Watch the completion of any new home and one of the first landscape features to be established is the lawn. From the very outset, the new homeowner sets themselves up with years of drudgery.
Most of us feel that a lawn is needed as a space for outdoor games, a gathering place for socializing or as a playground for children. Few of us need a large area of sports turf and I would challenge anyone who said they enjoyed the once or twice weekly mow. Those that say they enjoy walking behind a smelly, noisy mower would admit they enjoy seeing it as a job done and ‘ticking the box’. Children are better served by playgrounds, parks and open country to play, if their parents dare to let them out of their sight for more than a few minutes. Open spaces in the garden can be created more easily and sustainably with alternatives to grass.
Plants used for no mow lawns include a large number we commonly regard as herbs with necessary low growth and matting characteristic. Obtaining seed may be a problem as many of these plants are propagated vegetatively, usually by division. You can start by growing your own plants, dividing them and growing them on in plugs to plant a small area at a time, waiting for the gaps to close. The soil should be prepared as for a grass lawn. It should be as weed free as possible but not compacted. Watering depends on the species grown but should not be overlooked in the establishment stage. You can make up your own plant mix.
Perhaps one of the better known plants, Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) is a hardy, evergreen perennial and is the best variety to use as ground cover. It has daisy-like flowers, feathery foliage and an apple fragrance when crushed. Seeds are available through specialist merchants and can be planted in trays, grown on after pricking out. About fifty plants per square metre are needed.
Thyme makes a great lawn. If you plant several different creeping types, you can get an interesting effect with the different coloured flowers. Thyme likes a sunny spot in free-draining soil. Corsican mint (Mentha requienii) and pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium) also make great lawn substitutes and give off a delicious scent when stepped on.
Ajuga or bugleweed (Ajuga reptans) is a creeping perennial in green, purple and variegated forms, sold as a ground cover. Uncut, it produces spikes of blue flowers in late spring.
One should not forget clover, often considered a lawn weed. Its white or pink flowers are favoured by bees and its deep roots make it drought resistant. Unmowed, it forms a dense, deep green mat.
This is not an exhaustive list; there are many more plants that are low growing with a creeping habit that can tolerate foot traffic. It would be fun to research and experiment with the different colours, textures and habits.