For a plant that stirs the bowels of ecogardeners and Torojockeys alike, turfgrass looks bland enough. And that’s part of the problem – the monoculture that is the great greensward of American lawndom. Lord knows I’ve ranted about it enough, and not just because when it’s grown the way the folks at Scotts recommend, it wastes resources and pollutes waterways. I just find lawn care so tedious I can barely force myself to do it. Honestly, I suck at lawn care and mine looks like crap by about mid-June. Just take this spring photo and substitute the color brown for the color green and you get the idea.
But this year my garden and I have embarked on a journey together out of that sea of sameness to a place that’s unknown, a little scary and exciting, too. The goal is to cover this 1,000-square-foot, sloping, mostly sunny space with something that will, like lawn, prevent run-off, be reasonably evergreen, and withstand both a little foot traffic and having the garden hose lugged across it from side to side. Oh, and be drought-tolerant and prevent weeds. Tall order, I know, but if, like me, you’re even a bit of an anti-lawn crusader, you want those magic replacement plants to succeed. Go, team! And what might they be?
In all ignorance, I thought I could turn it into a meadow, as you may remember. Enough said. Next I’ll try a mixture of walk-on-able groundcovers, starting with what I have or what’s super-cheap:
MY FAVORITE WEEDS
- An unintended but delightful consequence of growing clover deliberately is shocking the pants off people who haven’t heard the good news about clover but still believe the bad press it’s gotten for the last 50 years or so. I already have lots of it growing around the edges and I’ll add more, especially some of the taller and red-blooming type.
- One of the better-looking plants that’s ever blown into my garden is what I call creeping sedum. It meets all my requirements and even has nice gold flowers in early summer. I have lots to spread around.
- And I’ll use some of my smartweed. It has good-looking foliage and long-lasting fuschia blooms but it’s not evergreen, so it’ll be used sparingly.
LOOK, MA, I’M TRIALING!
I’m always terribly impressed when actual plantspeople like Graham Rice write up the results of their experiments. So now, in my best horticulturist-wannabe mode, I’ll be growing some choice selections from a most intriguing plant group, sold by a most intriguing company – Stepables in Oregon – as many of them as the budget allows or they have samples to spare. Here’s what’s appealing about them, in the words of spokeswoman Sally Credille:
- Using creeping perennials as lawn substitutes is an alternative that is ornamental, functional and eco-friendly.
- Unlike traditional groundcovers, which grow to 12-24 inches and don’t make for a pleasant walking surface, these creepers are only 2-4 inches tall and thus create that low visual plane typically associated with a lawn. Plus, they’re sturdy enough to handle foot traffic.
- Creeping perennials have thousands of tiny, compact root nodes that firmly grasp the soil. As often as you step on them with the soles of your feet, they will vigorously take root and begin to creep across the landscape.
- They succeed in such diverse spots as under trees, muddy paths that sinks in bad weather, busy garden walkways, steep banks, around pools, etc.
- There are choices for varying amounts of foot traffic: light, medium or heavy (heavy is defined as 3 or more times per day).
- Almost every variety is hardy for USDA Zones 3-9.
Lest you worry I’m on their payroll or a total whore for swag, this will be the “Survivor!” of the hort world, with plants potentially voted off the garden at any time. So readers, we’ll just see if these little beauties can deliver on all those promises. Updates to follow. But first…
THE METHOD OF PLANTICIDE
Now, how to remove the lawn that’s there. I’ve rejected herbicides, rototilling and baking under black plastic, the latter just because I don’t want to buy all that plastic I’d never use again. So I’ll be going the cheap-and-organic route – 6 or more layers of newspaper covered with a couple of inches of leafmold mulch, watered and watched for a few weeks until it all breaks down. But will it break down fast enough for me to do all the planting by mid-October? Tension mounts.