Nothing makes my heart beat faster than exuberant gardens, wantonly growing without a single a blade of boring turf grass.
I love rivers of blood grass and drifts of bleach blonde Stipa tenuissima swaying in the wind like hula girls. The sight of huge blocks of violet Salvia ‘Caradonna,’ acid yellow ‘Moonbeam’ yarrow and hot orange Crocosmia 'Lucifer' gives me a thrill. I am crazy about mauve carpets of creeping thyme running amok and keeping the weeds down. In the background, the steady drone of contented insects is music to my ears.
As a designer, nothing thrills me as much as turning a dead zone of high maintenance lawn into a magical kingdom; alive with birds, bees and butterflies. Living creatures need habitat to sustain them and lawns offer none. The trick is to plant LOTS of each kind of plant in generous size beds, with paths in between. Great perennials for this are lavender and salvia (all kinds), hardy geraniums, catmint, agastache, bee balm, verbena, persicaria, lady's mantle, caryopteris, thyme, oregano and other herbs.
Add phormiums, yucca and ornamental grasses for structure and visual interest. Don't be afraid to plant elderberry or other shrubs in large groupings -- remember, you are creating an ecosystem. If you have room, plant a little grove of trees, tatarian maples or river birch, for example. Make friends with 'volunteers' -- seeds that float in from other places -- and have a live-and-let-live attitude when it comes to weeds, you won't see most of them anyway. Add secret patios and seating areas, water fountains, bird houses and garden art. Then sit back and watch life unfold.