Garden Designers Roundtable: From lawn to Sedum, clover, bare soil and erosion!

Garden Designers Roundtable: From lawn to Sedum, clover, bare soil and erosion!
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The Garden Designers Roundtable invited the Lawn Reform Coalition to be their guest blogger(s) this month, combining forces to publish 19 articles about Lawn Replacement on the same day, and linking to each other. Great idea, designers!  Scroll down for the links to those 18 other blog posts, including one on my other blog, showing off the much more successful lawn replacement project in my front garden.

From lawn to Sedum to mostly clover.

This is the still-in-progress lawn replacement saga in my back garden, a hillside with about 6 hours of sun.  I’m here to tell you that finding the right plant or mix of plants that’ll meet these requirements is anything but easy:

  • Require NO maintenance after they’ve settled in.
  • Be short enough to, like a lawn does, let me see over it into the borders and woods beyond, and let me drag the garden hose over it, too.
  • Cover the ground quickly and with enough thickness to keep the soil from running downhill during downpours.
  • If more than one species, they have to play well together – not kill any neighboring plants.

Okay, those are the goals.  Here’s what’s really happened, in a nutshell.  I dug up the turf, enlarged the borders, and replaced what was left of the lawn area with a Sedum that grows here as a weed and spreads quickly (S. sarmentosum, sometimes identified as S. acre) – which it did in one season.  I underplanted it with early-spring bulbs, tossed self-sowing Alyssum here and there, and allowed just a few annual wildflowers to remain – like Pennsylvania smartweed and wild violet.  Loved it!

Then I got the brilliant idea of seeding some Dutch white clover here and there across the space, which had some unintended consequences (reported in My Falling out with Clover). To wit: unmowed, it got so tall it shaded and then killed the Sedum.

I considered ditching the Sedum and having an all-clover lawn – it looks gorgeous, blooms all season, and the bees LOVE the stuff.  But here’s the problem with that: the smell of clover attracts deer from seemingly miles away (I later learned that hunters use it to lure them).  So thanks to clover, my minor deer problem became a major one.

 Today, some Sedum, but lots of bare soil and erosion damage.  UGLY!

So starting last fall, I began removing (by hand, mind you) all the clover, which seemed like a whole lotta work, ’til this season I realized I had at least twice that much clover to remove still, thanks to its generous seeding qualities.  Oh, my aching back.

But no problem – I filled in the where the clover once grew with extra bits of the Sedum I found growing here and there on the property, and told myself and my doubting visitors that the whole space would fill in, I was betting, by mid-summer – coz this plant is so vigorous, you know.  Except that apparently in the 95-to-100-degree heat we experienced here from early June through mid-August, the Sedum not only didn’t spread; it retreated!

So all summer I’ve been anxiously looking at mostly bare soil, which is A, ugly, and B, erosion damage just waiting to happen, which finally did happen a few days ago when a crashing downpour sent large quantities of soil sliding down the hill.  And the storm season us far from over.


I haven’t given up on this particular Sedum covering the area and once again performing splendidly, as it did pre-clover. Just look at how well it’s covered ground here on either side of the sidewalk.  That little strip of soil between the sidewalk and the fence was all-weeds-all-the-time until the Sedum took over.  Then across the sidewalk, it’s the perfect groundcover in the hell strip.

But back to the hillside that’s washing away.  Even with milder, more encouraging temperatures over the next few weeks, there’s just not enough of the Sedum left to cover all that bare soil any time soon.  A friend suggested terracing – a big job – and I’m considering planting a cover crop.  Another option is to cover the space temporarily with Liriope spicata, which I have access to plenty of, for free.  It’s soooo boring, I know, but damn, it holds a hillside like nothing else.

Your suggestions, please?

(A more complete history of this lawn replacement conversion is here – scroll down to the back yard.)

Now check out posts about lawn replacement from these Lawn Reform Coalition members:

  • Evelyn Hadden in Saint Paul, MN
  • Saxon Holt in Novato, CA
  • Ginny Stibolt in Green Cove Springs, FL
  • Susan Morrison in East Bay, CA
  • Shirley Bovshow in Los Angeles, CA
  • Billy Goodnick in Santa Barbara, CA
  • Susan Harris in Takoma Park, MD – yes, it’s me again on my individual blog updating the mix of groundcovers I’m trialing in my small (and level) front yard.

And these members of the Garden Designers Roundtable:

  • Scott Hokunson in Granby, CT
  • Rochelle Greayer in Boston, MA
  • Rebecca Sweet in Los Altos, CA
  • Pam Penick in Austin, TX
  • Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber in Bristol, UK
  • Laura Liven Good Schaub in San Jose, CA
  • Jocelyn Chilvers in Denver, CO
  • Ivette Soler in Los Angeles, CA
  • Genevieve Schmidt in Arcata, CA
  • Douglas Owens-Pike in Minneapolis, MN
  • Debbie Roberts in Stamford, CT


Posted by

Susan Harris
on August 22, 2011 at 9:02 pm, in the category Lawn Reform.


    • Jen Sanborn
    • 12th November 2016

    Have you tried some of the easy care, low water, lawn replacements like thyme or buffalo grass or veronica that are shown in High Country Gardens? It’s a fantastic garden website and catalog!

    • DAY
    • 12th November 2016

    Lamium makes a nice, “no care” groundcover in shady areas. I have it beneath the chestnut trees.

    • admin
    • 13th November 2016

    What about enlarging your stone path to 2′ – 3′ wide and then letting the lambs ear spread out from the beds to meet it? It would probably coexist with swaths of sedum if you knocked each back into line a couple times a year (both pull up pretty easily). Lambs ear is low and doesn’t mind a little hose dragging from time to time.

    • ST
    • 14th November 2016

    Having good luck with dymondia and rupturewort. They’re melding together nicely and I think the silvery tones in the dymondia look cool with the bright green, lumpy mounds of the rupturewort. Rupturewort is slow growing, but seems to be pretty stout as it fills in. Both can take some foot traffic.

    • John
    • 15th November 2016

    If you’re serious about erosion than you’re choosing the wrong plants. It’s not about what’s above the soil, it’s about the depth of the roots. Nothing has deeper roots than clumping grasses. Nothing will stabilize soil faster but they don’t give you the look you’re wanting and they prefer more sun. Also keep in mind that most of the plants with long roots only have that advantage while in their active growing season, while dormant even turf grasses’ roots shrink back.

    • Scott Hokunson
    • 15th November 2016

    Susan, it looked so beautiful in the first photo, sorry to hear of your travails. I didn’t realize the deer attracting qualities of white clover either until a friend asked me to seed a wooded area in his back yard for just that purpose.

    • Kathy Ormiston
    • 15th November 2016

    As a maintenance gardener I have become very skeptical of many ground covers used as lawn replacements. Thyme, for example, looks good about a month out of the year then it gets weedy and ratty looking.

    • Genevieve
    • 16th November 2016

    Susan, that’s great info that white clover attracts deer, I never knew! Thanks for sharing your trials and insights along the way.

    • Frank Hyman
    • 16th November 2016

    Susan, you are on the right track using the native sedum and small bulbs for your Lawnlet. (I might add some fall and winter blooming small bulbs too–check Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in tidewater VA)

    • Susan in the Pink Hat
    • 16th November 2016

    Your post highlights one of the best reasons why some gardeners feel hesitant about replacing their lawn. They don’t know what will work to replace all the jobs that the lawn does. It is easier when the space will not be walked on at all is ornamental. When it needs to be low growing, able to sustain some traffic, and if it’s in shade, heaven help you. Have you considered looking into the repertoire of native forest plants for ideas? There might be something growing in there that would do the job without making it a deer magnet. Whatever you do, keep fighting.

    • Shirley Bovshow
    • 16th November 2016

    It’s good to see you are “still at it” and have not given up on your lawn replacement. I remember the saga from a couple of years back and the area has come a long way. Looking great!
    Shirley Bovshow “EdenMaker”

    • Kaviani
    • 16th November 2016

    Dichondra will happily fill in any space you give it, good soil or not, and is quite hardy. It may work *too* well, though. Worth a thought.

    • Katie E-P
    • 16th November 2016

    I have to go with Susan in the pink hat. It isn’t not in any way practical for me to replace my lawn right now because who knows what will grow. My neighbor just tried to do that and she’s also looking at a bunch of dirt, only our yards slope down toward the street, so she has major erosion problems.

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