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.