Grass and Lawn Design – It’s not all bad! (if you do it right)

January 19, 2024

Grass lawn design is a little un-PC in the landscape design world. In a time where we all need to pay a lot more attention to the decisions we make regarding our land and how we treat it, it is fair to question the rampant overuse of turf grass. But – lets not throw the baby out with the bathwater. There are interesting and more thoughtful and responsible ways to use a lawn in garden design.

Here are some great fun ways to play with growing grass and lawns to make something much more interesting than just a big flat green space. 

Lawns and grass are the best design solutions in some places. The problem is insane overuse, ubiquity, and subsequent resource intensiveness that is getting us. 

If you love grass, here are some different ways to think about using it in your landscape.

A chair made of grass in front of a building.
Grass chair in front of the Hotel de Ville in Paris, France image by Mister Rad.

Grow Grass over a Form

Grass can grow in a lot of strange places. Growing turf grass over forms or shapes to create garden features offers an innovative approach to blending art and nature. Imagine a living, green sculpture, like a comfortable grass-covered chair, inviting relaxation and interaction in your garden.

The possibilities are endless: envision a turf grass sofa for a whimsical seating area, or perhaps sculptural animals for a playful touch in a family garden. These verdant creations are more than just eye-catching—they’re a conversation starter, a fusion of practical landscaping and imaginative artistry.

To achieve these living sculptures, you can use wireframes or specially designed forms as a base, over which turf grass is carefully grown and maintained. This technique requires precision and patience, but the result is a unique, organic feature that brings a touch of whimsy and innovation to any outdoor space.

A close up of green grass in a field.
Zoysia is a common turf grass that naturally will grow into lumps if not maintained to be flat. There are countless online forums full of people asking how to flatten their zoysia lawns. Why not embrace the lumpy grass. Plant Zoysia and encourage it to be it’s most beautiful self and in the the process get a unique and beautiful lumpy grass feature. Image by Marachka
A stepping stone path in a garden with grass.
Succulents, Zoysia & wispy grasses form a beautiful path detail. Garden design, construction & maintenance by @gardensociety. Plants supplied by @exotic_nurseries found via bennerlandscapedesign.

Encourage the Textural Beauty of the Lumpy Lawn Grass

Zoysia (a very common turfgrass)- left unmown will eventually grow into bubbles and tufts. These lumpy features are quite beautiful and a unique design element. These mounded tufts are often compared with the look of moss. Between stones and along the edges of paths, the mounds make pleasingly soft pillow-like edges. I am not sure what it would take to successfully create a grass feature like this one, but now I think I might need to figure it out…

A red line of grass in a yard. imperata rubra, creeping thyme and boxwood.
Imperata rubra, also known as Japanese Blood Grass, is a striking ornamental grass renowned for its vivid red-tipped blades that add a splash of color to any garden. This eye-catching grass transitions from green at the base to a deep, crimson red at the tips, creating a spectacular contrast (in this case, with the groundcover layer of creeping thyme) that intensifies from summer into fall. Design and image by jacki-dee.

Choose Highly Ornamental and Colorful Grasses

This mix of creeping thyme and Imperata Rubra (Japanese blood grass) is really striking.  While I would be concerned about the inevitability of the grass escaping the confines of the design, I think that this is a great water wise idea for the no-mans land between the sidewalk and the road.  There are many native and ornamental grasses that have unique features that, when planted enmasse, become a strong textural, colorful or high contrast design element.

A japanese garden with green grass and stones.
Grassy lawny or not, I really just love this.  It’s a completely cool mix of modern and traditional Japanese garden designs. According to lao_ren100 (Loren) , the grass and paver pattern is similar to that of the Tofuku-ji hojo in Kyoto as designed by Mirei Shigemori. This was taken at the Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island, Washington, and was designed by Dr. Koichi Kawana of the University of California, and the main section by Fujitaro Kubota.

Give the Grass Lawn Design a Distinct Shape

Geometry and strong boundaries make grass a thoughtless wall-to-wall installation and elevate the beauty of the carpet-like feature we love. By mixing it with square pavers (to make contrasting square grass patches to offset as you see above) or by outlining it with distinctive metal edging and bright paths – the geometry and textural contrast are highlighted.

>>Check out this post where grass is given shape with circles.

A group of squares of grass in a garden.
A Grass grid. This garden was installed at the now defunct Westonbrit Festival of Gardens. Image by archidave

A walkway made of stones with grass in the middle.
Grass and stone driveway created by Sandeep_8 is one of the prettiest most inviting driveways I have seen

Combine Grass with Concrete, Stone or other Pavers to create Hard-wearing but Permeable Surfaces

To me, cars are an annoying necessity of most American lives.  All the accessories that go along with them (like car parks, driveways and mechanics) are things I would rather not have to live with.  So, disguising access to your garage with an interesting and green design is certainly appealing.

Also, permeable paving (where water can be absorbed either through the paving or through the joints in the paving) is vastly more desirable – particularly in densely populated and urban environments to help manage stormwater. The more water that can csoak into the surface e of the earth, where it falls, the better. Also, all the adjacent trees and landscaping will be appreciative that you didn’t pave over their root zones.

A grassy area with a lot of holes in it.
An alternative to a fire lane by Richard Reynolds.– “Reinforced concrete and grass surrounds the tower blocks of Rowstock Gardens in Camden, so that fire engines don’t sink into the mud if attending an emergency in the buildings.”
A wooden walkway in a grassy area.
Path through a water iris patch in a Japanese Garden at Kyoto Botanic Garden. Image by apc33.

Elevate the Grass by treating it like a more precious plant.

I include this image above because, while it is not actually grass, it certainly seems inspired by it.  It is a  path through the iris garden at the Kyoto Botanical Gardens – the plants have a grassy look, and it inspired me to think that a beautiful garden feature could be made through any type of ornamental grass area by similarly creating an elevated walkway.

A lawn with a tree in the middle.
This lawn at Powerscourt Gardens however, was created some 300 years ago and is so perfect that it is considered one of the best in the world.  Image by Chris Brzeczyszczykiewicz

If you are going to do a lawn – do it in a manageable way and do it to perfection (or don’t do it at all)

To me, a perfect lawn is a complete triumph over nature that in order to achieve, requires an effort and constant struggle that I would rather not involve myself with. And at scale – it is one of the most ecologically and environmentally damaging things we can do as homeowners.

The lawn at Powerscourt Gardens was created 300 years ago. Considering the horticultural effort required to achieve this is similar to that of an ancient bonsai tree, I can certainly justify its maintenance and historical preservation (for horticultural historical reasons).

To me, it is like looking at art or architecture from another era. It is worth studying, admiring, and preserving, but we are allowed to progress with new styles and building materials that better match the world we live in. We don’t still use lead paint, railroad ties filled with carcinogenic chemicals, or asbestos siding.

I guess if you are as obsessed with this type of lawn (as many people are – it seems to go along with the notion of having achieved American success – I.e., the house with the lawn…) – I would encourage you to question your motivations and if you really need to play this game. Keeping up with the Joneses is a terrible way to live your life (in general), and to slave yourself to a lawn for the sake of making a good impression is silly (and expensive and harmful). And it is starting to make you look more than a little old-fashioned.

A group of bushes in a garden.
This garden at The Castle of Gourdon in Provence, France, is another historical masterpiece. The perfectly shaped shrubs combine with the perfect lawn to allow for the creation of crisp shadows.  The geometric perfection is completely serene. This garden was designed by Le Notre, Louix XIV’s gardener who also did Versailles Park. Image by Feuillu.

Use Turf grass as a medium-traffic footpath.

Turf grass is superbly suited for paths and walkways, providing a durable and visually appealing walkable ground cover surface in gardens and outdoor spaces.

A garden with bushes and flowers in it.
In this garden by HelgaB the grass seems to replace a small garden pond.  The shape weaves softly, and rather than being the central point of the garden, it is a gracious path, a foil for the flowers, and it provides a backbone of structure to the space.

Use it strategically to keep weeds down and provide a defined surface for walking. Weave it among plants and use it to guide visitors to destinations in your garden. Its resilience under frequent foot traffic makes it an ideal choice for creating practical yet attractive green pathways.

However, using turf grass as a wall-to-wall carpeting option in large areas can pose challenges. Its requirements for consistent sunlight, adequate drainage, and regular maintenance, including mowing and watering, make it less practical for expansive coverage. (Stop thinking of it as wall-to-wall carpeting and instead like a throw rug or a runner down a hallway. For this, it is a great alternative to a gravel or otherwise paved path.)

A path leads to a wooden shed in the middle of a garden.
This picture by annkelliott of Jim Coutts’ amazing homestead garden, near Nanton, in southern Alberta, is an inspiring shot of lawn taking on another use. A pathway to create one of the most peaceful country gardens I can imagine.

spring bulb lawn
My own Flowery mead. The turf areas in my gardens are encouraged to be mixed with clover, ajuga, dandelions, moss, and other ground cover and “weedy” elements that make it ecologically better – but also make it more interesting. I have additionally underplanted large areas with spring bulbs that turn the lawn into a flower-filled early spring feature. Image and design by Rochelle Greayer.

Avoid Grass Monocultures- Encourage Weeds and purposely add diversity to your lawn design

A more perfect lawn is comprised of grass that looks as beautiful when NOT mowed as it does sheared.  It can create a beautiful flowy grass meadow that is full of pollinators if left to grow long. Most turf grasses will look great at a longer length. If you are worried that it will look messy or unkempt, consider mowing a path through it or outlining the edges with a mown strip. By giving attention to these details, you convey what is commonly referred to as a “cue to care”. The mown areas will formalize the unmown areas, making them feel fresh and purposeful.

A lawn left to grow long will encourage other plants to thrive, and a more natural and healthy version will emerge.

Use turf grass and lawns wisely, Actually design with them – and Don’t overuse

Provided you don’t have to water it like crazy, you can live with chemical-free imperfections, and you don’t treat it like wall-to-wall carpeting at the loss of something better – I think that turf grass has a continued place in garden design.

More Lawn Posts you might be interested in:

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  1. Scott Hokunson says:


    Very thoughtful and timely piece. Lawns have become synonymous with chemicals and water waste. I agree with you that lawns will always and should always have a place in the garden, provided we free our minds of what a lawn is. When thought of as a large boring monoculture, ripe for the next disease or pest to invade, and needing synthetic fetilizers and chemicals to survive, I vote no. But when thought of as a diverse ecological community comprised of many grass species and flowering plants such as violet, clover and ajuga, growing in a healthy organic soil, I say that now we have a beautiful addition to any garden. One that can be safely enjoyed by nature and humans alike.

    Thanks for writing about a topic that seems to have become Taboo in our community.


  2. Sprout says:

    I might have enjoyed my semester in turf at college, had it included anything even remotley like what you showed in your post!

  3. michelle d. says:

    Thank you for a beautifully rendered and articulated post.
    So much more thought provoking than the hysterical anti-lawn nut jobs who are often found posting on The Garden Rant.

  4. Susan aka Miss R says:

    I find that there is a mounting hysteria in garden and landscape design that is evidenced by Michelle’s comment. Grass/turf/lawn is not the enemy–it, like anything else in the designed environment should have thoughtful use no more no less. I have said here and elsewhere that as long as there are bare feet, a need for play space or a just place to lie down and look up at the sky and stars then we will have a place for lawn.

  5. I see the “choir is here” and I’m with you. Lawns are not the enemy, people’s irresponsible behavior is! Love the design ideas Rochelle.

    Shirley Bovshow “EdenMaker”

  6. Matt M. says:

    Very nice piece of work. I’m with Scott & a couple others here. Lawns & grasses definitely have a place in our yards, gardens & parks. Thoughtful planning and proper management are the difference between a balanced, environmentally beneficial area and one that sucks resources and pollutes with relative abandon. Love that shot from the Castle of Gourdon by the way. Thanks for the great post.

  7. Dawn Isaac says:

    Hi Rochelle – v. interesting post and great collection of shots. With kids, I could not be without the lawn, but I have tried to add some interest by mass planting crocus bulbs and then allowing the circle shapes of longer grass to stay there for a few weeks after the flowers have finished.

    I do feel lawns give huge opportunites for interesting designs – and when they are such good value to create, I couldn’t imagine designing without them.

    I would love to create some grass covered furniture but the topography of it just creates a nightmare for maintenance. I am quite interested in the lawn mixes they now create with micro-clover, allowing lawns to be have the essence of green in a drought without needing to water them.

  8. Vytas says:


  9. These are my kind of gardens! Love the amazing details.
    P.S. thanks for posting my photos on your amazing blog:)

  10. private says:

    Lovely collection of pictures.
    The movement of taller grasses is a marvelous special effect.
    I have a lovely dainty clumping unidentified volunteer grass under my tulip poplars. It’s growing very well since I removed the leaves last year. I also have nasty invasive can’t be stopped thug grass between my veggie beds out front. That part needs to be gravel. Or maybe creeping jenny or something tamer. Gardening is about round pegs in round holes, or every place has a perfect plantscape.

  11. Isabelle says:

    What’s the name for the second image’s grass? Is there something you need to do to make it lumpy like such or does it grow that way on its own?

    Thank you

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