Lawnless and Liberated

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Digging up my back lawn has been completely liberating – more liberating than I could possibly imagine.  No longer do I have the tedium of trying to mow a sloping lawn but what I hadn’t really anticipated was how the dynamics of the garden have completely changed.

Looking back its as though the garden hadn’t really come into its own, the lawn was holding it back like a parent trying to stop its child leaving the nest.  The garden just didn’t work.  There was no sense of journey, no mystery, no discovery. The whole garden could be seen laid out before you.  There was no excitement.  As the garden is relatively small and dominated by two large trees adding screens or hedges to create rooms or vistas wasn’t to  my mind an option.  With the lawn gone I have a large border and through planting a couple of shrubs I feel that I have managed to obstruct the view in places and create zones or compartments.  The paths through the garden now have a sense of purpose and I feel that you are encouraged to explore.  I hope that as the shrubs and other plantings grow then this will increase.

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I really enjoy being in the garden now.  I now longer feel constrained by the size of the borders, causing me to feel I can’t have shrubs or trees or other large plants.  I can create discreet areas better and allow my plants to stretch their leaves with more space around them.  You can almost hear the garden breathing out.  If I was being whimsical I would say it was like a 19th century lady taking her corset off. The garden feels more secluded, it feels more like my garden rather than a garden based on other people’s ideas.

I find myself wondering why we are so hung up on lawns.  It seems to me to be something that is deep within our English psyche. The pundits and supporters of the RHS Chelsea flower show and its sister shows: Hampton Court and Tatton Court argue that they are influential and dictate fashion.  However, when was the last time there was a proper lawn in one of these show gardens?  The majority of show gardens feature hard landscaping with planting but how many people follow this lead and get rid of their lawn.  Of course many people need their lawn space for the children, pets or because they like to use it as a social space.  From the magazines I read it seems that more and more city gardens particularly in London have gone the route of no lawn but here in the suburbs it causes raised eyebrows.

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I have to admit to dithering about taking this route I was so brainwashed.  It was the book Beautiful No Mow Yards which pushed me into taking action and I am really glad I was sent a copy to review.  Yes there is still a grass path and this isn’t because  I am trying to hold onto some grass but because we really don’t have the time to put in hard landscaping here at the moment due to the workshop going in.  I do like the appearance of the grass path but it isn’t that practical to maintain.  I tried to mow it this weekend and the camber of the path is so steep that you are constantly battling with the mower.  We are going to see how strimming works but I suspect that by this time next year it will have been replaced with gravel.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who persuaded, cajoled and dared me into digging up the lawn- you have given me so much more planting space

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33 Comments Add yours

  1. Pauline says:

    It must be wonderful to feel so liberated! As a keen gardener, of course plants are more important to you than lawn, now you can let your creative juices loose and create the garden of your dreams. I have carved away half our lawn, but the garden being nearly an acre, I think half an acre of borders to weed is enough, so we will be keeping the rest as lawn.

  2. I remember Alan Titchmarsh once saying “There is no point putting nice new furniture on a tatty old carpet” but it’s also easy to fret about the carpet too much and new furniture is more fun!
    Can’t go to HPS on Saturday but see you at the next one.

  3. djdfr says:

    Your garden looks lovely. In a small space especially, I think it is more interesting to grow plants other than grass.

    Here is what I wrote a while back on the subject:
    For the longest time, I couldn’t understand what people saw in having “the perfect lawn”. So much work, mowing, watering, mowing, weeding, mowing, moles, mowing, trimming, etc.

    One day as I passed a field of wheat, newly sown, just coming up, that beautiful shade of spring green, all the blades the same height, something clicked. This is the promise of harvest, hope of bounty. Perhaps the lawn stirs these feelings without one realizing it.

    Some time later, while making before-dinner conversation in a Parisian apartment, my host confided his wish to leave the city, have a house with a patio looking out over a lawn. So I shared my lawn theory. He replied, “Oh, I’m not interested in spiritual things.”

    *****
    We have a fair amount of grass, but I wouldn’t call it a lawn. 🙂 The space in beds is almost too much for me to keep weeded so cutting the grass is an easy way to keep the jungle from encroaching.

  4. pianolearner says:

    One of the first things we did when we moved into our house was to lose the lawn. Best thing we did!

  5. Cathy says:

    Well done Helen – I can really sense the liberation you feel. Our garden was almost all grass when we came but it gradually got less and less, and in one place I did keep some grass paths like you are doing (so far!). These soon lost their grass, one to bark and one to cobbles – and I suspect yours won’t last longer. I now just have my Tai Chi lawn which is qickly cut with a handmower, and grass by the stream which is about 12″ long and full of bulb leaves at the moment but what does that matter! Who knows where the next stage of your garden (and your life) will take you…?

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi Cathy

      I still have the small front lawn which is nice and easy to cut. I do like a bit of lawn but not when it is dominating and serving no purpose

  6. Annette says:

    Yes, that lawn thing is firmly cemented in the psyche, most of all in England…I freed myself long ago 🙂 , life’s so much better now…just do remember to keep some paths to move around, Helen…gardening is quite an obsession and one tends to stretch the borders (seemingly) endlessly :))

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi Annette
      I have some invisible paths mapped out which I will put wood bark on and mark informally with stones or logs but i am waiting to see how I use the space and what becomes the most obvious routes

  7. Yvonne Ryan says:

    Have you ever thought gardeners are a bit dotty?

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi Yvonne
      I think real keen gardeners are all barking including myself

  8. Jennifer says:

    Your garden is wonderful. When I lived in Michigan I had a huge garden in one lot of our property and half the other planted too. Since then I haven’t been able to garden much as in PEI the yard sloped away from the house – there were 22 acres and none of it ever landscaped. Now I am on a small urban lot with hardly any back yard – but I am going to do what you did – I’m digging it up and planting – it will make life so much easier and give me the garden I need to be happy – thanks for your inspiration!

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi Jennifer
      I have been looking at your blog and you do have a lot on your hands. Digging up the lawn would mean less mowing and you could plant shrubs and larger plants which should reduce weeding
      Glad you found it inspiring.

    2. Jennifer says:

      I got the second VegTrug together today – plants are in and the yard is next! It won’t be much – I only have 3′ behind the house and about 2 feet that doesn’t already have nasty hostas in it. But I’m seeing raspberries and grapes ……….

  9. It looks inviting and mysterious. So glad this has worked for you. Do think about gravel, though. The areas we’ve got aren’t nearly as low maintenance as I’d expected (weeds) and if gravel’s on a slope it can be quite hard to keep in place and walk on (also wheeling the wheelbarrow). Looking forward to all the new planting. Must look out for No Mow Yards book – thank you for the recommendation.

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi Helen
      I know what you mean about grazel. I have a lot already and recently realised that placing a bird feeder near a gravelpath was not my best idea!!

  10. I can see how those wide borders are going to work for you. I think you are tremendously brave to take the plunge…no looking back!

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi Marian
      I have procrastinated for ages on this but in the end it was my sons who said just do it especially the one who didnt want to cut the grass any more. I am so glad they pushed me

  11. Donna says:

    Well done Helen! It reminds me a bit of some of those gorgeously terraced seaside gardens – the ones you walk past on the way to the beach that are full of all kinds of hidden mystery and interest. Speaking personally, I’ve never had a lawn to mow but watching some neighbours mowing away in the summer my theory is that it’s a bit like hoovering and could even be slightly therapeutic – you know when you do something automatically and sometimes go into a zen-like trance 🙂

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi Donna
      I have a small lawn in the front garden which is theraputic to mow as its flat but the back one was a nightmare and gave me back ache and I used to have to ask my son to cut it and he is a busy chap so this is much much better

  12. total liberation. Lawns are just water guzzlers 🙂 *Brigid

  13. Dr. Booky says:

    Great post! What a lovely and inviting garden. What are those upside-down baskets on the bed? Are the cloches? I love the look of them.

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi Dr Booky
      The baskets are indeed cloches. I use them to protect young plants from my thuggish cat and also to protect my cat from the slug pellets I use to give the dahlias a chance

  14. I have been wanting to do this myself and you are certainly an inspiration….hopefully I will start this fall as I have time.

  15. Holleygarden says:

    Bravo! I can understand the lawn thing – it is easier for non-gardening people to just mow once a week rather than to take care of a multitude of plants. But for gardeners, lawns are mostly just wasted space (unless, like you say, there are kids, pets, or other activities involved). I love the grass pathway, but since you have to mow on a slope, gravel will be lovely, and a much better option, as a path material. I can also envision an arbor or two to increase that sense of mystery and romance.

  16. Anna says:

    I can understand your feeling of liberation Helen especially after just loosing some of our lawn to a new planting area. It certainly wasn’t a sacrifice as it was not that attractive to look at and was never used as a sitting out area. I wonder when lawns became such a major feature of our gardens – must investigate. I can see that remaining strip morphing into an attractive gravel before too long 🙂

  17. Yeay, congratulations 🙂
    K
    xx

  18. I’ve often read how gardeners who eventually get rid of their lawn feel exactly like you do. I have to admit, I haven’t taken the plunge yet, but do seem to remove a little bit at a time. I really should bite the bullet and rearrange!! One day I’ll probably do a similar blog!

  19. Well done! I have dug up almost the whole front garden. However, I’ve been forbidden from doing any more of the back because of the need for sitting and socializing.

  20. hillwards says:

    Helen, it was a bold move to dig up the lawn, yet your liberated garden looks fantastic already. I must confess I do love the softness that your grass paths give over gravel, but if their slope makes them too impractical to maintain then gravel would come close. Bravo! You’ll fill up the space in no time.

  21. Hurrah! I love the corset analogy, and love the fizz of excitement that flows from your writing even more. I am going to really enjoy watching you develop your new-style lawnless garden, seeing what plants you add etc.

  22. Roger brook says:

    Stick with your grass paths, they look good. Though the edging is a bit of a nuisance!
    I hope everyone who digs up their lawn keep all that wonderful fibrous soil and do not cart it away!
    You probably do not approve of my method of spraying off the grass and planting direct into the dead sword and then mulching!

  23. Good thinking, Helen – and it looks so much better. Though you made me blush with all that talk of taking off corsets. D

  24. b-a-g says:

    My reason for keeping a lawn is that when I don’t have so much time for gardening, a quick mow can leave the garden looking neat and tidy. I’m imagining that more room for plants means more bindweed etc.

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