After designing gardens for over 20 years, I’ve noticed more and more people want to replace their little-used front lawn with an environmentally friendly garden.
The main stumbling block, however, is they aren’t quite sure what to do once the lawn is gone.
I hear variations of the same concerns: it’ll look too much like a desert, it won’t be lush, it’ll be too sparse or it won’t have enough color.
Therefore, I thought it might be helpful if I show a few before and after photos of a new garden’s progress in the hopes it inspires you to re-think your front lawn!
Oh, how I wish I had the ‘Before-when-I-first-drove-up’ picture! You would’ve seen a very typical straight cement pathway (complete with cracks) leading from the sidewalk to the front door. While the lawn wasn’t huge, it also wasn’t used – EVER.
Well, that’s not entirely true. The only time the lawn was used was when walking to the gate on the side of the house.
So, after removing the lawn we installed a functional side path that would provide a much nicer experience as you strolled through the garden.
The main path also approaches the front door from the driveway, which is not only functional but also divides the front garden into three distinct spaces.
More views of the side pathway, interplanted with ‘Elfin’ thyme (which lies very flat to the ground and doesn’t bunch up like many of the other thymes do.)
One of the main challenges of this garden was a HUGE tree in the center planting area.
The tree’s roots made it almost impossible to plant anything deeper than a few inches, as well as the roots stealing much needed water and nutrients from the nearby plants. As a result, nothing ever thrived in this area. Until we raised the soil level, that is.
To raise the soil level just a bit (12-14″) one of my favorite methods is to install half-circles of stone.
I’m not a fan of planting beds that have their borders lined with river rocks, as they tend to look a little contrived. Instead, I prefer creating half-circle shapes that are created inside the bed – a few feet from the edge of the planting area.
To give the stones a more natural look, bury them by 1/3. That way, they’ll look like they’ve been there for a long time versus just plopped down on the ground. The stone half-circle will allow the addition of several inches of soil for new plants (as well as adding height and interest to an otherwise flat space.)
Here’s a tip: Place a plant near the end of the half-circle to blur the beginning and end points. This results in a more natural look, letting the stones appear and disappear within the planting bed.
And now for the close-ups!
When using a lot of gold and chartreuse in the garden remember to temper the brightness by including plenty of complementary colors, such as lavender and blue.
These colors visually ‘cool down’ the hot tones, providing much needed contrast and interest.
California’s native salvia spatheca (Hummingbird Sage) is another long blooming favorite. As the name implies, its magenta spires are a magnet for hordes of hummingbirds.
The majestic spires grow up to a 18″ high, and whenever I pass by I can’t help running my hand along them.
I’m not sure what the flowers are coated with, but my hand ends up lightly coated with a smooth and silky substance similar to hand lotion.
The steely blue blades of the helictotrichon sempervirens (Blue Oat Grass) repeat the shape of the nearby phormium ‘Maori Maiden’.
The drastically different sizes and colors, however, allow them to remain distinctly unique.
The cooling blue tones are a welcome site in this brightly colored garden.
The bright leaves of the abelia ‘Kaleidescope’ are repeated with the foliage of coprosma ‘Pink Splendor,’ and the yellow flowers of the phlomis fruiticosa.
All are very low water, evergreen, and tough as nails in zone-9 gardens.
The gray-green foliage of nearby nepeta and sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ provides color contrast as well as fall-blooming flowers.
Even the pot on the front porch sports brightly colored agapanthus ‘Gold Strike’, repeating the foliage shapes and colors in the planting area behind.
The container, however, is a cooling shade of dark gray, blending in with the colors of the home and pathway.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the before-and-after transformation of this garden.
If you’d like to see more lawn-alternative gardens, please click here.