place for information and resources. This website and blog is the result. The twelve coalition members continue to spread the word about appropriate lawns and sustainable care for their various locations around the country.

Thanks for your interest and spread the word: "Grass is not always greener."

Beautiful No-Mow Yards Book Review

Book review by LRC member Susan Morrison


In 2007, I designed my first no-lawn back yard. I would have welcomed advice on design strategies or plant options, but at the time, a book like that wasn’t even a gleam in a publisher’s eye. So you can imagine how thrilled I am to have the opportunity to review  Beautiful No-Mow Yards: 50 Amazing Lawn Alternatives (Timber Press 2012), written by fellow Lawn Reform Coalition member Evelyn Hadden.

Following a wonderful forward by Lawn Reform Coalition member Susan Harris and a terrific introduction where Evelyn eloquently describes how our changing definition of beauty doesn’t necessarily include a lawn and further encourages us to “return life to our landscapes,” the book is divided into three sections. The first section makes up more than 75% of the book and focuses on design inspiration. You won’t be surprised to hear that this was my favorite part. Set up mainly as case studies, Evelyn reviews in detail various strategies both homeowners and professional designers have used to replace lawn with garden.

There’s something for everyone here, as gardens from all over the United States that showcase a range of cultural and lifestyle situations are featured: woodland gardens, rain gardens and kids' play areas, just to name a few. This segment ends with a section called “smarter lawns,” perfect for the homeowner who is ready to eschew a chemically propped up, water-guzzling version of a lawn, but for esthetic or functional reasons, still wants their own little patch of green. (Or even blue!)


Prairie garden, photograph by Saxon Holt



Pond and patio instead of lawn, designed by fellow APLD member Kelly Marshall and photographed by Saxon Holt.

  B4No-Mow Lawn

The second section is practical, with advice on removing existing sod, as well as planting, irrigating and maintaining a lawn-free garden. The final section is a comprehensive plant list, arranged by design intent. Categories such as ground-filling plants, mat-forming plants and minglers let you go right to the plant list that fits your garden’s particular needs.


Looks time consuming, but in fact there's very little effort in maintaining a lawn alternative like this one.

  B5Stunning example of a tapestry of mat-forming plants


What I like

  • Evelyn is hands down one of the best garden writers I’ve had the pleasure of reading. I have a large library of gardening books, most with excellent content, but few rival the elegant and graceful prose of Beautiful No-Mow Yards.
  • I appreciate the level of detail provided about the gardens featured in the design section. Many of the descriptions go beyond the lawn alternatives used, and describe interesting details about the design as a whole. For example, I enjoyed learning that the designer of a woodland shade garden designed a stream with waterfalls facing different directions in order to maximize water’s effectiveness as a “light catcher” in a shady space. Brilliant!
  • The book is very comprehensive, with a soup to nuts approach that covers design inspiration, practical advice on removing lawn and a list of plant options. If you’re thinking about removing all or part of your lawn, Beautiful No-Mow Yards serves as a convenient, one-stop shop.
  • Evelyn doesn’t sugar coat her case studies, but shares stories of gardeners who have had failures as well as successes. I know from experience that no matter how much I educate myself in advance, remaking a garden is an imperfect process, and the smart gardener should expect to hit a few bumps in the road.


  • While the book is filled with excellent photographs, the majority are close-ups that don’t easily convey the effect of a lawn alternative vs. traditional turf grass. Having struggled to find photos to explain some of the concepts in my own book, I can appreciate this can be difficult, but the detailed descriptions of several of the design strategies in the first portion of the book left me wanting more, and would have benefited from either additional photos, or ideally, a plan view of the overall design.
  • Not so much a quibble as an observation: many of the same plants are referenced repeatedly, such as creeping thyme, sedum and dead nettle. This isn’t really a negative as it reinforces that certain plants are particularly tough and well-suited for no-lawn gardens, but if you already have an extensive plant palette, this book probably won’t introduce you to many plants you aren’t already familiar with.
  • I wish it had been written five years ago.

Whether you are a designer, home gardener, wild-life enthusiast or an environmentalist, Beautiful No-Mow Yards is a must-have addition for your gardening library.

 Looking for more lawn reform inspiration? Evelyn's made it easy by gathering the links right here.

Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by Evelyn Hadden.

Reprinted from Blue Planet Garden Blog.