Losing the Lawn part 2 Plans and Plants
By Candy Venning
Last issue I discussed removing some or possibly all of the sod, cautioned against rototilling, encouraged working in phases and suggested having a plan.
There are a multitude of reasons for planting perennials over a monocrop of grass. In my opinion, providing some food and habitat for pollinators, including the birds who depend on them, is the best one. If you’re getting rid of the lawn to have low maintenance greenspace then I encourage looking up some plans for southern Ontario gardens or a consultation with a local landscape designer. A great garden takes patience, a few years to establish and may always be a work in progress.
Mixing groupings of perennials, grasses, groundcovers, bulbs and shrubs is best done by creating repetition. A common mistake is to buy one of everything, I’ve fallen into this trap myself and garden centres make it so easy to do so. Drifts of groundcovers in 8 or more, medium sized perennials in 5 or more, big perennials in 3 or more, give balance. This trick echoes meadows or woodlands where plants form colonies as they spread. I also like my plants to touch and mingle so they can form a dense planting matrix for preventing weeds.
Essential to any lawn conversion are ‘groundcovers’. Usually not more than a few inches high they provide a calming visual cohesion to balance larger plants and work well along pathways and sidewalk edges. Lots of choices if you have full sun; carpet junipers, creeping phlox, wild strawberry, Geranium maculatum, Hens & chicks.
Shade is a bit trickier; it requires great soil & preferably, consistent watering, because even weeds don’t like dry shade. Consider removing the lower branches of trees to allow angled light in under the canopy or, thinning healthy trees and shrubs to allow dappled light in.
Sweet woodruff, is one of the gentlest shade tolerant groundcovers. I used to suggest periwinkle but since it can be very invasive and escape to suffocate wild areas (that need the diversity for insects and birds) I don’t recommend it anymore. Kindly avoid using ivy, vigorous lamiums & definitely stay away from goutweed for the same reason.
Remember if it’s in flower when you buy it, then it’ll soon finish blooming once you’ve planted it. Robust or colourful foliage plays a more consistent role in the garden than fleeting flowers. A favourite for leaf interest is Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’, great for partial shade, slug proof and has adorable ‘forget-me-not’ type flowers.
If you have or can build the kind of great woodland soil made up of many years of leaves breaking down then you can grow Trilliums, hepatica, Trout lily, Jack-in-the-pulpit, Virginia bluebells, and native Wood ferns.
A tremendous resource guide is ‘Grow me instead’ available online or as a brochure by mail, it points out problem plants while helpfully suggesting native alternatives. Example: Lilium michaganense instead of Daylily. This tall native lily is exotic looking & attracts swallowtail butterflies & ruby throated hummingbirds.
Finally, placing a bird bath, obelisk, large urn, dry stone wall or modern sculpture in your garden are all excellent ways to give a focal point or cover a bare spot where nothing seems to grow. Happy, healthy planting everyone!