7 Inspiring Lawn-Free Yards

See how to ditch thirsty turf grass in favor of beautiful, easy-care gardens

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Zen retreat

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).

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Suburban homestead

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.

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From lawn to private retreat

"When your home and office are the same place, it's harder to stop working," says Ian Kimbrey, who works in an office above his garage, as does his wife, Joanne Forchas-Kimbrey. "You need a separate area for recreation that tells the brain it's time to switch gears."

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.

See more before and after photos

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Easy-Care Front Yard

Flagstone paths curve through a low-water front yard. A low berm of soil on either side of the walk adds interest, and weed cloth topped with permeable pea gravel allows excess water to soak into the earth rather than run off into the street.

More lessons from this front yard

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Lawn-free tapestry in Seattle

Lawns demand about an inch of water each week during the growing season. That was too much for Seattle-based landscape designer Stacie Crooks of Crooks Garden Design. She knew she could create a traffic-stopping tapestry of plants that would survive on half the water.

So one spring, she ripped out much of her lawn and replaced it with a mixture of perennials and shrubs.

Get Crooks's plant palette

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No-mow grasses

Some grasses can live on rainfall alone in their native Western ranges, and they need mowing just once or twice a year to keep tidy.

Get details and sources

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A Butterfly-Friendly Fountain

Multitiered raised beds and house walls protect this courtyard from breezes. The fountain in the center provides butterflies with a necessary supply of water. (After spilling down the column, it moistens the rocks below before disappearing underground; siphoning water from a puddle beneath wet rocks is a butterfly's preferred way to drink.)

Get three great ideas from this garden