Monday, May 20, 2013

Making a Grassless Front Yard



2013 May
The yard in full summer bloom 2012
This time of year I'm in love with my front yard.  When my neighbors are out fertilizing and mowing later this month, I'll love it even more.  Taking out all the grass was, for me, the best thing I ever did for my yard.  In the Summer of 2010, I had used way too much effort and $$$ just trying to get grass to grow.  We already had about a third of the front yard in flowerbeds back then.  We had dandelions, violets, crabgrass, creeping Charlie, dead spots, grubs....and the list goes on.  We seemed to have everything but nice green grass!  I wasn't willing to turn to the really toxic stuff to get rid of the weeds and whatever was sucking the life out of the grass roots, so I took drastic measures.  On a whim, while my husband was on a business trip, I started to dig up the rest of the grass.  I remember the weather being especially nice that Fall and my son was in school all day, so it was a pleasure to work outdoors.  Then I realized that taking out all that sod was BACKBREAKING labor and I needed help.  My husband came home and offered the services of a friend who rented a sod cutter at Home Depot for a half day.  WOW!  What a difference.  There was still plenty of work in removing the grass, but it sure went a lot faster.

Details of the walkway

The yard in 2010
Once all the grass was gone, I had to have a plan.  I measured all the space that was dirt and went to the Better Homes & Garden website where you can see loads of garden plans for free.  I spent a couple of days taking bits and pieces of 3 different plans and put together something that I thought would work for me, incorporating plants that I loved along with others that were suggested for butterflies or just had lovely scents.

To break it up and make it easier to manage with weeding and planting, I wanted to build in a walkway, but I wasn't sure what it would look like until I went to a local quarry and chose the stone you see here.  My cousin Al suggested stone, and I thank him for that!  I bought a ton of lanstone, which they delivered, and thought whatever was left over I could find a place for.  As it turned out, I used every bit of stone to make 2 distinct pathways- one horizontally across the yard, and another that reaches from that point to the sidewalk.  I think somewhere I read that doing this makes it more inviting. Under the walkway, I put sand to help level it out, but still wanted dirt underneath so I could plant in the crevices.

I left a space for "something" in the way of structures, but I didn't really know what I wanted until our neighbor across the street suggested a swing.  I have thanked her mentally every day since, because Omar and I sit out there every day it's nice and eat popsicles or talk about the day.  It's a great place to chat with neighbors.  The kids love to sit out there and swing.  I found this rustic swing on a website and loved that it came in a box and was about $200.  Those I had seen in stores were much more expensive and didn't seem to be so sturdy.  What I hadn't considered, was that it would come to me in about 50 pieces and I'd be left assembling a huge lincoln log set!  It took me all day, because there were no directions.  And then I realized once I had it built in my driveway that it was way to heavy to move to the garden location on my own.  I had to get some help from my neighbors.  It quickly became a 'community project'!

Swing as it arrived
I have a little VW GTI so I decided to get plants on my own and stuff them in the car.  It took about 4 trips to various garden centers with manure, peat moss, plants, and mulch.  You really can do a lot with a hatch back though!  When I couldn't find some of the suggested plants, I asked for advice from one of the garden center plant experts.  I was also at a loss because it was the end of the season, so there wasn't a huge variety of plants.  At least they were cheap.  I got 50% off many of the shrubs which put the entire project at under $500, which included the swing and stones.  I also filled in spots with plants from other places in my yard to save money.  Because the rest of the yard already had tulips, I also picked up several hundred tulip bulbs to plant between the shrubs and plants. I once took a landscaping class at the Green Bay Botanic Garden, and the person teaching it said to choose your tulips, and then multiply by about 10 times so you get the right number.  It was good advice.  I love the look of so many flowers in bloom.   It took about 2 more days of digging holes and planting, but I finished just before the first frost and was pretty happy with how clean and neat everything looked.  Let me tell you, that is the only time it ever looked so finished.  As the years go on, I've played around with what's there- adding some lilies and annuals, removing daylilies that got too big, replacing some plants that died after the first winter.  I've added a section of herbs and put in some very heavy yard art.  I had originally used some cute smaller pieces that had solar panels on and would light up the pathway at night, but those were stolen during the first year.  Now I've learned that it has to be heavy, and the artist who placed my iron & rock sculpture suggested putting it right in the barberry plants because if someone really wants it, they will dearly pay for it with scratches.  If I ever get another piece, it will go in the rose bushes.  You live and learn.  I love it more every day though and enjoy meeting passers by who enjoy it too.

As far as maintenance, there really is very little work.  Of course I need to pull weeds.  There are always dandelions and grass that tries to take over if I wait too long.  The first year I tried to pull out the violets, but now I'm starting to embrace them, as I realize they will win in the end.  Then there's the normal clean up you would do anyway with dead plants.  What I don't miss is the mowing, fertilizing, and trimming.  Somehow this seems like an easier option over having a lawn.  I always have fresh flowers to bring in the house.  If it's too dry, it needs watering.  I also use miraclegro about 4 times during the summer.

Hope you've enjoyed my story, and if you're in Milwaukee, WI, you can always drop in and sit on the swing with me and have a popsicle.  If this inspires you to pull out your front lawn, be sure to let me know how your project turns out.

You can really fit a lot into this little car!
Creating a walkway with stones
Laying out all the plants

Immediately after planting

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