New dimensions to gardening

Growing a nice lawn consumes a lot of time and energy. Surabhi Johri offers a lot of alternatives to a lawn. Try perennial planting, groundcover plants or hardscaping, to get some stunning results.

If you ask any homeowner what they would wish for their outdoor space, a majority will, in all likelihood, say it’s a lawn. But what would one do if a lawn is not the right choice? A good lawn consumes a lot of time and resources.

At times, site conditions may not be appropriate for growing turf. Insufficient sunlight, poor soil, water shortage, a slope, high traffic, maintenance issues, are all reasons to consider alternatives to a lawn.

For the more creative ones, a need to break the monotony of grass is also a good reason to look at alternatives. Many times, because of high maintenance, gardeners either completely opt out or reduce the size of a lawn. Fortunately, there is a huge variety of beautiful and practical alternatives to a lawn.

Based on how you intend to use the area, the choices can be anything like mulching, traffic taking groundcover plants, hardscape, decking, meadows and perennial planting. If the space is heavily used, then hardscaping or decking is the way to go.

A balance of softscape will prevent it from becoming too harsh. If traffic is seldom and the area is hidden, then mulching may be practical though not the most creative. In sites with a large expanse of vacant land, it is worth considering self-sufficient solutions like meadows and prairies.


When softscaping is the choice, a restful expanse of uniform or pleasantly combined hardy perennial planting creates a good effect. Groundcovers fall under this description. So any plant that is of low height, grows densely, suppresses weeds, and spreads can serve as a groundcover.

A well-chosen groundcover is easy to grow—takes roots and spreads easily, suits existing site conditions, either dry or wet. Also, it provides erosion control, is hardy, and once established, does not need much attention.

Many groundcovers can even be used to walk or sit on, just like grass, but with lesser amount of work. A few are aromatic like mentha, chamomile, origanum and thyme, and give off a nice fragrance when leaves are crushed.

While practicality is the highlighted benefit of groundcovers, their beauty can add another dimension to the garden. Some groundcovers are slow growing too, so that enables easier maintenance. Low growing perennials, vines, creeping shrubs all can serve as groundcover.

Thyme, lobelia and lysimachia take moderate to high foot traffic. Ajuga, mentha, soleirolia, ophiopogon, chamomile take mild foot traffic.

Sedums and succulents make intricate groundcovers and well-designed ones can make a statement. Ivy works well in shade. Tradescantia spp., oplismenus spp., have a range from purple leaf colour to variegated white.

Trailing pelargonium blooms too. In the grey leaf category is artemisia, stachys spp. Lantana spp. also provides good groundcover and attracts butterflies. In shade, syngonium works well.

Trailing bougainvillea looks stunning on slopes. Ferns fit perfectly in a woodland setting. All these take little effort to maintain.

Clover used to be an old time choice for green cover but modernisation of garden practices have resulted in it being declared lawn weed.

Ecologically conscious gardeners are bringing it back because there are some unique attributes to it. It enriches the poorest of the soils by fixing atmospheric nitrogen and during flowering season, it supports wildlife.

Clover requires no fertilising and unless there is severe drought, it does not need watering too. It is resistant to pet urine which otherwise burns the grass. It feels soft under foot, takes mild traffic too.

For large expanses which need bare soil coverage, meadows and prairies are great alternatives. These are, simply put, a mix of hardy, preferably native, flowering perennials and grasses, which, once established are maintenance free, except occasional weeding and inspection.

Meadows are richer in flowering types while prairies have more grasses. The grasses in context are not the turf type but taller, clumped, flowering ones. Colour, fragrance, seasonal changes, home for insects, birds and fauna and a very naturalistic feel define a grass ambience. Paths winding through, a clearing in the middle for a picnic, wildflowers, birds feeding on wobbling seed heads are just a few charms these offer.

While a farmhouse is the perfect setting to bring in this naturalistic approach, in a more urban setting, a well-chosen mix can be refreshing.

(The writer is a landscape consultant.)

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