If you're contemplating a landscaping switch from lawn (discussed on Page 4) to a more informal, "natural landscape" (or vice versa), consider carefully which school of thought you subscribe to -- formal or informal garden design. You may even discover that what you crave is more properly called a "minimalist landscape design." Remaking a landscape is expensive and is a lot of work. Before you begin, you want to be sure that the new design will truly reflect your most deeply felt convictions on the subject and will also make sense on a practical level. If the need for low maintenance is one of your most deeply felt convictions, seriously consider "minimizing."
I place quotation marks around "natural landscape" to indicate that, although heard often, this terminology can be deceiving. There's some work involved in maintaining a well-groomed, yet natural-looking design; it doesn't come naturally. If you're looking to virtually eliminate yard maintenance (or come as close to that goal as possible, at least), what you need is a minimalist design (see below), not a "natural landscape." Of course, if you use the terminology "natural landscape" in a different sense, to indicate not doing any work at all, well...clearly, you don't need the advice offered by this, or any other website!
Some Considerations If You're Thinking of Replacing Your Lawn With an Informal Garden Design:
- A practical consideration first: if your property might be placed on the real estate market at some point in the near future, it might be safer for you to stick with lawn and more conservative plantings, such as the traditional foundation plantings. By and large, potential buyers are more likely to go for a formal design than for the informality of the "natural landscape."
- If your motivation for the change is to get closer to nature, make sure that this is your heart-felt conviction and that you're not just giving in to a fad. Remember, "imposing our will upon nature" isn't all bad: we'd still be living in caves if our ancestors had thought so. Philosophically speaking, it could also be argued that a minimalist design, too, will bring you closer to nature.
- If your motivation for the change is to save on yard work, you'll have to tailor your design and plant selection carefully to achieve precisely that goal. Specifically, what you'll need is a minimalist design (see below), which won't necessarily satisfy you aesthetically. The cottage garden style may offer the feel of a "natural landscape," but it is not a minimalist design: you can easily spend as much time on a cottage garden as on a lawn (especially when you factor in the installation). If you feel comfortable with a lawn that is less than perfect, then lawn care needn't consume an inordinate amount of your time. Of course, the true lover of cottage gardens will want to spend a lot of time working in one.
Minimalist Landscape Design and Replacing Your Informal Garden Design With Another Alternative:
- If saving time on maintenance is a major consideration for you, you're best bet is a minimalist design. For instance, you can achieve the sort of clean, crisp look associated with formal garden design through a generous use of mulching and hardscape features on your landscape. Instead of a hedge, use stone walls to achieve the desired geometric shapes. Build an extended brick patio or flagstone patio to take up space that would otherwise have to be maintained. Use ground covers instead of grass, and link the sections of your landscape with broad masonry paths. Without sacrificing aesthetics to an intolerable degree, a minimalist design essentially focuses on getting more out of less -- less maintenance, that is.
- Consider the environmental impact of your lawn care regimen. Even if you eliminate herbicides and chemical fertilizers from your lawn maintenance regimen, you'll still probably be using a gas-powered lawn mower. Very few people are willing to use the old muscle-powered, manual push mowers to cut lawns of any significant size, despite the fact that gas-powered lawn mowers are noisy, dangerous and emit pollution. Another option, however, is represented by the new battery-powered lawn mowers, on which I have written a consumer product review.
- What if you care for neither a "natural landscape" nor a minimalist design? If the foregoing reflections have convinced you that you prefer the formal garden style, why not make an even bolder statement of your love for orderliness than would be possible merely with a lawn? In addition to lawn, plant hedges. A landscape design with a well-maintained lawn set off by crisp hedges is a bold expression of your landscaping tastes.