Transitioning a front yard from the standard American flat patch of obsessively produced green into something more waterwise (and less fertilizer intensive) is a trend among many suburban homeowners. (And I couldn’t be happier to support a lawn free front yard meadow!). Drought, oil costs, and climate change are fueling the desire for change but many homeowners struggle to imagine something new and different. This suburban front yard meadow is full of ideas, plants and design advice from landscape professionals who created a beautiful but alternative front garden.
With a directive make the front walk more useable and attractive, designer Claire Kettelkamp of Kettelkamp and Kettelkamp Landscape Architects was hired to re-imagine this small front garden in Evanston, Illinois. The new plan banished the hostas that intruded onto the sidewalk and got people wet as they brushed past. It also needed to require no irrigation or maintenance and no special garden tools or chemicals. The result was a meadow of tall grasses and a lawn-free “lawn” that was inspired by green roof design. It is a colorful seasonal palette that checked all the requirements.
Use these ideas to create your own low maintence and inventive front garden (or backyard meadow!).
The planting in May features pretty purple patches of phlox subulata ‘Emerald Blue’.
As the May purple phlox blooms fade out, the deeper purple blooms of Thymus preacox start to emerge in June.
Claire Kettlekamp describes the garden’s design:
“Seasonal interest was really important, and that was hard. In the middle of the front lawn is a clearing. There is a series of different sedum, creeping phlox, and thyme. The plants that are generally used on a green roof inspired us because the clients didn’t want tall plants near the walk that would get their clothes wet but they did want drought-tolerant plants. We chose a lot of sedums that are either evergreen or turn scarlet and added i thyme and creeping phlox for spring color.”
“The ground cover filled in fast, I planted it close (6-8inches on center) because I was concerned about weeds and making sure that the homeowners could take care of it easily by themselves.”
“The front walk was the inspiration – it may not look like the most efficient path, but it is the most efficient way to get to the train station (from the house). For the planting inspiration, I turned the bath on the bias (at an angle) to get the high low layout of the grasses.”
“We also pinched the width of the walkway in the center so that it kind of slows you down in your journey from the sidewalk to the front door. It makes your take in the garden and walk is a little more interesting.”
Despite not being as hardy as other plants in the palette, Sedum cauticola takes a primary role in the design. Importantly, it was added to the plant list because it echos the color of the house.
Water Wise Lawn Free Plant List:
- Sedum floriferum ‘Weinstephaners Gold’
- Thymus praecox
- Sedum requienii
- Phlox subulata ‘Blue Emerald’
- Sedum cauticola
- Sedum rupestre ‘Forsteranum’
Front Yard Meadow Grasses List:
- Miscanthus sinensis ‘Silberfeder’
- Calamagrostis acutiflora ‘Karl Forester’
- Eragrostis spectabilis
- Sporobolus heterolepis
- Carex pennsylvanica (not shown)
The Prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepsis), when it blooms, is fragrant. The homeowners look forward to it and really enjoy its scent.
“People love it or hate it. I think it’s good that it gets a reaction because it means it is different and it reflects the process that went into designing it. The owners have received fan mail for the garden that has made us feel very good over the years”Claire Kettlekamp
Why do people hate it?
“It’s tall. People really are used to the aesthetic of the American lawn in front of the house. So it can be a shock. It is not a flower garden, so sometimes people don’t understand what it is.”
The final design is a waterwise suburban meadow of tall grasses and a lawn that isn’t actually a lawn. What do you think? Love it or loathe it?
Personally, I’m not just in love, but in admiration. I admire Claire for her lawn free front yard meadow design, but also the homeowners for their vision and ability to try something new. I hope trends continue to shift and this type of small front yard design becomes not just acceptable but fashionable.
images provided by Claire Kettelkamp.
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