No Mow


Or maybe it should be no mo’ mow? Or to be more honest, just a little bit of mow? Whatever clever title for this post wins out, it is still about the same subject, the conscious effort when we moved here in 2000 to have no lawn. At the previous home in Texas, in a new subdivision that was built around an existing pine woods with each lot having a designated area without sod, the lawn was totally eliminated. Not having to mow was bliss, although most of the neighbors hired the mow, weedwhack and blow crew for their little bit of lawn that came weekly to disrupt the bird song for hours at a time as they did house after house. In this small inner city neighborhood in Tennessee, we use the term city very loosely here, it is the homeowners that do their own mowing, usually on the weekends. They have not seen the wisdom of no mow. Yet.

If not grass, then what, is the question on which they might be cogitating. We began with trees, a Yoshino cherry, dogwood seedlings brought here from our former northeast Tennessee home that have now grown to a nice size and a weeping Blue Atlas Cedar among others.


Then came shrubs. At the far west end, a group of Berberis thunbergii ‘Rose Glow’ have massed together with no pruning to form an inpenetrable thorny privacy barricade hedge. There is a rental house next door that has been home to some unsavory characters. When offspring Semi and Chickenpoet lived here, it was referred to as the drug dealer house. Those people are long gone, but the barberrry remains. Let’s just say, no one is cutting across our front yard.


Moving across the front from the barberry barrier can be seen the cherry tree in the middle, underplanted with a variety of winterberry hollies, Ilex verticillata culitvars. Although now just green leaves, this is part of the all important winter interest and the gold and red berries have been enjoyed by human and bird alike. The next group of shrubs is the evergreen azaleas.


For better or for worse, one variety was chosen for spring color and evergreen winter leaf color, Girard’s Rose. Some of these were moved several times to get the placement just right and there have been losses. Luckily it is a variety that is available at the big box stores, or was. The decision has been made to not replace them as deaths occur any longer. Of course that has resulted in them having the best show ever this year. Nothing like the threat of removal to get a plant on track. There are daffodils along the street planting of several rows of liriope as well as along the walkway to the front door. Coreopsis verticillata ‘Zagreb’ has been added to edge the walk and encouraged to spread to the rest of the sunny areas. Golden leaf Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’ is planted from one end to the other as a ground cover and gives a burst of color during the winter when the violets and other green weeds have gone dormant and the deciduous shrubs are bare.


While the front yard of the main house was being designed and planted, over a couple of years, the house on the east side was purchased, demolished and a garage built. This resulted in an island of land at the street between the two driveways that were joined to make a half circle access. Originally planted with two pampas grasses at each end that proved to be entirely too messy, with its sharp blades blowing all over the neighborhood in addition to looking awful for several months of the year, there are now two crepe myrtle Zunis at each end, another seedling crepe myrtle that just appeared, some junipers, Chamecyparis, arborvitae, the rose Thorny and a group of red and yellow twig dogwoods. Liriope lines the street side but has been taken over by the thug Pennisetum alopecuriodes ‘Moudry’. Daylilies and asters are being added to the wildling goldenrods occuring naturally there. This year it was decided to not perform the end of winter mowing to neaten it up and it has looked pretty bad until now. The understory greens are filling back in but the tall stuff will have to be cut down yearly from now on.


We now come to the east property line where the mature stand of Loblolly pines holds the fort. The area between the side of the garage and the pines was, and still is the only lawn we have, insisted upon by The Financier. Slowly the area has decreased in actual lawn grass, replaced with an ever growing edge of Pink Muhly grass, Muhlenbergia capillaris and other perennials. Last year the idea came to us to mow the area in fan shapes, letting the interior grow and cutting pathways between them two mower widths wide. Bulbs were added last fall and have been a rousing success. Lily bulbs were added recently, marked with the stakes and small onion finials. There will be an update post about the fan lawn later this summer. Hollies, azaleas Pink Ruffles in bloom now, roses, Edgeworthias, Corylopsis, Camellias, Viburnums and many more shrubs live under the pines.


The enlarged Muhly bed was renamed the Fairelurie after the garden blogger’s get together in Chicago last year introduced us to the most fabulous of spots, The Lurie in Millenium Park designed by Piet Oudolf. To read the story click here-Faireluriegarden-Someday. In its second year, the swath of blue salvias is beginning to bloom, fronted by a recently added Golden Alexanders, Zizia aurea. There will be more to come about this bed as the season progresses. Cut branches of curly willow were inserted in the barren mulch last winter for some vertical interest. They have rooted but will not remain there.


Opposite the Fairelurie is our newest project, a wheelbarrow planter. This too will be featured at a later date with the before and after shots. It already looks pretty good, we think.


So there you have an explanation of our (nearly) no mow front yard. The back yard is also no mow, but being a very steep slope, it wasn’t really ever mown anyway, even before someone came and did some major earth moving with large machinery. In closing, Kitty would like to add, “Did we mention that the native azaleas are blooming?”

Frances

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39 Responses to No Mow

  1. Randy says:

    Frances,
    Not having to mow the grass is delightful. Wish we didn’t have to mow, when we do it takes less than 45 minutes with the electric mower. The dogs do like the grass to play in.

  2. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    It feels funny writing to you when I know you aren’t there. I hope you are seeing all sorts of beautiful gardens right now. You will come home with ideas to plant over the last of the grass.

  3. RobinL says:

    Your yard is lovely indeed, especially the azaleas. The No-Mow movement is lost on dear hubby. He likes nothing better than our fine green lawn, and glows with pride when it’s mowed. I must admit that it’s shrinking though, with new flower beds often added. I have to admit that I am also a fan, mostly because my eyes like to rest on bits of lawn while viewing my busy garden areas. Not very “green” of me, I suppose.

  4. linda says:

    It is beautiful Frances. Hope you’re having a wonderful trip – safe travels back home!

    They don’t call my husband the Lawn Man for nothing. I can relate to what Robin said. I’m really proud of him though, that he’s given up on all the chemicals (except some light fertilizing a couple of times a year.) I enjoy seeing him out there with his dandelion popper instead of his old weed-and-feed and pre-emergent, and there hasn’t been any grub poison put down here for 4 years.

    He used to tell me there were a lot of toads here, and he wondered what happened to them. (Hmmm. . . I wonder. . . ;) They’ve been back for the last two years. They, and the bats who have also returned, take care of most of the bugs he used to spread and spray against.

    The fact that he still uses a less-than-green fertilizer doesn’t thrill me, but I’m pretty amazed I’ve been able to gently influence him to get rid of the rest of the poison.

  5. I have to say that I like having a lawn. Maybe I may be strange but having an area to run and play with the kids is important. I do have more yard to mow than I probably need but that takes time to adjust. Treating a lawn the organic way isn’t all that hard to do. Once summer hits I will only mow once every 10-14 days or as needed. Your garden looks great and with the slopes I definitely understand why you would rather not mow.

  6. Steve says:

    That’s got to be one of the most authentic looking cat sculptures I’ve ever seen in your last picture! I love your garden, Frances. I visit here and often believe you are doing what I would have done with that opportunity. Then I stop and realize I did, lol, just not as well or with such pleasant enthusiasm. Of course, there’s always the fact that I just don’t live there any more. ;-)

  7. Hi Frances, Thanks for the tour. Do you also inspire your neighbors?? ;-)

    Thanks Shady. To be honest, the neighbors think our yard is slightly weird. And they are right. :-)
    Frances

  8. commonweeder says:

    this is another one of your beautiful tours! One of the things that makes your garden so special is using every layer, ground, shrubs and trees. This is a lesson I am trying to learn.

  9. I think I finally saw all the rest of fairegarden – its beautiful Frances. I’m sure you’ll come back home from Malvern with loads of ideas.

  10. Barbarapc says:

    What a wonderful tour. The Royal Botanical Gardens did a No Mow, No Blow, No H2O display garden last year. If they are collecting sites of fabulous gardens based on this type of gardening – yours should be at the head of the list. Love the new w/b garden. Thinking of all the things around here I should fill so I wouldn’t have to use them any more….the laundry basket, the bucket….

  11. Lona says:

    Frances I am drooling over your garden. So much to look at and so lovely. I keep telling my son the more I plant the less there is to mow but you have the ideal lawn LOL!

  12. Proof that a garden can be beautiful without a manicured lawn. I love it. I haven’t planted a wheelbarrow in years, but it’s a great use for one that is past its prime in the garden.

  13. This post help me really see more of the layout of your gardens vis-a-vis placement around your home. Very lovely! Great gardens and no mowing…very special!

  14. I love utilizing small areas of lawn only to help tie separate landscape beds together. Your garden is always so beautiful and the small bit of lawn that you do have works perfectly visually.

  15. Anna says:

    I do like that wheelbarrow planter Frances and am wondering what’s planted in it. Great to meet you at Malvern and relieved to hear that you got out of that maze at Hampton Court :) Wishing you a safe trip home.

    Thanks Anna. It was fabulous meeting you and the others and seeing the wonders of Britain’s gardens. The wheelbarrow is planted with simply annuals, nothing exotic. It will get a post one of these days. In the meantime there are 822 photos from the trip to go through. :-)
    Frances

  16. Joanne says:

    Lovely Once again I have been busy on other things and missing out on garden blogs.
    We developed a no mow policy well nearly no mow just enough to sit on occasionally with the family.
    My reasons for no mow were just simply I wanted more space for other plants and in many ways ground elder excluded it is easier to manage than lots of mowing.

  17. Frances, love your garden as always. Don’t I recall a tiny bit of grass near the Zen garden? Or have I lost my mind? (I’m willing to contemplate that option, I really am. HA!) Love the wheelbarrow planter and Kitty looks so pretty in the garden. Did Michelle hug you for me in Malvern? I told her to! :)

    Thanks Monica. Yes there was a hug from Michelle from you, here’s one back ooo. There is no grass at all anywhere in the back yard. You might be thinking of some gold scotch moss between the rocks around the edge. I should add there is no lawn grass there, plenty of ornamental grasses. :-)
    Frances

  18. Your garden is looking amazing! I am glad that you have nothing to mow- we ripped out all of our lawn and it was the best decision we ever made. When we were in LA- we did decomposed granite with succulents growing everywhere- it was a little piece of heaven.

    No judgement on those that want a lawn though, just wanted to make life easier!

  19. Eliza says:

    Congratulations to you for a stunningly positive representation of a mow-free yard! That’s the kind of propaganda I like to see — your beautiful yard should be able to convert the neighbors. Or at least make them envious. :)

  20. Jenny B says:

    This inquiring mind is wondering why the Financier insisted on a small strip of grass by the garage. I adore your wheelbarrow planter–and that gorgeous smokey grey Kitty. Can’t wait to hear all about the adventures of two innocent broads in Malvern. ;-)

    Thanks Jenny. That is a good question about the Financier. Some men, and women, like lawns I suppose. He wanted a place for the grandkids to play, but it turned out to be too steep for much of anything. They play in the driveway when visiting anyway. It might just be a teensy bit about control as well. Malvern and the whole trip was fabulous. Photos to come soon. :-)
    Frances

  21. Nell Jean says:

    Lovely, all of it. Pink Ruffles is one of my very favs. It has such nice foliage as compared to some evergreen azaleas. Ours are long past bloom.

    I’m in the ‘have a lawn’ camp but it is mow only; no blow, no water, no fertilizer and not to worry when everything that isn’t grass is the same height.

    Hope you are having a fabulous time.

  22. Kiki says:

    Beautiful Frances…I love the wheelbarrel..wow..stunning..and what a gorgeous cat!! Lucky!! Beautiful post!
    Kiki~

  23. Lynne says:

    ‘One day’ my garden is going to have the same tranquillity that yours does. I swear it. But I have to say I do like some lawn in amongst everything else. My dream is a small round lawn surrounded by trees, shrubs and plantings.

  24. Nicole says:

    Frances,
    Not only not having to mow the grass, but such a lovely garden! While lawns are fine for some people in some climates (rather minority of people in this world) and a small patch of grass for the children to play is often wonderful, for most it is a rather ecologically bad and also expensive choice. Chemical fertilizers and leaf blowers (why would anyone blow the leaves instead of raking them?) are energy consumptive and polluting, especially when multiplied by the millions of lawns across America. Plus lots of people douse their lawns with pesticides, which can not only cause cancer in the children and pets, but also run off into the groundwater. Not to mention all those people in dry climates (including on my island) who think a lawn is a good idea!

  25. Jean says:

    Oh I’m so jealous of your Fairelurie. And your no-mow yard. We also had a no-mow yard in Texas – it was bliss. Now I grumble all the time about the blasted lawn. Slowly (unfortunately very slowly) I’m getting rid of it. I can only hope mine will look as beautiful as yours some day.

  26. Linda says:

    How nice to be liberated from the lawn mower. I’m getting there, but not there yet. I love your wheelbarrow planter, how creative!

  27. Catherine says:

    I love your front yard and that it’s no mow. All the plantings are so much prettier and more interesting that a big patch of green grass. We have no grass in our backyard and the front grass areas are getting smaller and smaller. For now I want to have some for a place for a wading pool for the Littlest Gardener.

  28. easygardener says:

    Amazing how you can threaten a sickly plant with removal and it suddenly flowers well for the first time in years. Glad to meet you at Malvern – now you can see why we over here always take gloves and umbrella when we arrange a day out!

    Thanks EG. You are a hardy lot, gardening and garden visiting under such conditions. It was all fabulous despite the weather! :-)
    Frances

  29. Beautiful Frances! Every inch covered with some lovely living plant. A great example of how all the lawns could grow and help our earth. The colors and textures are spectacular!

  30. Phillip says:

    As you know, I’m a no-mow fan. Your front looks stunning!

  31. Hi Frances – it was a delight to meet you at Malvern (well, OK, in the kitchen of a converted barn a few miles from Malvern, but I was going for brevity over accuracy). Anyway, as promised, here is the fabulous place in Edinburgh I mentioned. We went there for our 10th wedding anniversary and it was gorgeous http://www.chester-residence.com/
    Dawnx

    Thanks, Dawn. It was lovely meeting you as well. What a fun time we had. :-)
    Frances

  32. Frances, I’m sure your yard is bound to quietly persuade your neighbors that they might want to try other options…it’s so inviting. I was interested to hear that others have worked a little on their lawn-loving spouses to created desirable compromises. I like the tiny-lawn approach. Steve Snedeker’s site has many great pictures about how you can work tiny lawns in, even in very arid climates (Nevada), and still be water-conserving. Getting rid of the pesticides and getting back the wildlife is an excellent start!

    Although, of course, some of the wildlife might be in danger from that realistic cat statue. But that’s life on the farm.

  33. VW says:

    I love seeing the wide view shots of your garden – there’s so much there! I keep trying to take more wide shots for my blog, but there still isn’t much to fill that big of a view around my garden. Eventually I’ll get there.

  34. Lola says:

    It all looks fabulous. I can understand why no mow. It’s hard, time consuming & if you have allege rs that’s even worse.

  35. ‘One man went to mow, went to mow a meadow’

    Too much mowing here, oops

  36. Your post is an inspiration, indeed. Slowly, slowly we are working towards “No mow” at the Havens, but since we arrived at a place where there were two acres of nothing but lawn, it has been a slow process.

    Your place is truly beautiful, and I am (as ever) impressed by your listing of plants and varieties, especially since I can never remember what it was I planted and I rarely have the time and energy to record it. I even have a garden diary (like Carol’s over at May Dreams) but it is sadly empty. Maybe this year is the year I will get around to actually using it. I don’t even write in my Journal journal, so having another one strictly for the garden seems to be a bust. But posts like this one make me re-examine my dilatoriness.

    Hi Hands, thanks so much for these glowing words. Drifting towards less lawn is a noble goal. Just keep chipping away at it. As for the record keeping, writing in a garden notebook has been done since I first began gardening, too many years ago to count. It is my nature to make lists. I did not know the varietal names of most plants until blogging began in 2007. Looking things up to get it right has improved the list making and the names are memorized after writing them a few times. I have found a good way to find the names is by making a list of plants purchased with the full name from the label by date bought. But doing it should never feel like work. Life’s too short for that. :-)
    Frances

  37. Nan Ondra says:

    I can just imagine that your neighbors think your place is a bit “weird,” but I bet a lot of folks make a point of walking by your garden to watch what’s going on through the seasons. You’re a great inspiration to those who want to go now-mow, Frances!

    Oh yes, weird, but they are still nice to me anyway. People do walk by, and drive by slowly, mostly to see my neighbor Mickey’s lovely garden. Mine is secondary. I have talked Mickey into having a meadow and less grass, which means less work for him. A good thing. :-)
    Frances

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