Topic: Hardscaping

Date Posted: Friday, December 11, 2015
Posted by: Tanya Zanfa (Master Admin)

Going grass-free

Going grass-free

Janice Wells

This is a woman after my own heart; I know a nice swath of good green lawn can add a beautiful accent to a garden, but for most homeowners, the lawn is the garden with maybe a tree or the scattered shrub thrown in for accent, often without much thought as to how big it will eventually grow.

I’m no garden designer (a few courses through the University of Guelph in a former lifetime does not a designer make) but I have a few clues, even though you’d wonder if you drove by my house. It’s a simple fact of life, mine anyway, that knowing and doing are not always the same thing.

If you have a new build and are starting from scratch there’s an order to good garden design: hardscaping (paths, patios, anything structural and fixed), and then softscaping (trees, shrubs, perennials, groundcover, space — beds or containers — for annuals if you want them and lawn if you want it).

Most of us start with whatever came with the house. A good lawn, not just mown green stuff, requires a lot of attention. Shrubs and groundcover, however, will do their thing with a minimum of care. Notice I didn’t say “no care.” AstroTurf is the only way to achieve that, but even so, you’d probably have to vacuum it.

With a standard city lot, you’re not going to have a lot of front garden to fill up. Even so, some sort of structure to give it architectural interest can really add personality. That can be as basic as a formation of large stones or as elaborate as a three-tiered lit fountain, but scale is important so the fountain doesn’t sound quite right for a small lot.

Some garden décor is called kitschy and there’s certainly lots of it that I don’t personally care for, but I care even less for garden snobs and I admire anybody who cares enough to add décor to their garden.

Benches are always welcoming, but even if you never sit on it, try to put a bench where at the very least it’s easy to imagine someone sitting. I know realism isn’t everything, or even anything important to many of us, but if you’ve placed a bench behind a shrub that has grown considerably, it might be time to move the bench.

Be aware of how big a shrub will grow. You don’t want anything that’s eventually going to block light from your windows, crowd out your path or impede your steps. Mugo pine is a good evergreen choice for our climate; it tolerates road salt and bends forgivingly under snow. You can keep it in bounds to a degree by cutting back the new growth, called candles, every spring, but every shrub has an optimum size and there’s no point in planting something that you’re going to have to try to stunt.

If you’re thinking about a grassless front garden, drive around and size up what other people are having success with. I’ve seen lots of those around St. John’s and they always stand out to me.

Low-growing junipers such as various phitzers and blues seem to thrive, as do cotoneasters. A mix of heights of mounding shrubs, perennials and groundcovers allows your front garden to be seen and admired.

I’m a big fan of groundcovers. I’ve seen ajuga, periwinkle, sweet woodruff, lamium and creeping jenny where lawn might have been.

Catherine can vouch for the plant that may become my new best friend.

“I have planted scented geraniums, between the street and the front lawn wall, and they are thriving in the salt and snow during the winter.”

 The Internet is a great source of information, but nothing can beat local gardens and local nurseries to help you decide what will work for you.


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