In 2007, I designed my first no-lawn back yard. I would have welcomed advice on design strategies or plant options, but at the time, a book like that wasn’t even a gleam in a publisher’s eye. So you can imagine how thrilled I am to have the opportunity to review Evelyn Hadden’s newest book, Beautiful No-Mow Yards: 50 Amazing Lawn Alternatives (Timber Press 2012).
Following a wonderful forward by fellow Lawn Reform Coalition member Susan Harris and a terrific introduction where Evelyn eloquently describes how our changing definition of beauty doesn’t necessarily include a lawn and further encourages us to “return life to our landscapes,” the book is divided into three sections. The first section makes up more than 75% of the book and focuses on design inspiration. You won’t be surprised to hear that this was my favorite part. Set up mainly as case studies, Evelyn reviews in detail various strategies both homeowners and professional designers have used to replace lawn with garden.
There’s something for everyone here, as gardens from all over the United States that showcase a range of cultural and lifestyle situations are featured: woodland gardens, rain gardens and kids' play areas, just to name a few. This segment ends with a section called “smarter lawns,” perfect for the homeowner who is ready to eschew a chemically propped up, water-guzzling version of a lawn, but for esthetic or functional reasons, still wants their own little patch of green. (Or even blue!)
Prairie garden, photograph by Saxon Holt
The second section is practical, with advice on removing existing sod, as well as planting, irrigating and maintaining a lawn-free garden. The final section is a comprehensive plant list, arranged by design intent. Categories such as ground-filling plants, mat-forming plants and minglers let you go right to the plant list that fits your garden’s particular needs.
What I like
- Evelyn is hands down one of the best garden writers I’ve had the pleasure of reading. I have a large library of gardening books, most with excellent content, but few rival the elegant and graceful prose of Beautiful No-Mow Yards.
- I appreciate the level of detail provided about the gardens featured in the design section. Many of the descriptions go beyond the lawn alternatives used, and describe interesting details about the design as a whole. For example, I enjoyed learning that the designer of a woodland shade garden designed a stream with waterfalls facing different directions in order to maximize water’s effectiveness as a “light catcher” in a shady space. Brilliant!
- The book is very comprehensive, with a soup to nuts approach that covers design inspiration, practical advice on removing lawn and a list of plant options. If you’re thinking about removing all or part of your lawn, Beautiful No-Mow Yards serves as a convenient, one-stop shop.
- Evelyn doesn’t sugar coat her case studies, but shares stories of gardeners who have had failures as well as successes. I know from experience that no matter how much I educate myself in advance, remaking a garden is an imperfect process, and the smart gardener should expect to hit a few bumps in the road.
- While the book is filled with excellent photographs, the majority are close-ups that don’t easily convey the effect of a lawn alternative vs. traditional turf grass. Having struggled to find photos to explain some of the concepts in my own book, I can appreciate this can be difficult, but the detailed descriptions of several of the design strategies in the first portion of the book left me wanting more, and would have benefited from either additional photos, or ideally, a plan view of the overall design.
- Not so much a quibble as an observation: many of the same plants are referenced repeatedly, such as creeping thyme, sedum and dead nettle. This isn’t really a negative as it reinforces that certain plants are particularly tough and well-suited for no-lawn gardens, but if you already have an extensive plant palette, this book probably won’t introduce you to many plants you aren’t already familiar with.
- I wish it had been written five years ago.
Whether you are a designer, home gardener, wild-life enthusiast or an environmentalist, Beautiful No-Mow Yards is a must-have addition for your gardening library.
Looking for more lawn reform inspiration? Evelyn's made it easy by gathering the links right here.
Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by Evelyn Hadden.