Lawn Fanatics on the Attack

September 20, 2009

We have various acacia and euculyptus cutivars, phormium, dracena, agave, australian tea trees and a polished black granite water feature and water fall in our zone 10 coastal, socal garden. The trees and other plants were all mature specimens when recently planted. We use organic methods and drip irrigation but we have no lawn at all!!! Our garden was designed by a well known, licensed landscape architect recognized for his minimalist designs. Our problem is not with our garden or its design, it is with our neighbors and those who pass by. We receive so many strange comments like "well that's different", but most of the objections center around the absence of a lawn. Any advice about how to deal with the lawn fanatics or is there something wrong with us?

Comments (91)

  • laag

    I agree that the best way to get people doing positive things is to make it work on its own "despite" its other benefits.

    We don't have a big water availability problem in my area either to due with lack of rainfall or depleted aquifer. The more common environmental vs. aesthetic issue is with required plantings of native species in wetland buffers. The more aesthetic these are, the more more people are open to converting non-native plantings to native. Sometimes those in the positions to approve projects seem to go out of their way to make sure that there is not a greater aesthetic than just being native.

    People like to do the right thing, but they also want want other things as well. If they have to give something up, they are less likely to do it. Whenever they see that they can have their cake and eat it too, they are all over it. This is why it is important to make and show good examples in order to motivate others to follow.

    Perhaps Sean's landscape is a good example of both. I could understand a negative reaction by neighbors due to discomfoft by their lack of responsibility. I could also understand it being due to aesthetic reasons.

    The best thing to me is that neighbors are out there talking to each other. I've been in my neighborhood for 5 years and only interact with my immediate abutters. New England is funny like that.

  • drtygrl

    LOL Karin - the anti lawn movement is setting up a "straw man"- the guy with the lawn, right?

    I have a huge lawn, in New England. Never water, never fertilize - do you have a problem with that? I doubt it, because no one here is expressing extreme views about either having a lawn or not having a lawn. I do both types of designs for people; with lawns and without. My opinion would be that new landscape clients are trending towards no lawns. But even here in NE, the land of the lawn, no one has a problem with the clients who do not have lawns. The key is that the design is cohesive with the neighborhood, meets the clients objectives and is aesthetically pleasing.

    The other question I have is, without a lawn and with all the varieties of plant material you named, did the landscaper come up or discuss ongoing maintenance with you , sean? Maintaining a large landscape is a high maintenance undertaking which a responsible landscaper would address with a client. Most homeowners can figure out lawn care, but weeding, pruning, deadheading etc is beyond the abilities of most people. Do you have a landscape maintenance company too?

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  • jmarie12

    Should've included in my post that my lawnlessness was generated by a desire for privacy and enclosure. My lawns have never been watered. Besides, the lawn really wasn't very nice. There were major drainage issues and it was a pretty crummy lawn.

    I have been re-reading seansmith's posts because there's 'something' about them that I couldn't put my finger on, an elusive 'something'. Possible subtexts, etc. but nothing really made sense of the whole thing.

    Then it came to me that these posts may very well have been written by a non-native English speaker. Maybe educated in Europe? Especially the first post. The other posts, also, although much less so. I definitely do not mean any disrespect, they are well written.

    If that is the case, it then sounds as if seansmith may be a very happy homeowner, looking for some validation for what was doubtless a costly installation.

  • bahia

    I found this last comment interesting... Went back and looked at it myself to see if I could detect an "english as a second language" trait. I would be very surprised if this were the case, as it seems like normal spoken english to me, or at least how we speak it here in California... Then again, if I get analytical about it, I attribute my tendency for wordiness to my germanic background, even though I did not grow up around any german speakers, I still think there is a genetic component to how some people think/speak, or maybe it is just cultural, even if filtered over the generations with a midwestern and west coast sieve.

  • laag

    If validation is the point, then I'll vote that the installation is valid.

    Two major reasons why it is valid are as follows. The homeowner placed a value on protecting water resources and did so. The homeowner is happy with the aesthetic.

    Unless the homeowner places a very high value on pleasing the entire neighborhood or is subject to an HOA covenence, to heck with the neighbors.

    You did good, Sean.

    I still don't believe that people are attacking going lawnless. I do believe that people get very angry when others push for them to conform to values which they do not feel as strongly about. I have seen reduction of lawn pushed both by activists and by regulation. I have only seen lawns pushed when the alternative is large unvegetated areas (must have plants, or lawn - no mulch only areas).

  • rain2fall


  • gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)

    I think we are all making a mountain out of a molehill :-) Whatever negative comments seansmith may have received from neighbors or passersby, overstated though they might be, are likely just a response to a very new and distinctly different landscape from the previous edition - change, and radical change especially, tends to generate reactions and not always positive ones.

    I also don't understand this obsession some of us have with requiring the need for photos to illustrate every post. They are certainly helpful when discussing design solutions but in a situation like this, whether or not photos are provided by the OP is entirely a matter of their personal choice and to insist they provide them strikes me as presumptuous and even rude, especially when phrased in the loud, demanding tone as above.

    Chill, folks!

  • karinl

    There is always the possibility that neighbours are responding to the "polished black granite water feature and water fall" rather than to the lack of lawn :-)

    Or to its apparent water usage (even if its actual usage is minimal).


  • drtygrl

    I think we scared SeanSmith away. But I am still curious about the maintenance issues. Sean if you are around, id love to hear how you are maintaining the landscaping and how its going for you.

  • seansmith

    Some very interesting, slightly entertaining and highly speculative comments: Our family is not secretly German trying to pass ourselves off as native English speakers, we have a maintenance service as do all of our other neighbors, we have not set-up any straw men and we are sorry for those who are "not buying it", a few neighborhood "strollers" (more vocal, fanatical but in the minority) are invested in the past and have a difficult time accepting slightly different approaches even though all of us are facing a water shortage in Southern California. Yes our family has now decided to avoid posting pictures and is scared off as most families with young kids would have been. Declarative, vulgar statements in large, red type are a little much. We have always tried to be polite and responsive to your questions. We initially assumed that those interested in gardening were a friendly group and we want to thank those who have been civil and constructive. And to the others, congratulations, our family is signing off.

  • laag

    You have been polite and explained everything well. I don't blame you or anyone else for not posting pictures.

    You did a responsible thing in your landscape. Who cares what we think or your neighbors think? You do, since you posted the thread. Nothing is wrong with that except that there is a very obvious pattern that goes back a long time on this forum which is what Treelover eluded to. When someone posts and that post seems to have no other reason than just to have everyone tell them how wonderful they are or their garden is, people tend to react negatively because they feel used. That is human nature just as looking for praise is.

    Clearly, the whole point of the thread was to get a pat on the back. I'll give you that, for what its worth. You did a responsible thing.

  • Embothrium

    Yes: Tends to be a tough crowd here, for whatever reason. Years ago, when I became interested in garden forums and started looking around for them I encountered several non-moderated ones that were simply unbelievable. Does not matter what the saloon is selling, apparently you can count on people (on the internet, anyway) to grab for their guns at the drop of a hat - sometimes even when there is a sheriff on duty.

    I do also find that some people are quick to interject objections in person also. I call it "buzz-wording", wherein any and all words, phrases or complete statements they find questionable or objectionable simply must be commented on as soon as they are made.

    Just about every time.

  • catkim

    seansmith - maybe you are suffering the same thing here as in your newly landscaped home -- are you new to your neighborhood? Looks like here everyone is just scoping you out, you know, "who's the new guy?" ; ) I live in a coastal neighborhood in San Diego where the locals consider you a "new arrival" if you moved in after 1950... New home, new landscape, new people; you're bound to excite a degree of curiosity. However if you have lived there for 25 years already, I am at a loss for an explanation. On another garden forum someone in SoCal asked about a sturdy grass for garden and dogs, and most replies were a variation on "get rid of the lawn!" Well, at least you have generated some interest -- it's been a bit dull around here of late. : )

  • isabella__MA

    Kinda like a Seinfeld episode, much ado about nothing. We did learn about grass alternative and native grasses though and lots of us got to share a bit our experience with grasslessness or reactions to it, so maybe there was something to be had from it after all.

  • scarletdaisies

    What I don't understand is Socal, I just figured out is Southern California and not a town in California, is why you guys don't use water makers or evaporate water for saltless water. You can buy water makers for boats and they are life savers, and living near an ocean would be free water to you, but not to all. I don't now how much of Southern California is really on the coast. A desert with no access of water of any type is a hard way to go.

    You can find water evaporators all over the internet to build, just flat beds slightly tilted to catch more sunlight, with salt water laying on the bottom and cups to catch directed evaporated water in.

    A black fountain attracts heat, so maybe a light green one might be better, but probably wouldn't make a better decoration for the yard.

    If you have any websites with similar designs you might have seen, it would be nice to see. I live in Tennessee and if our lawn was ripped out it would appall the neighbors and the entire county. They would laugh hysterically at me in the grocery store. They are not as modern or as accepting of new ideas as most would like to think they are.

    I'm glad you got the nerve to rip out such a traditional decoration and try something new.

    My neighbor just recently moved from his house and I talked with is wife just before he left. The first thing I said was "I know he's going to miss his pretty yard. He practically manicures it. I wonder if he's going to miss it." She replied the first thing he did when he found his new home in Texas was jump for joy at the sight of the tractor his son owned because he'd never have to mow the lawn again. You would have never known he hated the chore. He was out there every week weed eating, cutting grass, sweeping, etc, etc. I'm sure you were liberated the minute it was pulled up.

    It was a nice choice. Good luck with your new landscape.

  • duluthinbloomz4

    Personl desalinization devices are an interesting concept. I don't live in California, but I'm guessing northern California becomes southern California somewhere at the midway point. And although California (according to Wikipedia) has a coastline 840 miles long, jumping to 3,427 miles if you count tidal shoreline including small bays and inlets, the overwhelming bulk of the state's territory is in the interior.

    I live on the "coast" of Lake Superior, but - like virtually everyone else here - lack the pioneer spirit to haul it away by the gallon jug full just to get free water for my landscape.

    I applaud the OP for what he has done to his plot of land, for making choices that really don't need defending. That's as far as I'm going to go since what anyone does is often dictated by conditions, resources, what can be tended to, and what is thought to be appealing. And as for the possibilty of needing validation for a fait accompli, who can say?

  • scarletdaisies

    Here's some of the pictures of a grassless garden.

    There's a few more at:

    Not a bad alternative! I think they are very pretty and add to the beauty, but look very expensive.

    The photo formula isn't working today. So you will have to search them up for yourselves.

  • gardenman50

    Have the neighbors read the following article and perhaps they will come to realize that having a lawn is not a natural phenomenon. I am very much going for the lawnless look and really don't care if the neighbors like it or don't. The little bit of grassed area that I do have is overseeded with clover, a thing that most homeowners think of as a weed, but that does much better in my growing environment as far as water needs and coming back after a hot, dry summer than does fescue. It's much better for the honeybees and other beneficial insects than fescue is as well.

  • cyn427 (z. 7, N. VA)

    Wonderful article, Gardenman! We have gotten rid of most of our lawn with the exception of the strip between the road and sidewalk (which will be replanted next year, I hope) and a small area on our side of the sidewalk. Most looks natural-like a woodland garden-and the neighbors like it. Thanks for the reminder of the wisdom of Rachel Carson (Silent Spring was a required reading on my summer reading list in high school in the mid-60s) and Otto.


  • gardenman50

    Glad you liked the article Cynthia. Actually someone here on Garden Web posted it a while back on one of the forums (can't remember which one now though LOL). I was so impressed with it that I had to save the link to it.

  • rain2fall

    Well, fiddlestix.

    I'm all for lawn-less solutions. I just wanted to see the pictures of what I expected to be a beautiful landscape. And darn it, I went and scared Scott away with my red letters. :-( Sorry, Scott.

    As for the neighbors, if everyone in the neighborhood has a gardner or landscape maintenance company, then they're a different kind of people than I know. For me, the joy of gardening is doing it myself. Or at least, as much as I can. I'm also of the opinion, perhaps erroneous, that people in fancy neighborhoods and gated communities have some very rigid expectations of how things are to be.

    Funny, too; I've lived in neighborhoods with scattered Indian reservation land. At least half the gripes between the whites and the Indians was about lawns; specifically, why don't the Indians have nice lawns like "we" do? Frankly, I saw the lawns as the eyesore.

    Just my 2 cents. And not in red.


  • isabella__MA

    Well you can have your cake and eat it too, so denouncing lawns as evil does seem to be a bit of a stretch. I live in the NE where there is sufficient rainfall for spring and fall lawns to be green. In the summer it's a crap shot, but then the lawn can be allowed to go dormant during that period.

    I don't use pesticides or herbicides on my grass, but I will synthetic fertilizers. I do have a reel mower, which I love mainly because it's so quiet! My grass has the usual grub damage, but that pales in comparison to the salt burns from the canine unit. It's not golf course quality grass by any means, but its passable.

  • Embothrium

    Now if you can just get the dogs to pass by it instead of...

  • hosenemesis

    Just checking in to see if this forum is still the same- I see that it is. It's a shame poor Sean stumbled onto this forum first.

  • rosiew

    Hosenemis states: "Just checking in to see if this forum is still the same- I see that it is. It's a shame poor Sean stumbled onto this forum first."

    Sorry he/she feels this way. I much enjoy the Design forum, BUT it makes me think of my neighborhood which has lots of nice, helpful, caring people and a small number of weirdos/dissidents, who, IMO, sour the mix. I'm able to ignore them, and try to do the same when reading here.

    My 2 cents,
    Rosie, Sugar Hill, GA

  • deviant-deziner

    Oh good gawd.
    Is it that hard to see ?
    Let's cut to the chase.
    This person was looking to be massaged with ego oiled validation.
    Nothing less , probably something more, if only in a positive sense.

    So SeanSmith, you did the right thing. You hired a "well known, licensed landscape architect recognized for his minimalist designs", and installed a drought tolerant garden.
    Kudos to you.
    You're da bomb !
    Cling , Cling.. - that's champagne glasses toasting to you.
    Invite your neighbors over for a glass of champagne to celebrate your garden.

  • drtygrl

    This whole thread is like a train wreck.

    Seansmith has posted questions all over gardenweb about his new landscaping. Every question with the exception of this one got one or two responses, provoked no discussion and was generally uninformative. I am not sure this discussion is informative...but it is at the very least thought provoking and interesting.

    I really like the design forum, because if the weirdos and deviants here like your question, there will certainly be an interesting response. I rarely find any of it offensive- I think some people are just looking to get angry. There is another thread about a landscape plan right now in which the OP is getting an unbelievable amount of free professional landscape advice - there aren't any other forums where that would happen.

  • rhodium

    From the OP, "Any advice about how to deal with the lawn fanatics or is there something wrong with us?"

    He got plenty of direct advice on the topic (i.e be self confident in your decision), so it was informative. Maybe some advice he could have been given while he was here was still here was some stats on herbicide/pesticides in run-off and the how emmissions from lawn equipment are not regulated yet.

  • bahia

    Actually lawn equipment emissions are starting to be regulated here in California, with new mowers required to be less smog emitting than what was on the market. California with its nearly 40 million population and reknowned smog problems has often taken the lead in regulating smog emitting equipment. I am not in the lawn care business, but I don't see the same trend towards massive use of herbicides/pesticides here on maintaining lawns, at least here in the San Francisco Bay Area. It seems more people are tolerant of mixed lawn grasses being the default lawn, and as long as they stay reasonably green, they are tolerable. The biggest issue here is related to water usage, and large lawns are inherently going to use more water than any other type of garden planting in our climate, with a 6 to 7 month long dry season.

    In my own town of Berkeley, it is so full of examples of different garden styles that don't have any lawn, that we tend to take it for granted that one is free to do their own thing garden wise. It would sound ridiculous to hear someone say they felt criticized for not having a lawn, but instead would sound more like the OP was inclined to want to hear complements about their wisdom in their choices.

    People who tend to spend a lot of money on their landscaping around here usually try to be less conspicuous about it, and tend to keep things more private and less visible from the street. It may be a function of our smaller lot sizes here, and the need to create private areas both front and back to accomodate everything; big front yards of lawn open to the street for public view, with interconnecting lawns across property lines are not the norm here, and a complete waste of space for most modern families. Since we also have a strong latin/spanish influence on garden design here for historical and climatic reasons, walled gardens at the street actually make a lot of sense here, and at least here in Berkeley, are perfectly acceptable both socially and environmentally. And what goes on behind closed doors/tall walls needn't be concerned with the neighbor's feelings...

  • inkognito

    This question has generated more responses than all the posted question over the past few months put together so it may be constructive to understand why.

    Sean had a suspect motive but touched a nerve for which it was not necessary to attack him personally because this may be the way to stimulate an otherwise turgid forum. It brought out articulate responses from plant experts (David) and "what do you want to do here" experts (Andrew) we even aroused the dead diva so it can't be all bad.

    Do designers like the three I have mentioned above think beyond lawn with flowering cherry in the middle?

    I friggin' hope so . (in red, LARGE)

  • laag

    There were no personal attacks. Only the motive was questioned.

    There were lots of references to "spirited debates" that are completely missing from the thread. There are references to the opposing point of view which also seems to be missing from the thread.

    The thread is called "lawn fanatics on the attack" then the OP writes "None of our neighbors are assaulting us or arriving on our doorstep with torches".

    Then several people act like the OP was abused? Maybe I live in a different hardiness zone or something, but I don't get it. I re-read the thread over and over and I don't see any of it.

  • Embothrium

    Well then we better come up with some!

  • scarletdaisies

    I think the title was a pun because of so many bitter obsessively normal types, but the original poster said he didn't have that as of yet. It sounded to me like he was surprised.

    Instead of arguing what you may have thought he said and scaring the poor man off for good, why not make normal conversation about lawnless landscaping?

    I would have loved to seen the ideas!

  • amili

    Apparently there is a lot of passion lurking in the grass or the lack there of.

  • rain2fall

    Good idea, amili. Why not start a thread asking for lawnless ideas and pictures of what GW peeps have done.


  • Frankie_in_zone_7

    A pun???? My word!

  • clg7067

    Darn, I really wanted to see a photo. :(

  • botann

    I took out most of my lawn this summer by spraying it with Roundup and then covering it with woodchips. I like the improved contrast woodchips gives the landscape. Much more than a lawn.


  • holleygarden Zone 8, East Texas

    botann - that is just stunningly beautiful! So colorful! Oh, how I wish I could grow more conifers!

    This thread had not really interested me because to have a lawn or not is, to me, just a personal choice. But I do think that rain2fall's idea of starting a new thread with options for those that wish to do so is a good one.

    Thanks for sharing, Botann. Has anyone else 'gone lawnless'?

  • Embothrium

    St. Helens must have had another eruption.

  • Central_Cali369

    Botann, I agree, the woodchips look much more appealing than a strip of lawn to me.

    I also went lawnless this summer. It was a personal choice. I am now using a lot of drought tolerant plants and succulents like tree aloes, some agaves, furcraea, beschorneria... Since most of the plants were planted in May and June, they are not at their mature size.

    I've been torn between wanting to share and not sharing for fear of criticism. Anyway, here goes nothing:

    This is a general view of the south end of the yard. The patio was pre-existing, as were the queen palm and some trees on the far left.
    This is what the same area use to look like in May 2008

    Thse are some succulents. I really like the color combination of the blue agave gypsophila & the Euphorbia Tirucalli. Some of the Aloes here will eventually grow into small trees (Aloe Pluridens and Aloe Alooides)

    This is the view as you stand on the patio and look towards the awkward 45 degree angled corner.

    There you go! Have at it, but be gentle please.

  • laag

    What's not to like? You put your patio into the landscape instead of just ... out there in the middle of nowhere.

    Anyone else feel like the before picture is drawing you to be interested in what is beyond the wall (in a negative way) and the after picture makes you content to "stay" in within the yard?

    Definitely an improvement.

  • cyn427 (z. 7, N. VA)

    Botann, love your wood chips and those trees-wow! Your garden and patio look wonderful, central cali!

  • rhodium

    These are great examples of lawnlessness (is that a word?). But that doesn't mean that grass is evil just one of many options to consider in what the space is to be used for and the functionality of the plants. Grass is the only plant that can take a beating and keep on being happy, and it's easy to grow. If taking a beating is not a desired goal for an area, like you will not be planning on playing in that area or riding bikes on it, then alternative plants are an option.

    One issue with the anti-lawn people is that it's black or white issue to them. Synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, excessive watering, and pesticides are viewed as evil and a source of runoff pollution of watersheds and exposure, so that the way to stop that is to stop the lawn.

  • laag

    I fully agree with Rhodium.

    Also, lawn is a stress on resources in some regions and where, when, and for what purposes it should be used for. It is not such a stress in other regions such as ours.

  • holleygarden Zone 8, East Texas

    Rhodium's right. It's just a choice, and sometimes grass is the best choice. Sometimes not.

    Central Cali, your landscape is much improved. So colorful! So interesting! I could sit on your patio and look at the plants for hours. Congratulations.

  • Central_Cali369

    Thanks for the comments. Holleygarden, I do it all of the time! haha. A lot of the plant material I'm using is very young and will take some time to fill in. Most of the succulents actually look better this time of year when the cold temperatures come our way because they get awesome colorations. Take Aloe Cameronii for example, it will turn a bright red when stressed by cold or drought. Plus, I got to expand the "plantable" space in my yard. I am now growing lots of plants that I didn't have room for before. Arbutus Marina, Agave Vilmoriniana, Aloe Littoralis, Aloe marlothii, Aloe arborescens... those are only some of them. I can't wait to see what my yard evolves into.

    I agree with Rhodium as well. We thought we would need a lawn at the time we installed it. We would always have friends and family over, and we love to have a good barbeque, so we figured a lawn would be the best option. It turns out, we opted for eating indoors a majority of the time because it was either too hot or too cold outside! lol (our summer temperatures can easily reach 115F and more). Even if we ended up eating outside, we would stay under the ramada (to the right of the pictures above). It's been about 4 years since that. It was always such a hassle to mow the lawn, fertilize it, water dry spots... all for looks, since we hardly gave it its intended use. This summer was the last straw for me. The pressing drought issues along with what i've already mentioned made me take the lawn out. It was a rather slow process since I took out pieces as I had the money to replant the bare spots. Plus, I added some mounds here and there to give my aloes good drainage. Like laag mentioned, it makes you content to stay in the garden. And we use the area even more now that the lawn is gone!

  • scarletdaisies

    Those are nice! The patio photos were great, with tons of different plants. Looks very time consuming, but all of that in only one year! I think it would take about 5 or 6 for me to get any organization at all with all the varieties. At least we get to see and hear about some great lawnless ideas. Someone researching for lawnless styles will find this in the search and at least it will be useful.

  • lazy_gardens

    I love centralcali's after pic, and when the stuff matures a bit it will be awesome.

    The before pic makes the patio look like a helicopter landing pad.

  • rusty_blackhaw

    Oddly, there seem to be no lawn fanatics at all in my neighborhood, despite this part of the lower Midwest having optimal rain and other climatic conditions to nurture bluegrass-based lawns. We are friends with our closest neighbor who has a lawn crew come in weekly to fertilize and groom her lawn; she never complains about our chemical-less pasture with its mix of species including violets and dandelions.

    At the present rate of planting, non-grass species will totally replace our lawn sometime around 2097, though I may not be around to see this outcome.

    From the OP:

    "Our garden was designed by a well known, licensed landscape architect recognized for his minimalist designs. Our problem is not with our garden or its design, it is with our neighbors and those who pass by. "

    Obviously the best solution here is to take out the present garden and replace it with a square of lawn. The homeowners achieve a true minimalist design and the neighbors are happy.

    It is nice to see postings from the LD forum crew after all this time.

    "Weirdos, deviants and dissidents"

    Oh my! :)

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