Harmony in the Garden Blog

The Ultimate Guide to Creating a Lawn-Free Garden

lawn free garden

Over the past several years, I’ve written a lot about creating a lawn-free garden. 

I’ve talked about everything from the nitty -gritty details of removing a lawn, to loads of before-and-after lawn-free transformations, to must-have books and resources that will guide you through every step of the process.

With so many new subscribers this past year and with so much of our country being hit hard by the devastating drought, it’s the perfect time to create a single post that includes all of these links in one easy location. 

So here it is, a compilation of my favorite lawn-free garden posts.  Enjoy!


Replacing a lawn with a garden

Let’s start at the beginning. 

If you’re thinking about removing or reducing your lawn, it can seem like a daunting process.  I won’t lie – depending on the size of your lawn, it can certainly be a lot of work. 

But trust me, the work you put in is SO worth it in the end. 

In all the years I’ve been removing lawns, I’ve never once had a client come back and tell me they wish we had kept it! 

lawn free garden

Instead, my clients have consistently been amazed at their slashed water bill (many times saving over 50%!) 

And here’s the best part – their garden isn’t a wasteland with only a few cactus here and there, but is overflowing with colorful plants, pollinators, birds, etc.  

One of these gardens, for example, was featured in a magazine and during the photo shoot, the homeowner showed the editor their water bills pre-and-post lawn removal, proving just how much less water this overflowing garden used.

The editor was floored, to say the least!

So, where do you begin when thinking about removing your lawn? 

Take a look, below, at my 3-part series, which steps through how I removed my front lawn and what I replaced it with:

Replacing a lawn with a garden, part 1 

Replacing a lawn with a garden, part 2

Replacing a lawn with a garden, part 3

Before-and-After Lawn Free Gardens

lawn free garden

Nothing is as inspiring (to me, at least) as a good Before-and-After!  Which is probably why I’ve written about so many of them over the years. 

Luckily, I have lots to share with you that involve removing a lawn.

Remember my story above about the homeowner who gathered their pre-and-post lawn removal water bills for the editor?  You can read about this garden here, in Shades of Gray in a No-Lawn Garden.  

lawn free garden

This was a lovely, small garden in suburban Palo Alto, on a tree-lined street where most houses and gardens were of the same size. 

One of the reasons why this project was so meaningful was result it had on the neighborhood. 

Over the years, I received several calls from neighbors asking to help them also remove their lawns to create a garden.

Click the link to read my post:  Creating a No-Lawn Front Garden

lawn free garden

Similar to the garden above, this next example is also on a suburban street, surrounded by neighbors with similar home and gardens with little-used front lawns.

I loved this project, as over the years, I saw the transformation not only in the garden but also in the homeowners as they so enjoyed seeing the hummingbirds and life that filled their new garden. 

Removing the front lawn was so successful we ended up removing the back lawn, as well. 

Click here to see more pics of this garden.

lawn-free garden

Not ready to completely remove your lawn? 

That’s okay!  We often remove just part of the lawn, leaving a smaller patch for young children or dogs. 

In this garden, we removed the entire front lawn, but only part of the back lawn.  The garden is a great example that shows how to create the ‘negative space’ that I talked about in the above 3-part series. 

In this case, we emphasized negative space through the use of wide pebble pathways in the front garden and a small patch of lawn in the back. 

Click here to read more about this garden.

This is the before pic of one of my favorite transformations.  The homeowner is also an avid gardener (which always makes a project more fun.)  

We dove headfirst into removing her giant un-used lawn and replacing it with a combination of no-mow grasses, wide pathways, and planting beds.

lawn-free garden


And here’s the ‘After’ – pretty amazing, isn’t it?

Click here to see more pics of this garden.

lawn free garden

I seem to always say ‘this is one of my favorites,’ don’t I?  But it’s so true – I have tons of favorites! 

Including this one, where we removed a large lawn and replaced it with an amazing succulent garden. 

You may have seen this before, as it’s been featured in several magazines over the years, but I’ll show it again as (get ready for it…) it’s one of my favorites

Click here to see more.

lawn free gardens

Here’s another example of a small front yard on a suburban street.

Only this time, we removed the front lawn and replaced it with an edible garden.   

In this instance, we also included plenty of year-round plantings that would carry the garden through the winter months yet still created a few raised beds providing space for plenty of edibles.

Click here to see more.

Since moving to my new home, I’ve been busy removing unused areas of lawn and replacing them with pollinator plants.

I’ve had so much fun finally having enough space to indulge in my low-water plant obsession!  

This is an example of replacing a lawn that killed an oak tree (gee, who would’ve seen that coming?) and creating a vibrant pollinator/rain garden. 

Click here to see why this has become my very favorite part of the garden.

And finally, here’s another area of my garden where the lawn completely surrounded an oak tree.

I removed the lawn that was close to the oak and filled with space with succulents and other low-water plants.

Click here to see details of how I accomplished this.

Favorite Lawn-Free Resources

There are a few books that I return to time and time again when needing lawn-free inspiration.

Two of them are written by Pam Penick (who also authors the longtime, award-winning blog Digging.) 

Her books are amazing and will help you so, so much if you’re thinking about removing your lawn. 

Her first book is The Water Saving Garden (you can also read my Q&A with the author, here)

Pam’s second book,  Lawn Gone! Low-Maintenance, Sustainable, Attractive Alternatives for Your Yard  dives deep into the specifics of  removing lawns.

You’ll learn about pros and cons for various ways of eliminating lawn, lawn alternatives, and inspirational photos.  (spoiler:  one of my gardens is featured in this book!)

This next book, Gardening in Summer Dry Climates – Plants for a Lush, Water-Conscious Landscape , was released this year by Saxon Holt and Nora Harlow. 

Even if you’re not familiar with Saxon Holt, you’ve undoubtedly seen many of his photographs in various garden books and magazines.  He’s not only talented but passionate about low-water gardens.

I dare you to read this book and not be inspired to run out and remove your lawn!   

Plants and Landscapes for Summer-Dry Climates of the San Francisco Bay Region  is another long-time a favorite of most designers I know in the area.  Mine is dogeared, I’ve read it so much.

Also photographed by Saxon Holt, this book is indispensable for low-water inspiration.

And finally – the UC Davis Arboretum All-Star website is a fantastic and thoroughly researched website for super low-water plants for our zone 9 climate.   

If you’re not aware of this site, you simply MUST head over and take a look.  It’s amazing to read about the plants they test under pretty brutal conditions, and how they did (or didn’t) fare.

designing pollinator garden

Well, there you have it – my ultimate guide for creating a lawn-free garden! 

I hope I’ve given you plenty of inspiration and resources to help transform your garden into a high-performing, low-water oasis! 

If you have any books or plants to share with us, don’t’ be shy – we’ll all benefit from your perspective!

Enjoyed this article?  Please share it with others: 

Please leave a comment below


  • My God, this is a great post. So informative, beautiful and inspiring. Thank You!!!

  • Dear Rebecca: Such an informative and lovely post – we all need help during this drought and the hot temperatures. I wondered if the Hillside Meadow Garden you shared would have a list of plants for the photos you shared?
    All of them peaked my curiosity.
    Diane – gardening in Mill Valley ( yes, a little cooler than Sacramento area eh! )

    • Hi Diane, I’m so glad you enjoyed the post! I don’t have a plant list written down (there are TONS of plants there!) but if there’s something in particular that you have a questions about, I could ID it for you. (lucky YOU, btw, to be gardening in Mill Valley – one of my favorite places ever!)

  • Such an excellent, info packed blog!!!! These are such great resources and I’ll share them with friends so that they realize the possibilities. I also remind them of the generous rebates available through local water purveyors if they need an additional financial incentive.
    Your before and after photos are always SO inspiring! I think using such photos really helps people see the possibilities for their own gardens as nothing else can. It takes the design from the page and puts it in real life and let’s people imagine them in that space. Thank you so much for sharing your amazing expertise Rebecca. You are truly an inspiration!!

    • Ronnie, your comment just made my day – thank you so much. And yes, of course! How did I forget to mention checking to see if people might qualify for a rebate?? Thanks for reminding us all and thanks again for brightening my day. 🙂

  • Rebecca, love all these gardens and ideas especially the ‘succulent’ garden!
    Hope you are well. Miss you! If you are ever down in this area please let me know.

    • Hi Kathy – gosh it’s been forever since I’ve been down there! I think at least a year, in fact. There’s a chance I’ll be coming down in October and if so, I’ll definitely give you a call – I’d love to see you and my favorite succulent garden xoxo

    • Thank you, Sharon, I’m so glad you enjoy them! Sending you big hugs and hoping your weekend wasn’t too hot! xo

  • I’m definitely bookmarking this post! I will be able to peruse it in less busy times so I can absorb the many aspects more fully. You are always so helpful, Rebecca, and a great educator!

    • I’m so glad I can help, Barbara, that’s a very nice thing to say. 🙂

  • So beautiful Rebecca. I love your design ideas! Thank you for sharing such inspiring information. The before and after photos are amazing. You are so skilled. Miss you!

    • Thanks, Gigi, I’m glad you enjoyed this one. I miss you too and hope the weather has been nice up there!!


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