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  • Writer's picturekelly

Five No-Mow Alternatives for a Small Garden Without a Lawn.

Updated: Dec 14, 2021

If you want to create a low-maintenance garden in your courtyard or patio that doesn't require owning a lawnmower, read on!

For a good part of the last 100 years, a quarter-acre section and a sprawling lawn have been part of the iconic suburban Kiwi lifestyle.

As Auckland’s population grows, suburban lots are shrinking, and small gardens are becoming the new normal.

We often hear from homeowners that they want a fuss-free outdoor space. In our busy, time-poor, usually two career society, the idea of having a garden to keep and a lawn to mow can be overwhelming. After all, who wants to add another item to the to-do list!

So, here's to ditching the drudgery of weekly lawn care; discover our top five low-maintenance garden ideas so you can enjoy more and do less.

Create a Stroll Garden.

Since the 1600s, Stroll Gardens have been famous in Japanese garden design for their inter-connecting pathways that surround features like ponds or hills. The modern Japanese term for this style is kaiyushiki teien, which translates to "excursion-style garden."

While you may not have the same size and scale to work with, you can still borrow the concept.

By creating paths, either curvy or straight, you can divide the garden into manageable sections. It makes choosing plants, planting, and maintaining each mini-garden much simpler.

You can then design your own backyard excursion using each zone as a starting point! Introduce a water feature, a sculpture, or simply add variety to the planting.

[Left top and bottom] The series of straight angled pathways that I created in my own small backyard maximizes the size of the garden beds and provides easy access to each section. Each zone has its own focal point, like this water feature.

To see more images of my garden, have a look at my series of blog posts.

Create pockets of foliage

By planting pockets of greenery between decking and paving, we can create a lush garden in even the smallest of spaces. If you want to keep maintenance as low as possible, select easy-care, hardy perennials that require minimal upkeep and less water. Some good options include native Corokias and Flaxes, which are great for adding a pop of colour and texture, or drought-tolerant exotics like leucadendrons.

In the small garden design above, we replaced the narrow grass strip, which was a nuisance to mow, with a garden bed. We extended it around the corners of the deck to give the illusion that it continued down the side of the house. The addition of the garden beds and planting has completely transformed this garden space.

No-mow groundcovers

Traditional turf grasses aren't the only option for achieving a lush sweep of lawn without the high maintenance.

Hardy mat-forming ground covers can offer some of the same turf advantages with the added benefit of being good for the environment.

[Left] Here, we used paving under a concrete bench and interplanted with the low-growing “Baby Tears,” which grows exceptionally well in damp, shady spots.

With so many varieties to choose from, it's easy to find a groundcover that suits your space and lifestyle. Varieties such as Dichondra Silver Falls (below left) and Remuremu (below right) can handle moderate to heavy foot traffic.

New Zealand natives like Leptinella Platts Black (below left) and Acaena Purpurea (below right) give a lovely burst of colour and can take light to moderate foot traffic.

Or, why not dream of balmy Mediterranean evenings with fragrant varieties like Cerise or Lavender Thyme (left). They're also great for attracting the bees!

Lay shingle, gravel, or stones

The informal, organic nature of stone and gravel makes them an excellent choice for small, intimate spaces. They're also incredibly versatile and work equally well in both traditional and contemporary gardens.

River stones work particularly well in naturalistic landscapes, and their organic character can soften rigid lines in a more modern design. Although they are often used for high-traffic areas like pathways, gravel and stone are versatile enough to use just about anywhere.

Additionally, they are one of the least expensive paving options and require less sub-base preparation than other hardscape materials.

We used white stone to create a zen-like safe walking zone around the spa pool in this design (right). The colour really brightens up the space and contrasts the darker mulch and spa pool cover.

Make it artificial!

While we certainly prefer natural greenery to the fake variety, artificial grass does have its place. It can be ideal for high-energy pets and kids and works well in shady areas where grass may struggle in the winter months.

Luckily, advances in fiber development now mean the latest designs are far more realistic than you might imagine, with the look and feel underfoot surprisingly natural.

And the upkeep is minimal, with just a light brushing needed to redistribute any sand infill that may move from time to time.

However, artificial grass can become quite hot underfoot in the summer, so bear this in mind if it's situated in full sun and you have small children running around.

The artificial grass in this vibrant small garden design (left) enhances the tropical vibe while removing the need for mowing.

But, before you start...

Designing a small backyard is fun and exciting, and as you can see, the options are endless! However, the essential part of any small garden design is to create a space that reflects you and the people who'll share it with you. Before you start, think about how you will use the area. The three most important questions to consider are:

  1. What will I be doing in the garden?

  2. When will I be outside?

  3. Who will be there with me?

Then make your design decisions based on the answers.

Creating a green space in your small garden doesn't mean you have to spend hours maintaining a lawn. We’ve helped many customers create beautiful and low-maintenance small gardens that can be enjoyed all year round. We offer consultations for free, so don't hesitate to get in touch if you want any help planning your new space!

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