Earlier this summer my husband and I embarked on a risky landscaping move: removing all our front yard grass and replacing it with a naturescape of native flowers, trees and shrubs. This was risky to us on a number of fronts. First, we are amateur landscapers – we know very little and what we know is from trial-and-error. Secondly, we live in the suburbs where having a lawn out front is a given. Thirdly, taking out your grass, especially without using chemicals to kill it, is a LOT of work, as is the process of landscaping and planting once the grass is done. Nevertheless, I’m proud to say we did it!
Yes, the grass is gone and the plants have arrived, at least some of them. Before buying any new plants we first moved around what we had crammed into flower beds as well as bringing a few from the backyard to the front. Then we took some freebies from my parents’ yard. Finally we bought some shrubs and flowers at the local nursery. We’ve already spent over $150 on plants and, as you can see from the photo below, there is still a lot of space to fill in. We’ll be filling it in slowly over the next few years, especially whenever we find perennials on sale or, even better, get freebies from family or friends.
The process of going lawn-free has been a lot of work but, in the long run, it will pay off both in time saved in cutting grass, in our water bill (native plants take less water than grass), and in the beauty we enjoy every time we pull up to our house.
Thinking of going native? Here are a few things we’ve learned along the way:
- As I posted previously, you can kill your grass without chemicals by using black plastic garbage bags, tarps and a lot of patience. Then either dig out the dead stuff or do what we did – break it up by hand and use it as mulch to feed your new front garden.
- Use rocks and dead tree stumps to add natural texture and interest, and to fill in space. Hollow tree stumps make a great place to put a pretty flowering plant.
- A rocky path through the middle is a nice place to walk (see photo, right) and adds interest while breaking up the space.
- Use native plants or, if non-native, use those that do well in your area and don’t require a lot of water. So far we have planted coreopsis, lavender, geum, miniature roses, lilies, irises, nandina, lupine, native grasses, hydrangea and cosmos.
- Plant perennials as much as possible. They do cost more up front than annuals but, since they’ll come back year after year, in the long-run you’ll save a lot of money not to mention the time saved not working in the yard. Plant bulbs and seeds whenever you can as they are even cheaper than starts. Most bulbs and some seeds are perennial but read the label to be sure.
- Plant far apart and fill in during later years. Remember plants do grow, and some of them quite a bit! Although it may look a little bare the first year, there’s nothing worse than an overgrown mess of a yard, which is what you’ll have in a few years if you plant too much too close.
- Look for plants that will be in bloom or have interesting color during different seasons. You don’t want a yard that blooms profusely in early summer but does nothing else the other 10 months of the year. Leave some space to fill in during the fall/ winter so you can see what looks pretty in the nursery and in other people’s yards during those drabber months.
- Let your creative side go wild! You don’t have to be a landscaper to have a pretty yard. Like any kind of artwork just have fun with it and try different things. The great thing about gardening is that nothing is permanent, you can always make changes.