People who have killed their lawns


I went for a walk in Sebastopol CA this evening and took some photos (crappy photos with my iPhone, sorry) of front yards that have gardens instead of lawns. They look much more interesting than grass, and some of them had vegetables growing among the flowers. I'm preparing to kill my own lawn and replacing it with a heavily mulched garden.

I hope more people take photos of front-yard gardens and tag them on Flickr with killyourlawn.

Kill Your Lawn Flickr set


  1. My former front lawn is now a riot of evergreens, ground cover, flowers and native plants. I have a ton of before/after photos that I have to get onto Flickr. Down with lawns. Death to grass. Wildflowers forever!

  2. agitate for it with your town. Less demand on water system, less air/noise pollution from mowers and blowers, more biodiversity, more bird cover, less pesticides and chemical runoff

    1. Being on the second floor, I have four potted plants outside my front door, one of which is a flowering shrub. Just that one plant has its own swarm of honeybees, a herd of tiny, white mantises and one female hummingbird who works it full time. It really doesn’t take much to set up an ecosystem.

  3. Once there was a way to get back homeward
    Once there was a way to get back home
    Sleep, pretty darling, do not cry
    And I will sing a lullaby
    Golden Slumbers fill your eyes
    Smiles awake you when you rise
    Sleep pretty darling do not cry
    And I wil sing a lullaby

    Once there was a way to get back homeward
    Once there was a way to get back home
    Sleep, pretty darling, do not cry
    And I will sing a lullaby
    Golden Slumbers fill your eyes
    Smiles awake you when you rise
    Sleep pretty darling do not cry
    And I wil sing a lullaby

    Oh, you’re gonna carry that weight
    Carry that weight a long time
    Oh, you’re gonna carry that weight
    Carry that weight a long time

  4. Property values are in the gutter anyway so why not make your property stand out? My neighbor decided to do the same thing, several months ago, and now he’s still working on it every day. Rather than move to Arizona he decided to build a stucco walled adobe nightmare in the middle of 60 year old houses with lawns and nary a picket fence to be found. No grass for him, he’s adding two rooms to his largest house on the block. Good thinking retired puttering guy!

  5. I’ve replaced more than half of my lawn with wild flowers. Here’s how:

    1. Cover the desired area with black plastic, weighed down with rocks.

    2. Wait two months.

    3. Remove plastic and rake to expose bare dirt (the hardest part).

    4. Plant wildflower seed by scattering and walking on seed to press it into dirt. Try for seed.

    5. Water until established.

    6. Enjoy!


  6. You see a lot of these in Portland, Oregon too. Not that I’m some kind of communist hippie, I certainly don’t want to give anyone that impression, but it is true that they are far more beautiful than regular grass lawns. It’s like discovering haute cuisine after eating rice-a-roni your entire life.

  7. Don’t you dare!

    I’m sorry, but people replacing their house lawns with pavemented patios with some wild flower decorations around the side is one of the larger contributing factors to surface water run off, which leads to less water being taken in by the ground, eventually leading to a rise in floods. It’s thought that this widespread practice was a main cause for the UK’s recent flood crisis.

    The most common practice is paving over the front lawn to house a second car. A government report on the environmental importance of London’s front gardens found that “an area 22 times the size of Hyde park has already been at least partially paved over in London as a result of front gardens being turned from grass to concrete. This loss of green space is having an impact on the environment, the attractiveness of the streetscene, and perhaps most worryingly on flooding risk in London.”

    If, however, you’re just going to grow a wildflower garden around your lawn…then good. That would be pretty.




    Cement? Who said anything about cement?

  9. From an environmental perspective: if you’re planning to do use your yard for growing food and you’re in a large city that’s been developed for a while, it’s worth getting your soil tested for contaminants before you start. Yeah, even if you don’t have a gas station next door or something. (Lead house paint can cause soil contamination. Housing developments can be built over old fill.)

    Your local health department or cooperative extension can probably point you to the right people to help you with soil testing.

    Bonus tip: Don’t use railroad ties to build raised beds. Railroad ties were treated with some pretty nasty stuff to cut down on vegetation growth. Using them for gardening is counterproductive at best.

    @13: This isn’t about people paving over lawns — it’s about people ripping up the grass to plant flowers, vegetables, etc. I doubt it’s going to substantially increase water runoff. (I suppose it might increase water use, depending on the plants involved.)

    One of the houses down the block from me has already replaced half of their lawn with a vegetable garden and a grape arbor, and they have asparagus in the front flower garden. I live in an apartment, but I have a couple of tomato plants and a huge stand of basil and other herbs in containers out on my outdoor staircase. The house next door doesn’t have a front lawn at all — they’ve planted roses in the strip of dirt between the house and the sidewalk.

    I haven’t noticed it lowering property values any. It certainly hasn’t lowered property values in Cambridge, where a lot of the houses have flower beds instead of lawns in their front yards. The city never went over to lawns — v. small yards — and as a result, they have lovely, established gardens. It’s a wonderful area to walk through, especially when the roses are blooming.

  10. This looks like a hell of a lot of work and something that would seriously damage resale value. Where I live in NJ people move a lot.

    However, it’s also awesome, beautiful and uses less water than grass.

  11. Looks like about half of our yard already. Just add water and pick seeds every time you take a walk around your neighborhood – voila, things spring up randomly. Once a little plant that we couldn’t identify sprouted and grew like crazy. After about two years we had to root it out, turns out it was a tree, and very close to the foundations.

  12. I live in Santa Barbara and all though I don’t wish to compete , my yard is similar. That’s a beautiful yard though. I’d love to share tips if needed.

  13. Some of the houses in my neighborhood employ gardens instead of lawns, and I find it quite beautiful and enjoyable. I’d do it (hilly yards make for crappy mowing) but I’d kill all the plants off in a month. My mom, on the other hand, is slowly transforming her yard into a field of wildflowers. :-) Happy planting, peoples.

  14. WTF? I tried to view the lawn pictures and got the following message:

    You must be signed in to see this content from Frauenfelder.

    What’s going on here?
    SafeSearch is a feature that allows you to control what turns up in your searches on Flickr, and it’s on for everyone by default. If you aren’t logged in, you can turn SafeSearch off if you wish, but only on a per-search basis, via Advanced Search. Find out more at our Filters FAQ page.

    I have to sign in for these dreaded NSFW pictures of bushes and flowers? That kinda sucks.

  15. This seems like a strange idea, being in London (UK). Pretty much nobody here has a lawn, in their ‘front yard’. I’m in central London, so we’ve got pretty small ‘front yards’ but even they all are full of plants rather than grass. I can’t think of any that aren’t.

    Out in the suburbs, the same is generally true, though not exclusively…

  16. Well, we are currently searching for a new home, and one of our frustrations is that there are so few homes left that actually have a lawn.
    You see, when you have kids, the primary use case for a garden is so that you can launch your children into them for them to play safely without being run over by a car (or anything else).
    Most gardens are either paved with tiles or completely planted with medium to large sized plants, making them unsuitable for tomfoolery.

  17. Wow. Talk about a battle between extremists. Are you sure you’re all anti-lawn because it’s “good” for something, and not because it’s the latest hipster-with-a-house “thing”?

    A lawn doesn’t have to mean chemicals and watering and nastiness. (And watering isn’t bad everywhere. We don’t all live in California. Some of us have more than enough fresh water.) Clover and dandelions and and violets and moss can grow in a lawn if you’re not spraying it with stuff. Brown grass on hot dry summer days is fine.

    If you mulch/pave your lawn over, though, you’re not going to have robins or rabbits or grasshoppers….

    Grasses are essentially native plants now. They’ve been growing in meadows and fields for long enough that wildlife has adapted. Mulch isn’t. Instead of going from one extreme to another, how about a nice happy medium. Let what grows, grow. And be nice to your neighbors and mow it before it goes to seed. (Use a reel mower and compost the clippings if you must. The compost will be handy for your vegetable garden anyway.) The extreme of the pristine, manicured, fertilized, bug and life free lawn is ridiculous and mostly for show. But the “I hate lawns” lawn is just the other extreme, and also for show.

    1. Grasses are essentially native plants now. They’ve been growing in meadows and fields for long enough that wildlife has adapted.

      If by ‘adapted’, you mean ‘become extinct’, then yeah. Old World grasses have destroyed much of the flora of the New World. And, Ivan, just because someone understands something better than you doesn’t make them a hipster.

  18. Lawns are stupid, but what is a good non-garden alternative to grass? I mean you sometimes have to have something more than a path around your property just to facilitate movement….

  19. @#17…
    When my dad bought his house in NJ, first thing he did was cart in some top soil and build an extensive garden. He didn’t want to be bothered with mowing a lawn and he liked flowers and trees better. He’s still there over 20 years later. I’m not sure why you think people in NJ move any more than people anywhere else. Lots of them stay put.

  20. @23 I’ve got to agree with you there Ivan.

    My “lawn” is currently a mixture of dandelions, moss, clover, brown grass and some fallen apples that are currently being harvested by a small army of squirrels. That and my four legged companion would be a little put out by not having something to run around and through during the day :)

    One of the things I have been curious to try though is perhaps seeding some wildflowers (now there’s an odd concept) and try and go with a really natural meadow. The idea being that I could give up on mowing entirely at that point since it should attain a natural balance at around 6″ to 1′. Tough to get started though. Has anyone ever seen something like that done?

  21. We did exactly this in our last house just north of Toronto and it was terrific. Picked up all the grass, spread out some additional top soil as suburbs tend not to have very much and planted a variety of native, drought resistant perennials and trees. Put a winding path through the middle of cedar bark. Not a drop of concrete anywhere. I also laid a drip irrigation system that I found I only needed to activate a couple of times each summer due to the nature of the plants we selected, so virtually no water use. Once the plants were established there was very little maintenance, it looked great, the colours changed every week through the season, and the garden was a major plus when we sold the house. How can you beat that?

  22. #26: My aunt tried that. There were far too many bugs (read: ticks). Plus, after about two years, the weeds had won out over the flowers, and all that was left was tall (4+ feet) leafy ugly green weeds.

    Plus, while there’s still wildlife in there, you can’t actually see any of it, and your neighbors will probably hate you when the seeds blow into their lawn.

  23. Mark,

    As you get started on building your garden, check out the work of architect and designer Fritz Haeg, who has been replacing lawns with vegetable gardens as part of his Edible Estates project.

    His website is terrible to navigate, but the ideas are interesting.

  24. Too bad about above’s aunts failures, but more people should do this. I’m sure I am in the minority, but as far as property value goes, I would definitely pay more to live in native plant habitat as opposed to the mindnumbing grass and car monoculture I live in now.

    Nature by Design is a great book on this topic, btw.

  25. Elbows,

    Just back from the morning dog walk and I thought more about it – especially from a “selling the house” perspective – and I thought it would be great to advertise a zero maintenance native plant landscape with clover “lawn”. The trick being, of course, to get the clover to be the dominant species. Me thinks it’s time to contact a local landscape architect with some specialty in native plants.

  26. I’ll add to some of the questions on how feasible this is beyond being a merit badge to tell your hipster friends about:

    BUGS – won’t you have a whole lot of them? Coming into your house? Coming into your neighbors’ houses?

    Tending – In Arizona houses generally have stones instead of grass, with a few plants that are watered on a drip system. Very low maintenance, doesn’t use much water, and not much effort to keep clean. If you’re making your entire lawn into a garden, that will be a lot of work to keep it up. Are you going to be willing to put in the time for years and years? If you’re older and considering this, is it something that could get away from you in 5, 10 years? And I’ve heard some mentionings of how planting wildflowers is supposedly going to be much less work than grass, but as stated above, I would imagine without tending you’re going to have an overgrown pile of weeds and bugs. You WILL need to put work into this.

    Resale – It’s hard enough to sell a house right now. If you ever do need/want to sell, do you think your lack of a lawn will help you sell? Will potential buyers be as eager as you to devote the time and effort?

    Utility – If you do actually use your lawn for anything such as grilling or playing yard games, those uses will be gone. Playing soccer in the vegetable garden won’t work so well, nor would it in a grove of wildflowers/pile of weeds and bugs.

    Ease of Undoing – If you someday decide you want your lawn back (perhaps it’s a provision of selling your house), it will not be easy to replace. You’ll have to kill everything that’s there and remove it, possibly facing the ire of several bug kingdoms as you do so. You’ll then either need to buy sod and water the living hell out of it, or dump down lots of seed and water that.

    Neighbors and the City – Are they all cool with this? Will they secretly or quite publicly resent you? You won’t exactly be inviting Nature in to just come live with you alone…

    In any case, I don’t care what you do with your lawns, so don’t take this as any sort of opinion-laden treatise. Just things to consider.

  27. I personally don’t like the look of a wild flower garden in my front yard. Plus, it takes too much work to keep it from looking like a jungle. I’ll settle for watering my lawn once a week, early in the morning, and mowing it once a week.

  28. I happen to consider my lawn as an integral part of my flower gardens. The lawn is serves as a frame and a negative space against which the garden is played against. A garden needs air and room to move about so one can appreciate it. Besides, a garden full of tall plants is going to require as much (in not more) water than a lawn. I don’t think it’s an either/or issue, but one of balance. All flowers are little more than a jungle, and all lawn is little more than green carpet in a very boring room.

  29. “Kill Your Lawn,” a meme modelled after “Kill your TV,” I assume. But upon first read, I thought we were going to see photos of yellowed lawns. A better name might be “Garden on your lawn,” or “Replace your Lawn.” Either way, I approve. What could be more obscene than a green lawn in a desert clime?

  30. I think there’s a cultural aspect as well. Every Italian neighborhood in every city I have ever been to has always had gardens instead of lawns. In the part of Brooklyn I’m in, the nearby neighborhood of Carroll Gardens has historically been Italian and the majority of the brownstones built there were built specifically with huge front gardens in front of all houses.

    Also, in the neighborhood I grew up in—Brighton Beach—there were tons of poor and working class families, but also TONS of gardens. One of my favorite things to do as a kid was wander in and out of the paths that cut neighborhood blocks to explore the neighborhood and see stuff like this.

    Nowadays, the amount of paved over lawns/gardens is sickening. I remember the oil crisis of the 1970s and remember the gas lines. And I remember people cutting back. Nowadays? People are STILL driving SUVs and still paving over gardens to park their cars.

    If you have the space to grow things, you should. Simple as that. And if parking is so important, well… Move to where you can do both.

  31. @32 aelfscine

    BUGS – and bugs are a problem how? Seriously, OMG bugz in mah house!?!? There are plenty of beneficial insects as well as those annoying to humans. Anyway, that’s what screens are for.

    TENDING – I totally agree about beauty and utility of rocks with drip irrigated plants. That is what I personally prefer. But there is a lot of room between that and a full blown English garden. With a wise selection of natives, you can landscape to fit whatever amount of time you want to put into it that are all lower maintenance than a yard of mown grass.

    UTILITY – No reason a well laid out patio and garden can not be used for grilling and entertaining. If you want to play croquet or kickball, then that’s what public parks are for. If your town favors giant private lots over public green spaces, then advocate for change (see next item).

    RESALE, EASE OF REDOING, NEIGHBORS/CITY – If morons and other social throwbacks disapprove of sensible and aesthetically pleasing changes then they can go pound salt. Seriously, people so attached to lawns are probably the same people driving giant SUVs and think using a bicycle, scooter, hybrid, smartcar, or walking is silly. If anything is to improve, we can surely not be limited by the tastes/preferences of the least imaginative.

  32. A recent NASA study found that America’s lawns and golf courses take up an area the size of New York State, and most the herbicides and pesticides and fertilizers used in lawn care end up running off into streams, lakes, and, eventually, drinking water. Bradford Plummer writes in Environment & Energy blog about the Backyardian movement and whether communal backyards might make more sense:

  33. I can only speak for the climate and soil here in Denver, but we are spectacularly unsuited for conventional lawns. By the time it stops snowing, we go straight to full-blown, grass-scorching, fire-danger-alert summer. The soil is all sticky clay, so attempting to keep your bluegrass lawn green through constant watering just results in wet, rotting thatch. You can try planting Buffalo grass, but it’s tricky and very expensive. Plants that are normally weeds in other parts of the country fail to get a foothold here.

    My ‘lawns’ were long dead by the time I bought my haunted house, and I had plenty of neighbors who were more than glad to have me ask if I could dig up their native choke cherry and sour plum tree seedlings. I still don’t have anything closer to a back lawn than some uniformly chopped off weeds, but I do have a very nice little hedge along the side, a productive and very low water use herb garden in the front, and a FABULOUS flower bed filled with irises and roses. Ironically, all the conditions that make Denver lousy for grass are ideal for roses.

    So for me and many people who think like me (lazy and cheap), it’s really not an ‘either/or’ decision, it’s a decision whether or not to fight a losing battle. Because in Denver’s very unique climate, the non-natives will always, always eventually lose.

  34. I grew up in suburban Pennsylvania and, being the kid in the house, had to mow the lawn. It was one of the biggest bones of contention around the house and taught me the wonders of procrastination. I hated mowing the huge suburban lawn.

    The lawn in front of (and in back of) the house I own in Venice Beach was, therefore, a perennial disaster, as I had no aptitude or love for it. “Weed suppression” was as much as I was willing to do. It looked like the Jukeses lived here. “Native” California grasses are NOT lovely if you just allow whatever wants to, to grow.

    I finally hauled it all out and replaced the front “lawn” with a cactus garden, when I found that a cactus someone had dunked into my lawn was growing heartily with no help from me. I moved here because I love the American Southwest – might as well have some of my own.

    Within six months a location scout contracted with me to use the cactus garden as a backdrop for shooting a commercial for Ford Saudi Arabia. I get gorgeous cactus flowers all year round. I get cacti that look as good as anything in the Huntington Gardens.

    So I ripped out the giant weed lot in back and put in an Italian garden with citrus trees. Now I get my own lemons and Algerian tangerines, and the occasional Fuyu persimmon, too. With lavender, rosemary, a giant standing stone… I’m loving it.

    No concrete. Distressed granite for walkways. Lava rock for decoration.

    And yes, I shot my lawnmower.

  35. I might do this if I can convince my wife. I cant keep the grass looking good and I’ve mowed enough in my life already.

    BTW, Mark, you said “I hope more people take photos of front-yard gardens and tag them on Flickr with killyourlawn.”

    But Flickr says, “Frauenfelder doesn’t have anything tagged with killyourlawn.”

    Do as I say, not as I do? ;-)

  36. lawns/run-off friendly conversion: if you MUST park your car on former grassy area, try concrete two hole “breeze block/construction brick on edge. That way there is exposed soil in the hole areas that can support at least a little tough grass (or fragrant herbs) while admitting rain water for soil absorption. Get the right balance and it’s “self-mowing”

  37. There’s a lattice product that allows you to park your car on a bed of low greenery. You lay it down, the plants grow around it and it supports the weight of the car.

    Plants suck up solar radiation and keep the soil cool. Lusher plantings create a greater cool zone. This dramatically reduces watering needs. If you live in a hot area, it also reduces A/C use by killing reflected sunlight. Everything that plants do, more plants do more of.

    Lawns support minimal fauna. Dense gardens with flowering plants support insects, birds, small mammals, reptiles and amphibians (who are becoming extinct in large numbers.) If you’re worried about bugs and mice, get a cat. Or just wait for the owls to show up once you’ve created a viable ecosystem from the ground up.

  38. Turn your lawn into a grotto:

    Grasslands evolved (with the help of evolving herbivores) to displace forests. One of the best ways to kill a lawn is to join the other side. Some trees do a fine job of making the understory uninhabitable by other species — particularly grasses — by way of their detritus. My favorite is the Giant Sequoia, or Redwood. (Most other trees and large-enough shrubs can do almost as well.) So maybe you might want to plant a few around the edge of your lawn and watch it recede like an unfortunate hairline.

  39. The previous owners cut the lawn in half, planting a tree and shrubs that require very little water. I’ve increased the non-lawn space by adding a several drought-tolerant native plants. The “lawn” is just the green stuff that happens to grow where I haven’t dug and planted something bigger. I use a reel mower and let the cut grass lay on top like a mulch. From a distance it looks like a pretty uniform carpet of green. But up close it is a diverse collection of native grasses and stray seedlings from neighboring green spaces. It is teeming with insect life. No water, no fertilizer, and just a couple stray dirt patches. I love my “lawn.” I am thinking of hauling some of my nearly finished compost(eight months worth of kitchen scraps and yard trimmings) and making a raised vegetable bed in the fall. So what if I’m a misguided yuppie living out back to the land fantasies in the middle of the city. It’s fun and the birds and bugs like it, too, so there.

  40. After reading all these garden postings, I got inspired and worked a couple hours in the yard. I did some weeding where the previous owners had laid down that black tarpy stuff with all these little pebble rocks on top. It looks all xeriscapey, but up close you can see that tarpy stuff sticking up. The “weeds” that are poking through are what comprise the lawn I mentioned before. I think I might eventually remove the rocks and the tarp and just let nature grow. In the end I can’t really sign on with the whole “kill your lawn” thing. It’s just not natural.

  41. Unfortunately we have zoning ordinances that prohibit such things. Can’t even plant a tree that produces fruit in the front yard!

  42. Unwritten rule|:
    If you want to “normal” you must have a front lawn with grass only and you must not let that grass get too tall. The front lawn is a showpiece for the home of neatly trimmed grass only.

    —This to me is boring and unimaginative.

  43. hey gandalf23, we here might run up against the same thing. i think there’s an ordinance against hanging laundry outside to dry, which is a pretty bad sign. very common, even where we are — no gates, late 40’s totally normal subdivision which even has sidewalks.

    but if we can, we’ll totally kill our lawn. i hate our lawn. it must die.

  44. Coming late to this —

    Ivan256 @24, the “kill your lawn” movement is not extremism. It’s obvious from your comment that you live in an area where annual grasses can survive on their own. Many people don’t. Go back to Red Fury’s comment. Denver is dry grassland. What grows there naturally doesn’t look like a nice green lawn.

    Lawn grasses have not gone native. In a lot of places, if you want any kind of lawn, you have to fertilize and re-seed and repel intruders. It’s tiresome and wasteful and dumb to keep doing it when so many flowering plants will re-seed themselves like crazy.

    Aelfscine @33: If you’ve got stones instead of grass, with a few desert plants that are watered on a drip system, you’ve already gone native, and can sit back and look smug. Growing a yard full of flowers and shrubs would be just as unnatural where you are as a perfect lawn is in most other places. Yay for poinciana and gaillardia and fairy dusters, sez I.

    Concerning your questions:

    Bugs: If you live in Arizona, you get bugs. Big, interesting bugs. Bugs with strange habits. Bugs in spite of anything you can do. Their purpose is to make you happier about visits from bug-eating bats, reptiles, and large arachnids.

    You get fewer interesting bugs if you don’t grow fruits or vegetables.

    Tending: see above on going native. Just keep the bermuda grass cleared out, and refresh the rocks every few years.

    Resale: a nice xeriscaped yard with some well-developed poinciana and cactus should sell just fine, as long as you haven’t planted cholla. Oleanders are also a definite minus. If you want to tart the place up, get a designer to recommend some nicer rocks. If you can’t afford a designer, talk to an elderly rock hound.

    Utility: see above. Anything you’re already doing will still work.

    Ease of Undoing: Anyone who insists on a green grassy lawn is in the wrong part of the country. If you’re in Tucson, they can’t — xeriscaping has the law on its side. The only way I know of that you can be obliged to have a lawn is if you’ve bought into a covenanted development that requires a certain style of landscaping, and you’d already know it if you had.

    Neighbors and the City: The cities like xeriscaping just fine, and Tucson requires it. What your neighbors will think is always a mystery, especially if they’ve just immigrated from Midwestern states that start with vowels. They might resent the absence of the sacred grass lawn they’ve always assumed was a universal requirement of civilization. On the other hand, they might have moved to Arizona because they like the desert. Who knows? If they start giving you grief, just mention that you’re thinking of turning your yard into an Art Project. That’ll scare ’em.

    Travelina @41, communal back yards might make sense for people with young children, but backyard gardeners are unlikely to agree. There are too many people out there who perceive plants as low-res objects.

    Unsafe at any speed @58: The sacred well-trimmed front lawn is a hugely fetishized descendant of the smooth green lawns of genteel English homes. Its message: I care what the neighbors think.

  45. Sooo I just started a site based on this concept, particularly aimed at my city which is in a drought. At any rate, we discuss some options for replacing lawn. I was doing research when I found this site.

  46. PS I want to link to the flicker site, but I want to give you (original poster) the credit…email me if you have a site you want me to link, or if you want me to mention, or whatever.

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