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Another Lawn to Garden Conversion

This lawn conversion is around the corner from the last one I showed. The lawns were similar, full sun and gently sloping, and we used a lot of the same plants, emphasizing purples, yellows, and green. It’s a bigger space, though, so things are on a somewhat bigger scale. Instead of one Chinese Pistache, we planted 3 Raywood Ash, and instead of one Plum we planted three Nyssa sylvatica. Instead of Sesleria autumnalis we used a larger grass, Lomandra ‘Breeze’, instead of fifteen Salvia nemerosa, there are twenty four. Overall though, it’s fairly similar, a plant palette we use regularly for front yards on that side of the hills — low-water, lowish-maintenance, deer-resistant, a mix of natives and other mediterranean species emphasizing purples, yellows, and green.

We covered this lawn with mulch from cutting trees in the yard and left it for six months while there was work done on the house. The mulch layer was partly to smother the lawn, but also to protect the soil from the construction workers, who always seem to park on the lawn despite efforts to dissuade them.

The original landscape didn’t have a pathway to the front door. There was one from the driveway to the door, but visitors parked at the curb and walked across the lawn. I’m not sure how that was tolerated for so many years. Visitors should have a proper way to get to the front door.

The path uses three different types of stone. The stone sleepers are flamed basalt, the fill pavers are handcut setts of black limestone, and the soldiers are tumbled granite.

As I was said at the top, this is one of our standard Contra Costa lawn conversion plant palettes. Purple and yellow/gold with mostly green foliage. Nepeta, Salvia nemerosa, Penstemon heterophyllus, and Geranium ‘Rozanne’ are the purples blooming now. Lavender and Salvia ‘Mystic Spires’ will add more purple soon. Moonshine Yarrow, Coleonema ‘Sunset Gold’, and Geum are compatible yellows. Lomandra ‘Breeze’ is a nice green backdrop, gives it a meadow-y feel. There are young shrubs in the background and of course the trees which are still getting established, but for now, while everyone is first looking and judging the lawn conversion, these are the plants they see.

The geranium and geum can be eaten by deer depending on the garden and where they are located in it. Salvia nemerosa ocassionally gets nibbled as well. I’ve never seen any of the others eaten.

That concludes lawn conversion week (month) here at DryStoneGarden. There are a lot of resources out there for people considering doing it. Davis has a thorough pdf that I was looking at recently, the latest one to catch my attention. Anyone considering it should go for it. A garden is so much better than a tired old lawn.

Lawn to Garden Conversion with a Weed Cloth Phase

This is how we usually do lawn conversions these days, a modified version of sheet mulching. Unlike the last lawn I showed, which was mostly just regular turf grass, this lawn had bermuda grass in it, a tougher beast to slay, really tenacious at fighting its way up through newspaper or cardboard. Instead of immediately sheet mulching and planting, I find it better to first cover the lawn with weed cloth and mulch for a few months — letting the Bermuda grass expend energy trying to fight up through the cloth — and then attack it wherever it makes it to the surface. It takes a little more patience, but it doesn’t add much labor or cost. It’s easy enough, once I’m ready to plant, to sweep the mulch off, pull the cloth, and finish off the Bermuda grass while I do the grading and prep for the new planting. Then, I do the new planting and put the mulch back on top of it, take the weed cloth off to use on my next project. Lawns are easy to kill, it’s the weeds in the lawn that sometimes take a little extra care.

Above is a before view from google earth, below is the lawn covered by mulch during the summer. The Bermuda grass came back especially strong at the edges, where it had roots going underneath the concrete of the front walkway and the curb. We got it pretty well by the time we finished the installation, but it still requires vigilance along the walkway.

A lot of lawn conversions involve adding a path through the new planting. This one needed steps as well.

Before and after views from a couple more angles are below. As I said in my last post, a front garden’s a lot better than a tired old lawn. (more…)

Lawn to Garden Conversion with Newspaper Mulch

This is another way of removing a lawn, smothering it with newspaper or cardboard and a thick layer of mulch. I’ve posted about this in the past, but my proselytizing is an ongoing thing; I think it’s the most efficient way to convert a lawn. Now that the drought has ended (temporarily?), I suppose people might lose interest in taking out their lawns, but so far the momentum seems to be continuing. It helps that EBMUD still has its rebate program.

We started by turning off the irrigation and letting the lawn dry out in the sun for a couple of months.

We left most of the lawn in place, but we did dig out the edge of the lawn so the mulch wouldn’t spill onto the sidewalk. I then used the dug out pieces of sod and some compost to make a berm towards the back of the planting; I put the new tree in the berm. The berm always settles a fair bit after the compost and sod decompose, but it gives a subtle bit of topography to the new planting, helping it look a little less like a former lawn. After digging out the edges, we spread about an inch of compost over the rest of the lawn and then planted directly into it. That generated another little pile of old sod, which I added to the berm.

We then covered the ground with a layer of wet newspaper, 8-12 sheets thick and overlapping by about 4 inches. I presoak the newspaper in a bucket as I go, so that it sticks together like paper maché. We then run our drip irrigation on top of the newspaper and then cover everything with mulch before the paper can dry.

A bit of the lawn manages to fight it’s way up through the layers of newspaper over the next few months, but a couple of quick maintenance visits can deal with that, plus the new plants will also suppress the old lawn as they grow in. It all takes a lot less labor than digging out the entire lawn, and the lawn and newspaper layer enrich the soil as they decompose.

The newspaper also takes advantage of the fact that roots go through it but the tops of plants do not. The poppies scattered on top of the newspaper layer can send roots down into the soil, but any existing weed seeds cannot push their way up from beneath it. Simple and efficient and so much better than mowing and watering a lawn.

Lawn Conversion with a Cover Crop Phase

This is a lawn conversion we did a couple of years ago. Usually we convert lawns by leaving the lawn in place and covering it with sheet mulch. I’ve posted about the process in the past. This one was a little different. When I first got involved, most of the lawn had already been removed by hand. The client had also decided to do a cover crop for a season to regenerate the soil. Generally, I think that by sheet mulching, the decomposing lawn will accomplish pretty much the same thing as a cover crop. But a cover crop is certainly another effective way to do it. This lawn had tired, depleted soil, and several Mulberry trees had roots everywhere that would compete with the new plants, so I’m sure the cover crop was beneficial.

We used vetch as the cover crop. We seeded it just after Thanksgiving, gave it about five months to grow, and then removed it at the end of April. There are a few ways of dealing with the vetch. Most of the research and info about it is geared towards agriculture, and my experience with it was for lawn and veggie garden projects rather than ornamental plantings. For the lawns and veggie gardens, I had tilled it directly into the soil. For this garden, to avoid disturbing the roots of the mulberry trees, we left the roots of the vetch in place and tore off the tops of the plant, chopped those tops a bit, and spread them on the surface to rot beneath the fir bark mulch. Supposedly that gives less nitrogen gain, but the layer of vetch helps retain moisture in the soil. I don’t really know, there are too many variables to conclude anything other than that the planting did well enough with this method. I’m still partial to sheet mulch and generally still recommend that method, but I’d be happy enough to do it again this way. Seeing the vetch grow throughout the winter was fun, and rolling it away in the spring went quickly and was actually kind of fun too. I was worried the vetch might reseed itself and make a mess in the new planting, but as far as I know it hasn’t been a problem. The photo below was when we were half way through removing the vetch.

Above shows the new planting with the dried out vetch hidden beneath the fir bark mulch. Below is what it looks like now after two years of growth. This, with the Bearded Iris in bloom, is the showiest the planting gets. They’re pretty much the biggest flower I know that won’t get eaten by deer. Next month there’s a fair bit of Teucrium, Linaria, and Verbena to bloom, but those make a lot of little flowers. For this garden, I like seeing the fist-sized purple flowers.

Below is the view of the garden from the other direction, starting with google earth’s view of the lawn, then the space after the lawn was dug out, with the vetch growing, and how it looks this spring.


As I said, I was worried that the vetch would reseed and make a mess the next year, so we removed the vetch bfeore it could set seed, and we also spread corn gluten seed inhibitor throughout the planting as well. I don’t know if the corn gluten made an impact or not. I use it sometimes but have never had a control group to compare and decide if it is actually effective.

As part of the new planting, we made a path and a seating area, the client had some chairs that we put around a boulder with a sawed off top. The photo above is the view from one of those chairs. So much nicer than a tired old lawn.

Lawn to Veggies, Flagstone, and Path Fines

AlamedaSideyard4:15

Unsurprisingly, we’re doing a lot of lawn-to-garden projects this year. We usually do a couple per year, but we’ve already done two so far, with several others scheduled. Most of them are primarily plant focused, but this one was more hardscape oriented. The clients actively used their lawn, unlike so many people who only walk on their lawn to mow it, so we had to replace it with something the kids could walk and play on.

AlamedaLawnBefore

It was a little strange how the grass made a lip over the edge of the front walk. Alameda’s soil is basically beach sand, so I have a feeling that the soil had drifted onto the walkway like a sand dune and then the crabgrass crept out to stabilize it. It was pretty tired-looking by the time we took it out.

AlamedaFrontBefore

The grass on this side of the entry was more of a path than a lawn, so we could use more plants. The wooden edging is unfortunately necessary to keep the dogs from kicking the mulch onto the pathway, but we should be able to take it out after the grass has been suppressed and the plants grow in. I like doing veggie beds; I leave behind an empty new bed and then come back later to find it filled with edibles and flowers.

AlamedaFront4:15

The Lawn is Gone

Lawn Converted to Low Water Plants

Just in time to stay with the topic of lawn coversions, a friend of ours in Los Angeles sent us photos of a project we helped with. He’s a former roommate of Anita’s from the years when she was in grad school; he is now married and living in Los Angeles, and he recently bought a home with one of those terrible Southern California front yard lawns. He sent us some photos, asking for a planting plan to replace it. He and his wife wanted to keep the existing citrus tree and Brugmansia, they liked lavenders and succulents, and they wanted to do the work themselves. We sent him a drawing with some big caveats about how we had never gardened in Los Angeles so he would need to double check the plant suggestions with the local nurseries.

Before

That was last winter. This week he emailed us photos of the project, now completed. We had argued for taking out the red walkway heading straight to the door. We suggested replacing it with a DG path, figuring it would be easy to install and easy to upgrade to tile or flagstone in the future. They went ahead and installed the upgraded path right away, hiring a contractor for that part of the project and doing the rest of the work themselves. Most of the plants vary from the ones we suggested (probably a good thing), but they follow the basic layout of the drawing.

The Layout We Suggested

When we named our lawn-conversion/sheet-mulch class Lawn Begone, we were joking about how sheet-mulching can have a certain magic to it, that it’s the closest thing you get to just pointing a wand at the lawn and casting some kind of goofy Harry Potter spell. This project — before and after photos appearing in our inbox, the not-quite-real quality it has because we never physically saw or visited the site, I never saw any of the work happen — takes the magic even a bit further. I’m about as skeptical of designing over the internet as I am of Harry Potter, but in this case it feels a little like we cast a spell and it worked.

Lawn-o Begone-o!!!

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