Make the Most of a Little Lawn

How to play up the lawn in your landscape

By Doug Hoerr


Keep It Healthy

Long before you learn about how to organically care for your lawn, figure out where in your landscape it will be growing. Think of the lawn as a feature personality in the composition of a plan. It doesn’t have to be large and dominating, or even electric green; just a strongly defined shape that is in balance with the other shapes in your garden plan. As a design element, grass needs to be healthy and successful or it will only dilute the strength of your overall garden design. Some types of grass tolerate light shade (there are seed mixes available, like Pearl’s Premium Grass Shady Mix 5), but as mentioned earlier, most turfgrasses prefer sun. In other words, acknowledge the realities of your site conditions and follow good garden practice by using the right plants—including grass—in the right spot. Because turfgrass recommendations vary from region to region, a local garden center or botanic garden is the best place to investigate the right types of turf for the sunny and shaded areas in your yard.

Control Edges

Once you have defined the shape of your lawn on paper, it’s important to find a way to keep it defined in reality. Edging the perimeter of your lawn with a narrow band of stone that is flush with the ground or surrounding it with a paved area keeps the edges clean, sharp, and neat through the seasons. It also prevents your carefully designed shape from getting eaten away by garden spaces that carve “bites” out of its edge as flowerbeds are reshaped and tidied each year (something I think of as the Pac-Man lawn).


Do Something Unexpected

Now it’s time to play. One of my favorite tricks I learned in England 20 years ago is to naturalize spring bulbs through turf. The effect is surprising and delightful. Bulbs do better in turf that is slightly hungry, so keeping lawn a little underfed not only cuts down on the need to feed but also allows the bulbs to thrive.

Design by Hoerr Schaudt, Photography by Linda Oyama Bryan and Hoerr Schaudt

Originally published in Organic Gardening magazine, February/March 2014