Make the Most of a Little Lawn

How to play up the lawn in your landscape

By Doug Hoerr


With the need to keep chemicals out of the water system, and the chore of routine maintenance (where do all the clippings go?), lawn has earned a reputation as a four-letter-word. But for all the debate about America’s iconic green stuff, a lawn is still found in most yards and, in fact, is often part of what people regard as “garden.” As a designer, I’m often asked to include turf in a garden plan as a place for children to play (another reason to avoid harsh chemical regimes to keep it green and lush). My approach is that if you are going to have a lawn, use it as a dynamic garden-design element and not as the main feature—or a way to fill leftover space. Less can be more, and if you design your little rug of grass carefully, it can be a very effective component. It is also one of the lowest-cost items in your toolkit for landscape design.

Shape It Up

When lawn is used as filler between garden areas, which it often is, it doesn’t add to the overall composition of your garden. This lawn, dotted with poorly defined beds scattered in a seemingly random manner, doesn’t make good use of the space or the plants. A filler lawn like this one often ends up struggling to survive in shady areas where conditions are stacked against it thriving, because grass generally does best in sun and well-drained soil.

Photography by Linda Oyama Bryan and Hoerr Schaudt