Water shortages in dry climates are forcing home gardeners and professional landscapers to reduce the area of the garden taken up by the lawn. The trouble is that nothing that can replace a lawn in the field in which a lawn works. Young children cannot play as safely on hard paving, you can’t really play soccer on wooden decking, and it’s hardly practical to lie down on a bed of ground cover plants, as one would on grass.
Yet a garden whose area is 90% grass, is as unviable as it is unsustainable in dry and semi arid regions such as the Mediterranean, much of the American west, Australia, South Africa, and the Middle East. The only way forward is to rethink the garden’s design concept, by moving away from large open spaces, to smaller, more intimate ones. Here are some means by which the problem can be approached.
Enlarging the Shrubberies
The width of the shrub and bush border can be enlarged at the expense of the lawn. The usual habit of planting shrubs in a thin line at the lawn’s edge, results in a lack of proportion between the two spaces. A wider border on the other hand, creates more depth and perspective. Most shrubs can be grown consuming at least a quarter of the water required by grass, and some plants such as Junipers, Leucophylum, or Pistachio, on a lot less. Think of the saving when the 50cm strip at the lawn’s edge is replaced with a bold space some 2 meters wide.
Designing with Ground Cover Plants
Water conserving plants of prostrate habit can form a transition area between the lawn and the shrub border. These can create a satisfying link to the trees and shrubs, especially if their leaf texture is similar to that of the tall plants. For example, Asparagus densiflorus “Sprengerii”, associates beautifully with Junipers, Melaleucas, and other thin-leaved bushes. Low-growing species of Cotoneaster combine well with roses and other shrubs and trees from the rose family, such as apple, plum, hawthorn, and pyrocantha. Transition areas of ground covers could reduce lawn space by over 20%.
Adding Seating Areas
Adding a seating area of decorative paving stones or wood decking brings different parts of the garden together, and makes for a more interesting and usable space, than the patio, lawn, border formula of the common suburban plot. A seating or paved area is of course a space that consumes no water.
What about Artificial Grass?
Simply replacing the lawn with fake grass, however convincing the new products are in visual terms, is not likely to achieve satisfying results in the long term, mainly because plastic cannot replace either the smell or touch of grass. However, artificial turf could be a satisfactory medium in a highly stylized, contemporary, garden design, which is minimalistic, austere, and angular in character.