While getting a few photos of the local Eucrows, I saw several lawnless front yards in the same area, all within a few hundred yards of the other. Each front yard is roughly the same size, wide but shallow. The solution to the lawn problem was approached in different ways, with varying degrees of success.
This yard simply replaced lawn with pavers and a gravel path, with a few vestigial plants left in place:
For a plant lover, cringe-inducing, though you have to admit: no more mowing and no water required. "More water available for plant lovers.", is perhaps a good way to think of it. The trees would be better off a little farther from the house.
Another nearby property was probably de-lawned a few years ago, and the project is showing signs of age. The plants are somewhat random (recycled from the original plantings?), and landscape fabric is showing through bare spots in the gravel areas. But again, no more mowing, and better than pavers.
The third property was obviously begun with a strong sense of style. The house was in the process of what appeared to be a complete exterior remodel that had been suddenly stopped and was incomplete. Judging by the condition of the plywood nailed over the front entrance, activity stopped at least a couple of years ago.
Part of the old landscape, an overgrown planting bed occupied by a mature and neglected Liquidambar tree, remained.
There was also an old bed (with new stone) on the driveway side of the property containing a couple of forlorn hybrid tea roses, mostly hidden by the neighboring property's vine:
The rings of stone around the Crape Myrtles looked odd--I guess they didn't know how else to handle that. There are a few of the same stones better arranged near the
The rest of the yard was reasonably well done, with only two basic plants, Aloe arborescens and Agave attenuata, plus a single clump of Strelitzia (Bird of Paradise), that
Where the design fell down was in the choice and placement of rock--a black and white granite bearing no resemblence to the local tawny sandstone, and looking alien. Native stone matches the soil. Even with the soil covered by DG, the white granite looked out of place. The Aloes and Agaves were thriving and looked gorgeous, and the decomposed granite areas were in good condition. The dominant feature of pseudo-dry-creekbed wasn't bad--I've seen many worse. I'm not a fan of pseudo-dry-creekbeds, (you can't walk on them and they fill up with litter that needs to be cleaned out, and it's difficult to clean that litter out) but it worked.
The arrangement of stone was sometimes odd. This is the pathway(?!?) to the front door. Did the money run out at this point and the stones were placed as they fell? They didn't expect anyone to walk on those stones here, did they? The stones are not flat, and would be treacherous footing for anyone but a goat.
I got the sense here that a few small stones were left over, and left, at the corner of the parkway. The photo doesn't show it well, but the scale was way off here--the stones were too small:
The hellstrip or parkway was decomposed granite with simple groups of Aloe arborescens. It looked great*. Clean, simple, effective, and when the Aloes bloom in the winter no doubt very striking:
*A problem that has yet to manifest itself (but will) is that the Aloes will grow taller and taller, and widen outwards--they can easily get 2 meters (6'+) tall here, which will making visibility and getting in and out of a parked car more and more difficult. Not to mention walking down the sidewalk. Trimmable, of course, but there will be stub stems if the gardener is careless. Aloe dortheae would have been a better (though more expensive) choice--same excellent flowering--even better, actually--but on a low Aloe that will stay low.
What happened at this property?
What happened? Personal tragedy--divorce, illness? Did the money just ran out? A contractor dispute? The property still has a sense of being cleaned and maintained, but the roof is only partially finished--a small area of expensive copper roofing and a larger area of deteriorating tar paper. The Liquidambar tree has a big dead branch and needs trimming desperately--it is invading nearby power lines. I wish I knew the story. Millions of stories like this in our country these days. Each is a bit of an ache.
The next and last property was quite striking, and probably only a few months complete. The way the paths and beds were laid out was beautiful: a series of sweeping curves led the eye around the yard and made the modest depth of the front yard seem deeper than it was.
I got the vibe that the designer was a better architect than a plantsman. While the lines and grading were wonderful, best I've ever seen...
...I was a little unsure about the plant choices. Not that the colors were not good--the white puffy seed heads of the grasses looked great with the white 'Iceberg' (of course) roses under planting white Crape Myrtle trees in the hellstrip...
I am just very hesitant about ornamental grasses. Of course they are gorgeous, but how bad is the reseeding going to be? When your neighbor's lawn and planting beds are full of your grasses...uhhhh....
And Plectranthus argentea is lovely, but how long is that going to be attractive? A year or two? They reseed, and in my own garden I pull out the old one and replace it with a seedling every year, but a bit insubstantial, breakable, and short-lived, seems to me, for a front yard. However, the color was spot-on: the silvery white picked up the white of the roses and grass flowers, and the lavender flowers duplicated the flower color of the Tubaghia violacea (Society Garlic).
Daylilys and Phormium by the sidewalk:
One of the new small blue Dianella lines the front walk...in other yards, I've seen these decline into rattiness in a couple of years:
While long-term these plantings may be problematic, a huge amount of thought was put into this yard, and I admired it. There were a couple of small Agaves, 'Blue Glow', I think, stuck rather randomly in, but the plantings were a mostly big variety of ornamental grasses, along with grass-like plants: Phormium, day lily, dianella.
Overall, very nice indeed, but I wonder how it holds up over time. My other discomfort was: with so much white in the landscape, the overwhelmingly brown colors of the house paint did not look quite right. So much cool, fresh, airy white looked at odds with heavy browns. Surely an agreeable relationship between the main color of the plantings and the main color of the house is a good idea.
I've said this before, but where one lawn-free front yard appears, others follow. ("Hey, if they can get away with it, so can we!") Critical mass will eventually make front lawns more and more rare in our area. In some cases, the non-lawn is more beautiful--in others, not--but in the lawn less yards water and resource saving is undeniable. It will be a few years before a painless path to a lawn-free front yard that looks good for a decade or more is understood well enough to be easily and inexpensively replicated. In the meantime, we have many examples to consider and learn from, and even enjoy.