My (former) back yard in 2006.

The Unlawning Begins

It didn’t take much research through my 15 years of posts here on GardenRant to confirm that my number one topic – dare I say beat? – has been lawns. They just take up SO many square miles in the U.S. and the resource-intense lawn care that’s marketed to Americans is probably the biggest environmental harm that homeowners do in their yards. Changing lawn care practices and seeing people grow less of it could have a huge impact.

So back in 2007 I began “My Quest to be Lawn-Free and Mower-Free,” motivated by not so much by environmental concerns – I was applying nothing to my lawn, and mowing just a few times a season. Selfishly, I was tired of mowing on a downhill, and I thought it would be interesting to blog about. We were seeing anti-lawn messages with increasing frequency, but not many proven ideas for what to grow instead.  Ground’s gotta be covered – at least where there’s plenty of rain for weeds – and a just-good-enough lawn is actually less work than most alternatives. I hoped to find a lawn replacement that’s honestly low-maintenance. 

Photo by Rob Cardillo

Posing in my newly lawn-free back yard in 2009, photo by Rob Cardillo for Organic Gardening Magazine. Can’t believe I dressed this way for a magazine spread!

I’m finally killing my lawn! Okay, now what?” reported on progress. Organic Gardening Magazine published my article about the project, with photos by Rob Cardillo.

Lawn replaced with sedum and clover.

Lawn gone!

The Search for Plants to Replace Lawn 

My former front yard, with lawn.

For my tiny, flat front yard I experimented with “Stepables as Lawn Replacement” (coincidentally, around the same time that Amy Stewart blasted the company in “Hey Stepables! Here’s how to market to bloggers.”)

Lawn replaced by Stepables

With Stepables. (The current owner has returned it to lawn.)

I traveled to the Scott Arboretum to see their impressive examples of lawn alternatives. I explored meadows as a lawn replacement and nixed it as an option for small properties in “Do people really want meadows on their quarter-acre lots?”

And in 2012 former GardenRant blogger Evelyn Hadden’s book Beautiful No-Mow Yards was published, with my very own on the cover – what a thrill! I reviewed it in “Beautiful  No-Mow Yards is just what American Gardeners Need.”

I went so far as to question whether the revered Frederick Law Olmsted could be called a conservationist, given his love of lawn and huge role in the spread of lawns across the U.S.

Bad and Better Lawn Care

Any reporting on harmful lawn care practices and products begins with the ones promoted and sold by Scotts Miracle-Gro, which I summarized in this post, where I nervously avoided saying anything that might get me sued by the notoriously litigious company.

Espoma, the maker of organic lawn-care products, took no prisoners in their brutal take-down of Scotts Miracle-Gro.

Another blog post praised my (former) town for outlawing lawn pesticides.

I bashed’s lawn care advice as “pro-Scotts” and “pro-Big Box.”

For better lawn-care practices I heralded the work of Cornell and their message of “Do less!”

Paul Tukey’s prompted two favorable blog posts -“ Announces Organic Trials on National Mall” and “Organic Lawn Care Trial in  Washington DC.”

And I blogged about the University of Maryland’s sustainable turfgrass test beds.

I reported that in Europe lawns are less pervasive, especially where there are no front yards.

That Time I Advocated for Lawn 

Poorly maintained border has now been returned to lawn.

Most recently in this post and this post I risked censure by the avid (sometimes rabid) lawn-haters when I advocated returning a perennial and shrub border to lawn. Sometimes lawn IS the right plant/right place, right? And as long as the lawn care follows Cornell’s advice to “Do less!” I’m fine with it.

Lawn-Free in a Town House Garden

Packera aurea in bloom, with Sedum takesimense

One of the great advantages of having a small yard is how much easier it is be lawn-free. It still depends on having a few great groundcovers, though.  Mine are groundcover sedum and comfrey, Packera aurea, and ‘Ice Dance’ carex.

Here’s a recent video of my lawn-free garden in Historic Greenbelt, Maryland.