When most people think of their dream garden, chances are they’re going to conjure up a lush green lawn. But why?
Yes, manicured grass looks beautiful, but it takes a lot of watering, trimming, weeding and edging to keep it looking perfect. When you’ve got a busy life – especially one with kids or pets – it’s not necessarily worth the effort. Especially when there are so many grass-free garden ideas that can make your garden more practical, imaginative and low-maintenance.
Plus, current trends are moving away from standard lawns for many reasons. Conventional gardens were originally inspired by traditional French gardens (which were intended to demonstrate human power over nature). Now, the fashion is more about embracing nature’s variety and wildness. You see a lot more English cottage gardens, with overflowing flower beds and features that focus on sustainability, like bug hotels and compost heaps.
There’s also the other end of the spectrum, where gardens have modern, minimalist aesthetics. These spaces are about pared-back patios and easy-care furniture and plants, so that more time outside can be spent relaxing.
So, whatever your reasons are for choosing a no-lawn layout, hopefully some of these grass-free garden ideas will be exactly what you need.
Grass-Free Garden Ideas …for When You Still Want Greenery
Choosing a no-lawn garden is not the same as abandoning plant life altogether – it can actually be the total opposite. Having a patio or deck instead of a lawn gives you much more room for pots and planters.
Keep a low-maintenance lawn
If part of you really does want a lawn and you’re just not up for maintaining it, artificial grass is an excellent alternative. Modern materials can look and feel much more realistic than the obviously-synthetic lawns of yesteryear, and need much less maintenance than an organic patch of grass.
Still, not all artificial grass is made the same, and you’ll want to shop around for a material you like. Most (if not all) fibres are safe for pets and children, but a softer texture is obviously going to be preferable. You’ll also find that the more expensive artificial lawn materials blend lots of different shades of green, yellow and brown. It can look strange close-up and in small swatch, but from a distance this blend looks much more similar to the real thing.
A quality, natural-looking artificial lawn will be between £20-40 per square metre. If you have a lot of space to cover, it’s also worth investing in a professional to level your garden and fit it properly. Check out our post on astroturf garden ideas for more tips and inspiration.
Plant a garden “carpet” instead
If it’s a lush, earthy garden floor that you’re after, there are more creative ways to achieve it than grass. There are, in fact, a whole variety of plants that will happily spread along your garden floor and between paving slabs, if you give them time.
Flowering ground-cover plants:
- Bellflowers (campanula)
- Blue sedge (carex flacca)
- Bugleherb (ajuga)
- Creeping jenny (lysimachia nummularia)
- Creeping mazus (mazus reptans)
- Dwarf mondo grass – or regular mondo grass (ophiopogon japonicus) for more length
- Thyme ( try the breckland, orange scented, snowdrift or pink chintz varieties)
- Silver carpet (dymondia margaretae)
Admittedly, these don’t have quite the same durability and versatility as a standard lawn. But, providing you don’t have too much foot traffic, all of these plants can provide a beautiful (and low-maintenance green) carpet.
Grow a wild meadow
For those that are really reluctant to lose the lawn, maybe you don’t have to. “Meadow” gardens are an increasingly popular trend, and only work if you let your grass grow longer than normal, drastically reducing your mowing schedule.
If you want a floral meadow, you’ll need to plant a wildflower mix of seeds, or buy plug-plants to spread among the grasses. Check your soil type first to make sure you’re investing in flowers that will naturally thrive in your garden. Perennial meadow mixes will need a year or two to become established, but you can try annual mixes which, if planted in spring, should flower the same summer (but won’t come back next year).
Meadow gardens look beautiful, but they’re not designed to be walked through. If you still want an area to sit or play in your garden, it’s best to mow that patch and let your meadow grow around it.
Encourage mossy growth in damp areas
There are a handful of plants that will thrive in shady, moist conditions, which are ideal if you’re aiming for a weathered look in a courtyard.
Soleirolia soleirolii (know also as “baby’s tears” and about a thousand other names, according to Wikipedia), is a mossy-looking type of nettle. It loves growing in drain areas, and can also be cultivated in green walls. If you like the Japanese garden aesthetic, soleirolia soleirolii can be used as a substitute for moss.
Green walls instead of green floors
Talking of green walls, they can be a beautiful way of having a green garden feature without a lawn. There are heaps of benefits to having a green wall (or green roof) – they can protect your walls from heavy rain, provide a habitat for birds and insects, and act as insulation from both temperature and traffic noise for your home. Pretty cool, right?
Grow food, not lawns
Food Not Lawns is a social movement that aims to improve food security in communities by helping urban gardeners grow produce in their gardens. The first Food Not Lawns group was started in Oregon in 1999, but groups with the same mission can now be found all over the world. Their aim is to build local networks to share tips, tools, food, seeds and whatever else might be needed to start growing food at home.
Does that sound good to you? If so, transforming your garden into an allotment, or kitchen garden, might be one of the best grass-free garden ideas for you. Although it can take a little time and money to get set up, in the long-run, growing your own produce is an incredibly low-cost way to supplement your food shopping. Plus, it can help you get more involved in your community!
Planned properly, you can grow vegetables (and even some fruit), in very little space throughout summer and autumn. Combined with a greenhouse and an indoor herb garden, you’ll be able to enjoy fresh, nutritious produce year-round.
Grass-Free Garden Ideas …Alternative Flooring Options
Maybe you’re not fussed about greenery in your outdoor space, and just want something solid and low-maintenance. No problem! There are several options when it comes to new flooring for a grass-free garden.
Decking for a no-grass garden
A garden deck looks crisp and modern, particularly with some statement garden furniture to fully enjoy it. Garden decking can have all of the drama, romance or homeliness of a lawn garden, provided you choose your garden lighting, decor and potted plants carefully.
Building a custom deck is a challenge though, and hiring professionals can get expensive. However, once it’s built, decking is an incredibly durable and low-maintenance choice for your outdoor living area.
Lay a patio or paving
A solid, durable surface – like concrete, flagstones or paving blocks – is pretty much the epitome of low-maintenance garden ideas. Choosing the right paving material is going to be important though, to make sure it blends harmoniously with your architecture. When it comes to the tones and shapes of your stonework, take inspiration from the exterior of your home.
Like building a deck, laying a patio can be expensive. It’s also important to consider water-run-off when designing your patio – you don’t want to end up with a pond after heavy rain! Check out porous and permeable materials, or growing greenery in your borders or the gaps between paving to be more sustainable.
Go for gravel
Gravel is one of the easier grass-free garden ideas to implement, as it can be much easier to lay than paving or decking. You’ll still need to dig up your existing garden, and lay a semi-permeable membrane to allow for drainage but prevent weeds from poking through. Alternatively, a foundation of hardcore stone will help keep your gravel in place. Another option is to install a plastic grid beneath your gravel, to stop it dispersing too far.
On the flip side, the uneven surface makes it slightly less practical for larger areas (especially if you want furniture), and it’s not great for pets or children. Gravel is better for small spaces, courtyards and front gardens (where trying to maintain a teeny patch of grass would be more hassle than it’s worth). At the front of the house, the noise of a gravel driveway or path can also work as security by alerting you whenever someone approaches.
Gravel can still look great in larger spaces, just add plenty of plants to break up the harsh, monotonous texture. Pots, planters or a border filled with ornamental grasses or wildflowers can look stunning. As for maintenance, you’ll want to rake your gravel regularly to keep it looking fresh, and occasionally top it up with fresh stones.
Grass-Free Garden Ideas …Final Styling Tips
Whether you choose a solid garden surface or an alternative form of greenery, take a look at these last few tips to help your grass-free garden ideas stand out.
Okay, so I know I must have mentioned this at least four times already! Drainage is really important, both for the environment and for you to be able to enjoy your garden in any weather (pick which reason is more important to you!) Using permeable grouting, porous materials or having your flooring very gently angled or grooved towards a plant-filled border.
Use all of the pots
There is a simply stunning variety of pots, planters and gro-bags available for just about any style of garden. Having a lawn-free garden doesn’t mean you can’t have an abundance of plants – in fact, having some foliage will add a beautiful softness to contrast against the stark visuals of hardscaping.
Whether it’s a lawn, deck, patio or gravelled area, having a large area that’s all the same just isn’t very interesting. Once you’ve got your chosen flooring down, add one or two other materials to break up the design. For example, building a wooden pergola over your patio, or choosing an organic jute rug to cover some of your paving stones. Fences covered in artificial grass, fabric gazebos and cosy garden swing chairs can also soften a stark space.
Focus on fencing
Your lawn is really only the second biggest surface in your outdoor space – how you treat or dress your fencing is going to have a HUGE impact. It’s up to you whether you paint it, add lighting, cover it with a different textile or grow plants over it… Just don’t ignore it!
Be inspired by Japanese garden ideas
I’ve mentioned Japanese aesthetics a couple of times in this post, as Japanese garden design doesn’t rely on grass lawns nearly as much as western ideas do. Take a look at my post on Japanese gardens for more details about gravel, stepping stones, water features and moss.
Water features for wildlife
Lawns aren’t particularly welcoming for animals and insects, but neither is a patio. You can do your local wildlife a favour by adding a water feature in your garden – take a look at all kinds of garden water feature ideas here for inspiration! A water bowl or natural pond will encourage birds, dragonflies and even frogs.
Choosing Your Grass-Free Garden Ideas
There are lots of reasons why you might be looking for ways to replace your lawn. If you’re struggling to choose what exactly to replace it with, there are some things to keep in mind.
First, start with what you actually use your garden for, or how you want to be able to use it (presumably once it’s easier to look after). If you want a space to socialise, cook outdoors or grow your own food, make sure you have a comfortable area to sit, have a BBQ area or house plants respectively.
Don’t assume that grass-free garden ideas aren’t compatible with your lifestyle. Kids are just as happy on artificial grass as the real thing, and will be delighted if solid flooring means they can occasionally go crazy with chalks and crafts. Solid floors are actually a good way to help your dog keep its claws filed, and no garden will ever be a complete replacement for a park!
Good luck with your grass-free planning, and let us know how you get on in the comments! We love hearing about your garden style.