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Lawn Vs. Naturalistic Landscaping: Is That Big Yard Really Worth It?

By June 21, 2021September 15th, 2023Landscape Design
spring naturalistic landscape

If there’s one image that just about everyone recognizes as the picture of perfect suburban bliss, it’s the big, green yard. That expanse of green carpet – white picket fence optional – has a long history as a symbol of elite aristocracy and wealth.

Perhaps that’s why those visions still exist today, though they are slowly but surely being crowded out by even brighter and more beautiful visions of naturalistic landscapes.

But before you go digging up the lawn and replacing it with colorful wildflowers, natural stone and meandering pathways (already sounds better, doesn’t it?) it would help to understand why you’re taking that step.

Today we’re talking lawn – why have it, why forgo it, and what you can do instead.

Front Yard GreeneryThe Crazy Story Of Our Love Affair With Lawns

Some of the earliest lawns in our collective human history surrounded the castles of Britain and France. These vast expanses were kept clear of trees and other obstructions for good reason – with nothing in the way, guards could easily spot potential danger from a distance.

Eventually, this morphed into a sign of power and wealth, with lawns becoming a decided symbol of the aristocracy. In pre-industrial days, lawns were either grazed by sheep or cut manually with scythes to maintain their shorn appearance.

This version of the lawn made its debut in America most notably at the famed Monticello home of Thomas Jefferson. Other wealthy landowners copied the trend and the entrepreneurial spirit of America kicked in, with the development of the lawn mower, sprinkler systems, and other turf tools.

Inevitably, lawns spread as aspirational suburbanites donned this mantle of prestige.

lawn and gardenThe popularity of the lawn was helped along by another tradition: golf! The first golf club in the United States was formed in Yonkers, New York, with Chicago taking the crown for building the first 18-hole course. Without those rolling, grassy slopes, the sport would certainly not be the same.

Since their introduction, grassy lawns have displaced vegetable gardens, usurped many hours of many lives in maintenance and care, disrupted ecosystems and left us in the weeds – literally and figuratively.

That trend is changing, though, as sustainability is becoming a lifestyle choice, as we take to the outdoors to find better health and deeper happiness, and as ever-busier people become more protective of their valuable time.

Plenty of naturalistic advocates are also discovering that alternative options are both more beautiful and more functional, and can convey status just as effectively today as grass did in its heyday.

Landscaped LawnA Case For Lawn

Yes, we’re decidedly partial to naturalistic landscapes, but we also know that there is a place for lawn. You may not need acres of it, but that doesn’t mean you have to eliminate it entirely.

The primary advantage of having open lawn space is for play areas that require some turf. Whether you want to throw a Frisbee to Fido or give the kids space to kick around a soccer ball, you certainly aren’t going to do that in a bed of daffodils.

Lawn is a nice place for kids and pets to run free, so if that’s important for your lifestyle and family, then by all means include a bit of open grass in your landscape plan.

There’s also the simple fact that some people enjoy open lawn space and the unique beauty of lush green. It’s an entirely different aesthetic but if you love it, then you deserve to keep it!

The grander point is that choosing between lawn or naturalistic landscaping isn’t an either/or option. You can incorporate and enjoy both.

Fence LandscapeThe Dark Side Of Lawns

From a practical standpoint, one of the worst parts of having a lawn is the amount of care it requires. Getting that gorgeous green look is about as high maintenance as it gets. Forget the mowing, that’s the least of your worries – it may not be your favorite thing, but with power and riding mowers you can probably make fairly short work of it.

The problem with lawns is that they require a ton of water, or you end up with that not-so-aristocratic parched brown hay look. Sprinkler systems can be expensive, to say nothing of the cost of water. There’s also the ecological cost of using so much of a natural resource to keep something green that was never meant to be as green as we want it in the first place!

landscape summer daisiesA truly lush lawn also requires herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers, all of which pollute streams, lakes, and other waterways, and can leach into our food supply.

Many pesticides take a scorched-earth approach, killing off beneficial insects and disrupting habitats, too. Without a place to nest, hide, or feed, any surviving insects from ladybugs to pollinators like bees and butterflies will abandon your yard, leaving the ecology barren. This isn’t a good thing either for the health of the land or for your own physical and emotional well-being.

Professional lawn care can mitigate some of the damage, because pros are more likely than DIYers to apply the correct products in the correct amounts, but that can get pricey, too. And in the end the best you’ll have is a blank green slate of space without much to look at, and no real useful space to sit, entertain, relax, or enjoy.

Not Your Grandmother’s Landscape: Why Naturalistic Design Is TrendingNaturalistic Is The New Lawn

While green lawn is still the default for many homeowners, there is a growing trend toward more sustainable, ecologically sound, native landscaping. This blossoming interest in naturalistic landscaping is a real boon for our planet earth, and for the homeowners who embrace it.

The foundation of naturalistic design is working with nature – not against it. That means planting flowers, trees and shrubs that are suited to grow in the local environment. In its simplest terms, it means that if you have a shady spot, you shouldn’t be driving yourself crazy trying to grow tomatoes!

There are so many beautiful plants that grow in myriad conditions – wet soil, dry soil, clay, sandy or rich soil, in sunny spots, in shady spots, with or without weeding, watering and pruning. The trick is to find the right plants for the space you have.

landscape summer flowersWhen you work with nature and incorporate native plants, they will grow and thrive in the conditions available to them. That means less work for you, less expense for care and maintenance, less pollution, a more beautiful space, and plenty more time to enjoy it.

A naturalistic landscape is more than just plants, though. It includes other natural elements, from water to natural stone and even the strategic incorporation of very human elements like comfortable seating, cooking areas, walkways, lighting and more.

Simple Ideas To Add A Touch Of Romance To Your LandscapePart of the joy of naturalistic design is marrying the natural with the manmade in a way that achieves balance and harmony.

A naturalistic landscape engages all your senses. The colors and textures, the sound of flowing water, singing birds or a rustling breeze, the reward of a vegetable or herb garden, the silkiness of a hydrangea petal or the smooth surface of a river stone, the scent of lilac or basil – all of these things contribute to an immersive experience that you simply cannot attain with a monoculture of lawn.

landscape birdhousesIf you need more convincing, consider that naturalistic landscapes will attract wildlife, which means more beauty and interest for you, and a healthier yard for you to enjoy. Invite birds, butterflies, frogs and other pleasing critters to share your space and you’ll have company all year long.

In fact, one of the most rewarding things about a naturalistic landscape is that you can enjoy it throughout all four seasons. Say goodbye to barren winters of dull browns and flat spaces. You will quickly learn that there’s color, texture, sound and beauty to be experienced whether it’s the height of summer or the darkest winter.

Now it’s up to you to decide. Is your big, (sometimes) green lawn worth it? Are you getting what you really want from your outdoor space? Is it serving your aesthetic desires and lifestyle needs?

If you’re one of the growing number of people who are saying, “No!” to hours of maintenance, gallons of water, damaged habitats, and an uninspired yard, contact us for a consultation. We’ll visit your home, talk with you about what you want, make recommendations and come up with a plan to create a space you’ll love all year, and for many years to come.