Monday, 13 June 2011


Lawns are popular because they provide green cover that is hard wearing, ascetically pleasing and suitable for both  walking over and playing on. There are many different species of grass seed and each has its own characteristics that can suit most garden conditions.  But if you don’t want a grass lawn but still want to use plants, what are the alternatives?

Grass is low growing and has lateral shoots which makes the sward thick.  Because the root zone can produce grass shoots at such a low height, it can be mowed frequently without detrimental effect.  Cricket wickets successfully rely on the root zone of the grass to hold the soil together because the grass blade is mown so short.

Plants that mimic this low growing, prostrate habit work well as alternatives to grass.  They include herbs such as chamomile, pearlwort and thyme; groundcover plants and some plants traditionally considered lawn weeds.

The advantage of using alternatives to grass is that they can grow in areas that would be difficult to mow. However, often these plants are not as hard wearing as grass and so not suitable for playing sports on or high use areas.

Camomile lawns were popular in the formal gardens of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and have rosettes of fine, scented leaves which are tolerant of some walking or sitting on. Use the non flowering variety, Anthemis nobile 'Treneague'.  As they are non-flowering, the lawn will have to be planted from rosettes.

Thyme lawn
Thyme lawns make fine leaved green mats but are not tolerant of pedestrian traffic so are best admired from afar.  Varieties used include creeping thymes such as Thymus drucei and Thymus serphyllum. They provide a scent and flower in summer. There are many different varieties that can be interwoven across your lawn to stunning effect.

Creeping mint, Mentha requienii, is good for shady areas.

Ground cover planting
The advantage of using ground cover plants is that they can be planted on steep banks or areas inaccessible to mowers.  Ajuga reptans, Vinca minor, Pachysandra terminalis or hedra helix are all low growing ground cover plants that will provide excellent cover in shady areas.  Achillea tomentosa and Acaena microphylla are great for sunny areas.

Lawn weeds
Moss can provide excellent ground cover and thrives in shady and damp areas. Keep weed free and water in dry spells.

Clover lawn
Clover was once considered a lawn weed but can be suitable to provide a green carpet.  It tolerates poor soil and has nitrogen fixing properties that improves the soil quality. Having long roots it is more drought tolerant that some other lawn plants and so retains its green appearance during dry weather.

Sagina pilifera, pearlwort, provides  a spongy carpet with white flowers. It should be planted in well drained soil in partial shade. Better suited to small areas of lawn.

For related articles click onto:
Feeding plants
Grass maintenance - laying turf
Grass maintenance - sowing a lawn from seed
How to build a cold frame
How to make compost 

Lawn care
Soil structure
What is the difference between a rhododendron and an azalea?
Non-grass lawns
Paths - Brick paving
Preparing a seed bed

Lawn care
Laying concrete
Using pedestrian mowers

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