Alternatives to a plain grassy lawn are showing up in many yards, and the design team couldn’t be any happier to see this.

There was a time when a big, grassy yard was the thing to do, mostly to show off the diligence of the person who owned the yard rather than the beauty of the plants. Tammy and I think that having a lawn just because everyone else has one is a design crime.

There are alternatives to the traditional lawn. We are starting to see garden designs that focus on plants, their varied colours, textures and architectural characteristics. These can be purely ornamental, or you can include aromatic herbs, and even vegetables and berry plants. Remember you must plant according to your conditions, whether you have hot, dry places, or damp and shady areas.


In a small urban yard, this might include eliminating all grass in favour of attractively arranged plantings, perhaps with a place to sit and stepping stone paths. With larger lawns, think about reducing the amount of grass and making what is left easy to cut and maintain. For example, curved flowerbeds eliminate the time-consuming process of cutting grass in corners. Think in terms of grass “paths” and organically rounded flowerbeds.

Or, you can forgo using grass altogether in favour of ground cover. These are plants which spread across the ground but do not grow tall so no cutting is required. They are often more drought resistant than grass, so it needs much less irrigation, if any. Their growth habit is usually dense once they are established, so they choke out weeds. As for fertilizing, it’s not usually necessary since many of these plants enhance the soil by fixing nitrogen. Keep in mind they are not as hard-wearing as grass, so they are not suitable for heavily traveled areas. Some examples include juniper, verbena, alyssum or clover (the Dutch White type is best suited to ground cover).

In terms of style, most gardeners choose either the formal “French garden” geometric look, or an informal, rambling “English garden” arrangement. Of course, both gardens require some work. The initial work is hardest, but if done properly, it will minimize later work. For example, when you plant, use native species, preferably perennials, that won’t require coddling. And spread mulch once or twice during the growing season — it discourages weed growth and keeps moisture in the soil.

When putting together a flowerbed, do not plant wily-nily. Decide on a colour scheme, whether it be a “warm” garden with red, yellow and orange flowers, a “cool” garden with purple and white flowers, or a contrast garden. Put together plants that have different forms and textures, such as tall ornamental grasses, with mounding hostas. Also consider the focal point of your garden and how you will draw the eye to that area. You can do this with curved flowerbed lines, plant borders, framing and symmetry.

Catch Arresting Design on W Network; see

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