What could possibly take the place of grass and still have all those great qualities associated with a lawn? Truthfully, the answer is nothing. There is no other plant that tolerates foot traffic the way
grass does. There is also no other group of plants that requires so much tedious work and so much persistence to maintain.
However, there is an alternative to lawn, especially if constant romping on it is not the
The choice hands down is a group of Ground
Cover Oreganos. Not the kind of Oregano you put on your pizza, but the kind you walk on. These plants will grow in sun or partial shade.
They will grow next to rocks and under trees. They only need to
be mowed or sheared back once every two weeks in summer to maintain a tight to the ground
appearance and not at all if you don't mind a little wilder look.
They tolerate moderate foot traffic and are soft to walk on, gorgeous to look at and tough as nails. They even compete with weeds (but not grass) and after
established almost eliminate the need for everyone's favorite job, weeding.
How do we know?
I am so glad you asked! About a decade ago a group of Sage
thinkers decided to plant a lawn with regular grass. It was a BIG lawn, approximately 6000 square feet. The ground was carefully prepared the sprinklers
installed and just the right seed was chosen for the area. Cheery
annuals were positioned around two LONG sides of the Emerald Isle
and growing commenced. Weeds were minimal at first and the annuals
and grass were splendid. The next year, of course, the annuals were gone and
the weeds were starting to make themselves known.
Did I mention this lawn is in the middle of native grasslands?
sure you can guess the rest. Mother Nature had her way and her 'grass' became the
borders predominant feature. Oh, don't get me wrong these Sage thinkers
fought valiantly but to no avail. All those
unruly weeds in the borders made the Big Emerald Isle looked like 5
Mile Island. SO...
The borders were cleared and tilled. But before planting could begin,
the weeds grew again and it was tilled again and again and again.
A new idea began to form in the cerebral cavity of the Sage thinkers.
Why not use HERBS??????
So the GREAT
experiment was started. They called on Yarrow and Chamomile, Oregano, Thyme,
Ajuga and Wormwood. There was even a place for Coreopsis, Gailardia and
Salvia. The ancient borders that had once been labor
intensive annuals were dotted with these easy care perennials
and left to fend for themselves. And, even though the beds had been carefully
prepared, by Spring, Natures bounty (weeds) was, once again, taking up
residence. In a last ditch effort to salvage the project and the perennials,
the Sage thinkers started mowing the herbs every once in a while. What they
discovered was amazing. Herbs are AGGRESSIVE. Cut them down and they come back
with a vengence. There was no time for weeding these borders (and that would
have interfered with the experiment anyway).
weeds that did sprout actually seemed to have helped the herbs get started by
providing some shade in the hot, hot summer. This may be why lawns are good at
covering the ground. Their little blades are so close together they protect
the ground from drying out by shading each other. Unfortunately, all those
little blades require lots of water and fertilizer and MOWING ALL THE TIME.
realize you probably don't want a bunch of horsetail or turkey mullein growing
in your herb lawn while your herbs are "a fillin' in your patch". So
tip number one for making an herbal lawn is to:
PREPARE THE GROUND
FOR BETTER RESULTS
two possible solutions for a better approach.
Don't till, solarize. All that tilling
disturbs the natural layers of structure of the soil and brings up seeds of
weeds that have previously been asleep. If you are going to rip out an
existing lawn, it is best to take the time to cook the ground before you
replant with, well... anything.
Applying a nice
thick mulch when the plants are first planted will give your plants a chance to
grow to their average size over the time they need to do so. If you need
to mulch again the second spring, it will be over a much smaller area. Once the
creeping oreganos are established, the weeds won't be coming through. Closer
spacing, putting the
plants about 8 to 10 inches apart, instead of 12 to 18 inches apart, will
cover the ground faster. This is nice if you are having a lawn bowling party
soon and want to show off your new oregano lawn. So, the herbs
passed the first challenge; if we did it right, they could compete with the weeds.
BUT, SOME PROBLEMS CAME TO LIGHT AS SUMMER PROGRESSED.
As soon as we
mowed, we realized the coreopsis and salvia and other larger leafed plants
were not good choices. Their
big leaves were too choppy looking after they were buzzed. We left a few at
the very back for color where the lawn mower just misses. By
summer, two other challenges faced the Herbs, minimal water and
We could see chamomile and yarrow were not going to thrive
with once a
week watering only at 105 degree temperatures. They wilted
lot. They were not great for our barefoot test either. Yarrow is
flowers and the little flower stems ARE sharp when
mowed and we
were not going to be pushed into mowing more than twice
a month just
to keep them from blooming.
summer came to an end,
we found only three of our original group still
fringed wormwood, has proven the most drought resistant. It was planted at
the edge farthest from the sprinklers and even with minimal moisture none
died. But, we know from experience
this plant will probably
not look great
in winter. I say probably because we have always allowed
it to grow and
flower and in the winter it gets the woody blues. Maybe if it were kept low
and not allowed to flower it would be better.
also tend to have the winter blahs and their stems were not the best for
"barefootin" either. Plus, thymes are really better for smaller areas where
their tendency to die back in spots is not as much of a problem.