Thyme to turf the lawn

  Blue oat grass, fescue and lots of silvery thyme make a spectacular display in this hot, sunny front yard..

 Blue oat grass, fescue and lots of silvery thyme make a spectacular display in this hot, sunny front yard..

 English lavender frames this lawn-free garden. Circular plantings emphasize the circular patio and are designed for a dynamic lookfrom a distance and from above.

English lavender frames this lawn-free garden. Circular plantings emphasize the circular patio and are designed for a dynamic lookfrom a distance and from above.

Seriously, people. Why bother with lawn when you can have a no-mow yard filled with interesting shapes, textures and colors? Not to mention bees, butterflies and birds? And a reduced water bill.

 Fine textured feather grass floats over the top of a rock wall.

Fine textured feather grass floats over the top of a rock wall.

Simply remove turf and add the ground cover of your choice. Some of my favorites include: Woolly thyme, creeping thyme, blue star creeper, brass buttons and baby tears.

When designing a lawn-free garden, I often use large groups of ornamental grasses. Taller grasses make excellent privacy screens for blocking unwanted views or muffling street noise. Smaller grasses can be used in huge blocks for impact.

Blue oat grass, fescue and maiden grasses are great for sunny areas. Sedges, liriope and black mondo grass are wonderful in mass plantings and can take a bit more shade. It's like painting with living material. Arrange them in geometric patterns, or free form, like abstract art. You can use huge drifts of perennials in the same way. Think lavender, catmint and salvia for the sun and ferns, hellebores and heuchera for part shade.

In garden design, creating bermed garden beds linked by wide paths is the key to a successful lawn-free yard. Tuck in a seating area, add a water fountain or a bird bath and you have a wonderful outdoor space.

Great plants to try:

Low spreading ground covers

  • Alchemilla ellenbeckii
  • Leptinella squalida "Platt's Black"
  • Oxalis oregana
  • Pratia pedunculata
  • Soleirolia soleirolii
  • Thymus pseudolanuginosus
  • T. serphyllum
 The fiery orange tones of pheasant grass (Anemanthele lessoniana) look fabulous with the cool blue of hardy Geranium "Brookside."

The fiery orange tones of pheasant grass (Anemanthele lessoniana) look fabulous with the cool blue of hardy Geranium "Brookside."

Taller perennials

 Varying the heights and textures of grasses will give you dramatic effects that make lawns seem ho-hum by comparison.

Varying the heights and textures of grasses will give you dramatic effects that make lawns seem ho-hum by comparison.

  • Corydalis lutea
  • Heuchera "Palace Purple"
  • Lavandula angustifolia "Hidcote"
  • Liriope muscari/spicata
  • Nepeta "Walker's Low"
  • Salvia "Caradona"/"Hot Lips"

Ornamental grasses and sedge

  • Calamagrostis "Avalanche"
  • Carex "Everest"
  • C. "Prairie Fire"
  • C. "Evergold"
  • Festuca glauca
  • Helictotrichon sempervirens
  • Miscanthus sinensis "Cabaret"
  • M.s. "Morning Light"
  • Penisetum "Little Bunny"
  • P.  "Moudry"