In the United States, suburban homes are invariably surrounded by lawn. The amount depends on the size of the property but few people question whether the lawn is really needed; it just goes with the territory. Lawns did not really come into vogue until the nineteenth century when they became a status symbol. Until then, space around a dwelling was used to grow food for the inhabitants and feed for the animals.
Over the years, I have driven past properties with so much lawn that three football teams could play or practice at the same time. Unquestionably, young families need a space where their children and dogs can play but how much space do they really need?
From a design point of view, lawn acts as a visual balance to planted space because it is relatively low and uniform, thus resting the eyes.
However, there are innumerable groundcovers, some of them grass look-alikes such as Liriope spicata (Lilyturf) and Carex (Sedge) that could fill this role. In some instances, hardscaping, such as sidewalks or patios, can fill this role.
For instance, in my first house, the west-facing front yard lawn was totally shaded by three huge oak trees. Trying to keep the lawn looking decent was an exercise in futility but everyone else in our block had lawn in the front yard. Mind you, the children were never allowed to play there because such activity might ruin the lawn. The children either played in the back yard or in the street.
Eventually, I tired of batting my head against the proverbial “wall” and vowed that I would take out all of the lawn as soon as I could afford it. A few years later, after removing the lawn, I laid winding brick paths through the front yard and filled the spaces between the paths with shade loving perennials, ornamental grasses, and shrubs. Although that redesign took place over thirty years ago, the subsequent owners have kept that design and other homeowners in the block have attempted to imitate it.
More on this subject next week.