24 inspiring lawn-free yards
See how to ditch thirsty turf grass in favor of beautiful, easy-care gardens
This Palo Alto, CA front yard was designed be a point of interest for anyone passing by. Landscape designer Chris Jacobson kept mostly to a green palette to create tranquility and year-round good looks. Clumping Berkeley sedge dots the yard, while spiraled Aloe polyphylla and asparagus ferns line the drive. Japanese maples and dogwoods provide softness, shade, and color. Jacobson placed an arbor supported by concrete columns 7 feet from the house, creating a courtyard. The planting beds, mulched with tumbled glass in shades of blue and green and buff-colored decomposed granite, add texture while keeping the palette serene.
Design: Chris Jacobson of GardenArt Group (gardenartgroup.com).
Garden designer Susanne Jett cheered up this Santa Monica lawn by laying down a crisp layer of decomposed granite and planting a showy—yet low-water—border that birds love as much as the homeowner does. Color was the driving force for Jett’s plant choices, including pink-blooming Cistus, orange Leucospermum, and purple-flowered Ceanothus. Shrubs provide privacy from the street, while shorter perennial plants and groundcovers make the space feel lush. The homeowner chose California natives such as Ribes and toyon specifically to provide berries for birds.
Design: Susanne Jett of Jettscapes Landscape (jettscapes.com).
Garden designer Marilyn Waterman created her version of a homestead in her Menlo Park, CA yard. Waterman tucks in edibles everywhere: a ‘Red Fuji’ apple tree, blueberries, strawberries, a ‘Meyer’ lemon tree, and herbs. She also loves water-wise succulents and ornamental grasses. Where her property meets the sidewalk, Waterman built a rustic fence with recycled 4-by-4s, wire, and turnbuckles. The fence is covered with Niabell and ‘Flame Seedless’ grapes as her offering to the neighbors. Even the boulders, which Waterman hauled from a stone yard, fit her ranch theme—she imagines rattlesnakes napping on them. But they’re functional too; the level surface makes them a useful resting spot for a person, pruners, or cup of coffee.
A sycamore takes center stage in this lawnless California yard. Shade created by the tree keeps the patio cool while permeable paving, potted plants, and other design details keep watering to a minimum.
So the couple (he's a photo editor, she works for a design firm) asked landscape designer Jay Griffith to help them turn a small lawn between their house and the garage into a transitional area, a "decompression chamber" where they can relax after work.
Designer Kendra Berger of Revive Landscape Design used 5 kinds of aloes, two types of aeonium, Bulbine frutescens, Agave attenuata, and lots of blue Senecio mandraliscae to play off the Moroccan blue of the pots.
She added a new set of pilasters along the stairs—perfect perches for more pots—and faced the risers with blue and white Spanish tiles.
More: Care-free garden design
“Character” plants From fluffy mounds to floppy giants: Rusty-hued Carex testacea softens the front path, while green kniphofia, plum Heuchera ‘Obsidian’, Libertia peregrinans ‘Bronze Sword’, and euphorbia surround the ‘Karl Foerster’ grass. Across the path, drifts of Picea sitchensis ‘Papoose’, variegated iris, and Phormium ‘Dusky Chief’ encircle a ginkgo tree.
Design/Build Rebecca Sams and Buell Steelman, Mosaic Gardens, Eugene, OR
Dymondia margaretae, a gray-leafed South African ground cover, has replaced the lawn, and a range of drought-tolerant plants, including New Zealand flax (Phormium), kangaroo paws (Anigozanthos), Leucadendron, and Lomandra add further interest.
Landscape architect Jim Love's solution: Add mostly low-water plants that give the yard all-season appeal.
2. Extend the season Since most California natives bloom in spring, combine them with plants that flower at other times. Blanc added butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), coral fountain (Russelia equisetiformis), and Mexican lobelia (Lobelia laxiflora) for summer color.
3. Go on sustainable-garden tours You'll find ideas as well as designers who can help you realize them. The Zinners discovered garden designer Stephanie Blanc on such a tour.
So one spring, she ripped out much of her lawn and replaced it with a mixture of perennials and shrubs.
After removing the lawn, designer and contractor Greg Rubin ― who specializes in California natives ― installed a meandering path bordered by fragrant 'Bee's Bliss' salvia, wild lilacs, and an existing non-native purple tree mallow ― all pretty, low-water plants.
As in many areas of the West, water is precious ― a limited commodity. Kus needed to manage carefully the available water.