If dry weather has left your lawn looking somewhat sorry for itself this summer, you’re not alone. Globally, it takes many millions of gallons of fresh water. Hundreds of thousands of tonnes of chemical fertiliser and pesticides, plus countless working hours to keep lawns green. Especially in areas with a hot, arid climate. Is it time to consider lawn alternatives?
Here in the UK, green and lush is one of the things we do best. Yet, even for us Brits maintaining a healthy grass lawn still represents a big investment of time, money and resources. Many professional gardeners and landscape architects now encourage their clients away from the traditional lawn towards something more sustainable and less care-intensive.
You may have noticed how more and more civic gardens are incorporating areas of bee-friendly wildflower meadow in spaces that once would have been given over to plain grass; memorably at the Olympic Park in 2012!
At home as well, we can experience the benefits of replacing grass lawns with more interesting planting, whether partially or wholly:
- Less or no watering
- Little or no mowing
- Low maintenance
- No polluting chemical fertilisers
- Added interest in the garden
- Encourages pollinators – love your local bees!
Heath Pearlwort lawn
These are wonderful lawn alternatives. The evergreen Heath Pearlwort plant (also known as Irish Moss) is extremely hardy. It’s unbothered by a lack of rain, happy in most soils and aspects, and can withstand heavy foot traffic without too much trouble. One caveat: doesn’t do well with dogs, as their droppings will kill the plant.
Apart from that, once established, a Heath Pearlwort lawn will be utterly self-sufficient – no mowing, no trimming, no cutting! Warm, wet summers can see it grow to a lovely spongy 10cm in height, yet in winter it kindly retreats to a neat 3cm. A mass of white flowers will greet you home in late spring and early summer.
Unfortunately not quite tough enough for a garden that has to handle daily rough and tumble from kids or dogs. Yet clover is a clever alternative to a grass lawn for low-to-medium use areas.
Retaining its bright green leaves even during the height of summer with little to no water, clover grows happily without chemical fertilisers, needs only a very occasional going over with a mower and is seriously cheap in comparison to grass seed and turf. Not as tough as grass, sure, but you can sit and walk on your comfy clover lawn without issues.
You may already be aware of clover’s use as a soil conditioner: as it chokes out weeds, reduces soil compaction with its deep roots and ‘fixes’ nitrogen in the soil. It’s a natural fertiliser!
‘White Clover’ is the variety to look for if you’re considering a switch, as it’s low-growing, drought-tolerant and even pet urine proof! Large sacks of the seed are available from farming outlets, as farmers commonly use it for grazing land.
Creeping thyme lawn
If your patch of lawn drains well and gets lots of sun, you’ll probably have spent a considerable amount of time watering the grass over the past few years! Consider switching to a plant which thrives in full sun and drier soils instead – the gorgeous smelling, delightfully soft creeping thyme.
This isn’t a radical choice, either. In the Edwardian era, thyme lawns were extremely popular. A gorgeous green ‘carpet’ of foliage which, when walked on, releases its sweet thyme aroma. What’s more, in midsummer, thyme lawns are dotted with delicate pretty pink flowers.
An established thyme lawn will always fair better than conventional grass in times of drought. You could get rid of the mower too, as the plant needs just a couple of trims a year to keep it neat and tidy.
Corsican mint is the lowest growing of all the mints and will happily colonise lawn areas in partial shade as well as those that get full sun. It handles foot traffic good-naturedly, giving off the most wonderful smell when crushed underfoot, and can even be used to make tea!