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Chamomile, ivy alternatives to traditional lawn | Your own backyard

Tired of mowing? Looking for some lawn alternatives? The Romans grew not only grass but all sorts of different ground covers. They perfected the chamomile lawn, which is still a popular substitute for grass in England. The chamomile lawn thrives on neglect, sun, and poor sandy soil; you might think of trying this alternative yourself. Chamomile stays wonderfully green during drought, and looks delicate and fairy-like, even though it can take a solid tromping. Seeds are available through many mail-order seed companies.

Ivy makes a wonderful dark green ground cover and can be interspersed with plantings of bright coloured flowers. Periwinkle (Vinca minor) is a wonderful ground cover that does well in both shade and sun, though sunny areas will take longer to grow and will never look as lush. All sorts of thyme are wonderful. Woolly thyme (Thymus pseudolanuginosus) makes you want to sit on it and maybe even stroke the silvery green fuzzy foliage. Creeping juniper (juneperus horizontalis) thrives in a sunny dry place and looks like one of its common names, a “Blue Rug.” Ask your local nursery. They usually have a wide variety of ground covers and specific recommendations for your particular needs.

Henry III in the 12th century had a lawn in his cloistered garden, making it a must throughout the “Grand” houses of Europe. Medieval lawns were not clipped short as often as let to grow long and filled with herbs and flowers. These flowery meads stayed popular throughout the 14th century. You might try turning your yard into one of these meads, mowing paths your only cutting chore.

Paving is also a quick fix. By paving I don’t mean an asphalt parking lot, though extending your parking area might be in your plans. I mean taking out lawn to put in a flagstone terrace, or extending already existing house structures, like porch, deck, or patio. Your paving materials should reflect both your house and the surrounding landscape. Crushed shells are dramatic, cedar bark mulch subtle.

A pond or full-fledged swimming pool might meet your family needs. A pool with surrounding deck area can quickly eat up lawn. Excavated earth can be dumped on another unwanted lawn to create a privacy burm.

Don’t cancel out rocks, sand and gravel. Some Asian gardens consist of only these elements. Textures replace foliage for effect. The temple garden at Ryoanje consists of small groupings of rocks set on moss surrounded by swirls of raked sand. Gardens like this are designed for meditation and contemplation. They interpret nature, symbolizing the natural harmonies.

You could try your hand at the art of partere (along the ground). These are mostly two-dimensional gardens, depending on horizontal factors for their main appeal. Mazes, labyrinths and topiary, fall under this category. The tightly clipped hedging needs no lawn, just gravel to set it off.

Questions or comments? Contact columnist Pam Tempelmayr at WU

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