Alternatives to Grass

The lawn has become the established centre-piece of most gardens for generations – but as anyone who has tried knows, keeping it at its best involves a lot of work.

The trick for a low maintenance landscape design is to keep the feel of the traditional lawn, without the relentless demands grass makes on your time. It’s really not about being lazy – for many gardens, especially very small ones, a lawn really can sometimes be more trouble than it’s worth!

Fortunately, for today’s busy householder, there are alternatives to turf to let you achieve the look without the effort.

The Chamomile Lawn

Chamomile lawns are an old favourite – a wonderfully scented and surprisingly hardy grass alternative with a history stretching back for centuries. If you’re planning to grow chamomile, good preparation work is vital; the plants need a good level planting bed in weed free and freely draining soil. You’ll also need to make sure that the site isn’t too exposed, since, especially until the plants get themselves established, they seem to be fairly readily scorched by winds.

Although there are a number of different plant species commonly called Chamomile – sometimes written Camomile – the best choice for the lawn is the so-called “noble” or Roman chamomile (Anthemis nobilis), a perennial herb of the daisy family.

The usual way to start off a chamomile lawn is from seedlings. Sow the seeds in seed trays from February to June and transplant them into individual pots when they are large enough to handle. Grow them on for about a fortnight – or until the threat of frost is passed – and then plant them out at 6 inch (15cm) intervals.

Hard Landscaping Alternatives

Although the likes of the chamomile and other types of herb lawns avoid many of the problems associated with traditional grass management, they are not entirely work-free. Watering is important and weeding is essential until they become well established as ground cover and in addition, if you don’t want them to flower, you’ll have to clip them periodically. Admittedly it’s not quite the twice weekly tyranny of the lawn mower – but it does take time and effort to keep them looking good. As a result, many people have turned to hard landscaping materials to provide the “lawn” effect.

Non-living materials such as gravel and paving have become increasingly popular over recent years and it’s certainly true that they’re hard to beat for low maintenance, and done tastefully, they can be very attractive features in their own right. Modern materials including coloured slabs and stones allow a wide range of effects to be achieved – and these hard landscaping elements come into their own to provide the centre-piece of Japanese or stylised gardens.

Gravelled or paved areas tend to look at their best in the summer, when well positioned and imaginatively planted containers offer a splash of colour and life to provide a contrast with the harder lines of the ground cover. When it comes to minimising the effort involved in keeping your outdoor space neat and tidy, few things come close to matching this approach, allowing you to spend the maximum amount of time enjoying your garden.

However, it does come at a price; once the containers have gone, the area can look a little bleak and stark, so plan to fill your pots and baskets with as good a succession of bulbs, bedding plants and evergreens as you can to reduce the time when there’s nothing green on show.

Paving And Planning Law

Planning legislation recently changed with regard to the wholesale concreting or paving of gardens and grassy spaces to help reduce the threat of flooding. There are now restrictions on what you can do without planning permission – but it’s not all bad news; there are products which can be used, provided that they allow proper drainage into the soil below. If you’re thinking of doing away with some or all of your lawn in this way, a call to your local planning office is a must. It always pays to stay on the right side of the law!

Although lawns were once the place for deckchairs and barbeques, decking and patios have become the outdoor living area of our time, and for many households, removed the need for all that grass. Never-the-less, the appeal of an expanse of well-managed space is as strong as ever – it’s just that today, the options have become wider and the time we want to spend enjoying our gardens more precious.