Beautiful No-Mow Yards CoverAlthough Christmas is still a month away, and Chanukah starts next Wednesday evening, I’m sure that some of you are still putting together your wish lists. I thought I would aid you in that endeavor by publishing reviews of some landscaping and gardening books that I’ve read lately. Starting today, I will review one a week for four weeks.

Many people are inspired by the sustainability movement and, in that vein, are looking for alternatives to lawn or at least reducing the amount of lawn. Now, in Beautiful No-Mow-Yards by Evelyn Hadden, there are fifty different suggestions for achieving this goal.

When speaking of lawn alternatives, we need to keep in mind that familiarity makes something feel right. Therefore, in the course of changing expectations of the definitions of beauty and serenity, our alternatives need to appeal to the neighbors.

Perhaps the easiest alternative is a living carpet. Evelyn provides many suggestions from gardens she has visited and photographed. Such a carpet is also an excellent solution for slopes that are difficult to mow.

For homeowners with shady yards, where grass doesn’t want to grow anyway, anything goes. Evelyn shows a property in Minneapolis that has become a woodland haven for birds and insects and children with its inviting plant diversity and attractive paths and benches. Another focuses on changing light patterns and is a tapestry of foliage and water features.

The idea of a meadow or prairie garden as an alternative is very appealing. It could be as simple as a monoculture of Sporobulus heterolepsis (Prairie Dropseed), a “tall” grass at twelve inches that just looks unmown when planted in a mass, or it could be a mix of grasses and perennials that are usually quite tall by the end of the growing season. Another possibility is the use of clumping fescues augmented with a wide variety of bulbs.

Patios are an excellent replacement for lawn and should be lovely as well as functional. They can be part of the yard or serve as large courtyards integrated with planting beds that leave no room for lawn. Ponds, large or small, can consume areas of turf as can rain gardens, xeric gardens (possible everywhere, not just in arid areas), edible gardens (the front yard of Rosalind Creasy is one of the most attractive I’ve ever seen), and a variety of stroll gardens. With the text and images of all of these as examples, you need only some imagination to visualize your own creation.

I loved the author’s suggestion that play spaces could be much more than a manufactured slide and swing on lawn. Children need areas in which they can run, climb, hide, and be creative while actively interacting with plants and butterflies and insects.

Succeeding chapters are the how-to of killing turf and planting your new beds, plus designing eco-friendly gardens and maintaining them. If some lawn is still desired, there is a chapter on creating an eco-friendly one. The last part of the book is a compendium of choice ground-layer plants grouped according to habit.

Throughout the book, the author emphasizes the design elements of texture, form, color and contrast while reminding the reader that foliage is much longer lasting than flowers. Much of the text is philosophical about life and gardening. It made me wish I could sit down with Evelyn and chat for a long afternoon about anything and everything.

Hadden, Evelyn J., Beautiful No-Mow-Yards, Timber Press, Portland, 2012,    paperback, $24.95.