Book Review of Lawn Gone: Attractive Alternatives to Lawn


While I love having a minimalist patch of organic lawn in my backyard for the cats and chickens to run around on, as a landscape designer I am thoroughly “over” using lawn as the default option.

It takes more maintenance, fertilizer, and water than just about anything else in the landscape, yet it gives nothing back to wildlife, has little character, and in many cases, is nothing more than a sad-looking expanse for neighborhood dogs to decorate. I’ve never walked past a lawn and been wowed. At best, lawn acts as a neutral space which helps to highlight the beauty of the landscaping around it.

There’s really no competition as to which I’d rather see: a lawn or any style of landscaped bed. Even the most pedestrian combinations of hardscape with plantings still draw my eye, make me think, and increase my feeling of connection to my neighborhood and to the natural world.

That’s why I’m so excited about my friend Pam Penick’s new book Lawn Gone: Low-Maintenance, Sustainable, Attractive Alternatives for Your Yard. Pam’s a landscape designer in Texas who’s written a complete design guide full of inspiring ideas and practical how-to for reducing or eliminating lawn in your front or back yard.

LAWN mixed species lawn after p 17_Rebecca Sweet

She starts out by sharing a number of different possibilities for how you could re-landscape of garden area without using lawn. I mean, in most gardens lawn takes up a huge amount of space. What do you put there? Can you afford to make the change? Pam goes into the details of how to design with lawn alternatives such as no-mow grasses, groundcovers, and small perennials or shrubs, then delves into hardscaping such as patios and pathways.

One of my favorite sections is the one on incorporating ponds, play spaces, and other fun features into your lawn-free landscape. LAWN Moss Garden image p 39The second section goes into the practical matter of how exactly to remove your lawn, prepare your beds, plant, and maintain your new space. Pam’s coming from an environmentally-friendly perspective, so while she does mention Roundup as a last-ditch alternative for people with terribly invasive varieties of lawn, the rest of the solutions are safe for pets and kids as soon as the power equipment shuts down.

The third section is one of the most useful to me personally as a landscape designer, which is how to contend with skeptical neighbors, HOAs and city codes, and other issues surrounding the politics and safety of going lawnless. I’m lucky enough to serve on a design review board which is exceptionally encouraging about going lawn-free, using low-water plants, and choosing natives, but many homeowners have irresponsible HOAs or city codes which require the use of lawn or even outlaw native plants. Pam’s tips on how to work with any obstacles you may come across are realistic and helpful.

The book finishes up with some plant recommendations for all of the different areas in the United States. Because planting advice is best when it’s regional, Pam enlisted the help of a number of professional designers around the country to give plant suggestions which truly work. I can vouch for both the California and the Pacific Northwest plant ideas.

While each region only has about five plants suggested, they are practical picks and there’s enough detail given on how to actually use the plants that the section is helpful in getting started. You could take the list to your local nursery and use it as a starting point for discussion with your local professionals to give them an idea of what types of plants you’re looking for.

Chapter 11Because Pam is a landscape designer, the strength of the book is truly in the design inspiration she provides. Every page has photos, and many of them are full-on landscape shots which actually give you an idea of how you might design your garden. The photos are from a number of regions and a number of designers, and show creative ways of using gravel, stone, and recycled materials such as urbanite (reused concrete) in harmony with plantings. Once again, if I were a homeowner wanting ideas for my garden, I’d use the suggestions given as a jumping off point to discover my tastes.

After you see in the book’s photos that you like decomposed granite or urbanite, you could go on Pinterest or do a Google image search to find more ideas along those lines.

Photos reprinted with permission from Lawn Gone! Low-Maintenance, Sustainable, Attractive Alternatives for Your Yard by Pam Penick (Ten Speed Press, 2013).

188 responses to “Book Review of Lawn Gone: Attractive Alternatives to Lawn”

  1. What a FABULOUS giveaway!!! I’m a huge fan of Digging and am looking forward to reading your blog more!! I drool over Annie’s and am dying to order some Tapioca trees from them when they are in stock. Here’s to hoping for a win 🙂

  2. I got rid of all my lawn 10 years ago but I’m always looking for new ideas for my clients.

  3. now Annie’s could really help me to replace this lawn of mine… must read up on all the good ideas… thanks for the chance…

  4. I killed my lawn and am about to plant so I’d love love love to win this prize! Annie’s has the most beautiful, interesting plants!

  5. I’m very interested in re-landscaping our 3/4 acre of suburbia to take out much of the lawn, particularly the front yard. This would be great.

  6. No matter where you live or what your garden conditions are, you can have a beautiful space with no lawn! I LOVE Annie’s!!!!

  7. This book has been on my wishlist for ages. Thanks for the great review. I’ll be getting it as soon as possible. I would love to be entered for the gift certificate for Annie’s Annuals. Thanks so much!

  8. So excited about this giveaway. Have wanted to get rid of my lawn in the front for some time, but wasn’t too sure of alternatives. Always looking for new plants for full sun areas.

  9. I’m thoroughly over lawns too. The alternatives are just way more interesting. Thanks for helping to promote this idea.

  10. I’m inspired by Pam’s book, and the gift certificate from Annie’s would sure help me replace my lawn, which died from extended drought, extremely hot summers, and watering restrictions!

  11. Would love to replace my lawn with less maintenace, attractive alternatives! Can’t wait to read the book! And of course I want to win the shopping spree at Annie’s!

  12. I love Annie’s Annuals. I buy new stuff from there every year. I actually bought Pam’s book just last week, and I love it, it’s a great resource for anyone thinking about replacing their lawn.

  13. Lawn Gone! provides so much inspiration for all types of gardens and all regions, I found lots of great ideas for my own garden changes.

    Annies! What a nice giveaway.

  14. I purchased some special poppies from Annie’s Annuals last year for an area of the garden where we removed lawn years ago. Several years ago we reduced the lawn to 3 large circles and then gradually changed those to a crop circle and two circles of Carex that need no type of lawn maintenance.

  15. As a designer who works for families with children I find lawn to be an extremely important groundcover in the landscape. There are few groundcovers that work as well as a surface for playing on.
    I believe the key in using lawn is knowing how to choose the best species for your climate so that excessive water is not required and educating the groundskeeper how to maintain it in a organic way so as to not create a fertilizer sink hole.
    Traditional lawn species used as a negative space platform for a surrounding landscape can easily be replaced with taller growing , less water using species such as red fescue or be completely reinvisioned to use a low growing , low water use groundcovers such as dymondia, carex or arctostaphylos.
    We have a growing problem in our society with obesity and lack of exercise. If you take away the small residential lawn you are eliminating one potential surface for a game of tag, frisbee and ball type games .
    Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, all lawns are not environmentally poor choices and I am looking forward to Pam’s book to see the variety of choices that she is recommending for those who still have kids and 4 legged family members who enjoy outdoor play on a soft , green, easy to maneuver on surface.

  16. Yes to low-maintenance and drought-tolerant plants! With your help, my yard will soon be history (I hope)!!!

  17. Currently, our lawn is a mix of clover, various drought-tolerant plants some might refer to as “weeds”, and some scant grass in a shaded section. It is fairly lush during the summer, and is fairly child- and dog-tolerant as well. It works for us at this time (although we should mow it more frequently, as our blade takes a beating if mows are more than 3 wks).

  18. I agree that lawn is nice for dogs and kids, but my green weeds mixed with some grass works just fine for that

  19. I love Annie’s! You can order online and the plants come very well packaged and happy. I’m currently trying to replace my front lawn with a meadow. It’s hard work.

  20. I’m currently trying to replace my front lawn with a native plant meadow. Getting rid of weeds like oxalis is hard work. Annie’s has a great website, too, full of garden eye candy!

  21. I just took out some grass/weeds and put in a bed. It is only about 3’x5′ but it’s a start. I am interested in Pam’s book (especially how to get the lawn out) and some annies Annuals for the new bed….some vines up the fence and perhaps some alpine strawberries on the ground….asters for later in the summer…..hhmmmm

  22. My lawn’s been gone for years yet Pam’s advice and encouragement are still a balm to me; check her blog regularly! And to win something from the Famous Annie’s would be a treat!

  23. I love gardening, but I need a lot of help with landscape design. This book would be perfect for me!

  24. My lawn is dead after extended drought, excessively hot summers, and watering restrictions. I’m inspired by Pam’s book, and the gift certificate from Annie’s would be a big help!

  25. I am just about to make the leap to eliminate the front lawn. I can’t decide to go with the new no mow grasses or drought tolerant perennials. This new book looks like a good addition to the library of lawn alternatives. And, who doesn’t love Annies?

  26. I’m in the process of removing some of my lawn in the back yard. Then I’ll move on to the side yard and the front yard. Everything in it’s own time…it just takes patience.

  27. This Flower Floozie would love love love an Annie’s gift certificate! Btw-my birthday is next week…

  28. I would love a gift cert to Annie’s. I have ordered from them a few time and everything is delightful. I will be ordering Pam’s book because I really want to remove my yard! It would be so awesome!

  29. Annie’s Annuals is fantastic! My lawn is long gone. For those of us living in Southern California, a lawn makes no sense except perhaps as a place for children to play on when they are young. I will look at book for ideas for my garden – always looking for more inspiration.

  30. Pam’s book sounds like a wonderful resource for gardeners~She’s been an inspiration to me for many years and I am thrilled that her book is getting some great press. I am also thrilled to have a chance to win a gift certificate from Annie’s Annuals~!!

  31. We are in the SLOW process of removing our lawn a little at a time. I am very excited to read this book. Thank you for sharing.

  32. Genevieve, I can’t wait to see more of your garden. Meanwhile, thank you for hosting this giveaway. I’ve always wanted to order from Annie’s Annuals !

  33. Would like to check the book out. Pam’s blog is great! I’m starting a vegetable garden in my front yard.

  34. Would like to check the book out. Pam’s blog is great! I’m starting a vegetable garden in my front yard.

  35. The only fond memories I have of lawns center around my dad. It was his passion and I can see him now, out there in Bermuda shorts, mowing it. But that was then, this is now. I keep expanding my flower beds, and have two areas that I dug up last year and this, that need many more plants. I look forward to it! Thanks for the book and the contests! Great fun.

  36. This book looks great.
    I definitely want to check it out.
    I want to redo my front yard and could use all the info I can get.

  37. I think I’m going to have to share this book with a friend who is a new homeowner with a large yard. I might even get her something from Annie’s to get her started if I win! 🙂

  38. I don’t leave many comments these days, but I absolutely could not pass up a chance to win an Annie’s gift certificate! I was just there last weekend and feel spoiled to live within driving distance. We are in the process of getting rid of our lawn(s) and the front one is already done. Now we just need more plants 🙂

  39. I need to learn more about ground coves for my yard ! I’ll bet Pam’s book will have some useful suggestions. And I would love to win a gift certificate from Annie’s.

  40. Oh, yes, I’d love to have this book. I spent the winter digging up “lawn” that had grown in drifted dirt on part of my gravel parking area. Now that was fun! The thin dirt layer was easy but the 6″ of packed gravel was a challenge. It’s done now, filled with dirt and compost, and ready for planting

  41. Though one of those subject to the strictures of a homeowners’ association, I’ve found them surprisingly amenable in recent years. It helps to reduce the lawn areas gradually instead of ripping every bit of grass out at once!

  42. My lawn is dying as we speak and getting ready for some low water beautification. I am so excited. Thank you for some wonderful ideas and would love some help finishing up the project. Katy B

  43. Lawn – yes consumes time March – October , yet gives back to us with it’s lovely GREEN. Significantly smaller than when we moved here, but large enough for bocce ball or croquet and a picnic gathering. If all the lawn was gone where would we play?

    Hubby mowed on Sunday for 1st time this season. Would love the fun Annie’s plants to attract more hummingbirds and keep hubby entertained while mowing.

  44. Hi Gen! I’m a huge fan of Pam Digging and Annie’s Annuals! If you’re going to replace lawn with with a new garden, Annie’s Annuals has an amazing selection this year! The hardest part is knowing what to choose. 🙂

  45. I’m excited for this new book. I need inspiration for my back yard as we replace the sad sod and plantings that don’t thrive here.

  46. I no longer have a lawn since I opted to have a native wildlife garden and a vegetable garden. Yes, I know those two don’t go together but now that the deer don’t get into the veggies everything is working wonderfully. Would love to find something from Annie’s that would work down here in the piney woods of east Texas.

  47. Sounds like a great book. I have a brick patio that I’d love to tear out and replace with some Pt. Molate fescue from Annie’s. They are a great nursery.

  48. We still have a patch of lawn for our ducks and for our dog to pee on…priorities, right? But I really prefer more room to plant ornamentals, so would love to read this book. Here’s hoping I win a gift card. Thanks.

  49. Thanks for sharing the new book. We are having to remove a large tree that died, so we are going to rethink our front yard. I am going to order this book for some inspiration.
    I love Annie’s too; I love all the variety and her plant lists that help with difficult garden situations.

  50. Thanks for the knowledge, I haven’t used Annie’s yet, but I look forward to it.

  51. I’m a big fan of Annie’s and make a point to go there at least once each growing season (spring, summer, fall).
    As for lawns: after visiting Massachusetts in the summer, I discovered areas that restrict watering in the summer as they have to protect their water courses/water supply. Ironically, there is plenty of grass although it often browns out by late summer. The soil is very sandy and free draining owing to glacial activity eons ago, leaving gardeners to keep ornamental plantings to a minimal or seek out drought tolerate material. Not at all what I expected. I also have to admit that I found the uninterrupted masses of green fields restful, returning to my wonderful California garden and finding it somewhat overwrought by comparison.

  52. I love this concept; your ideas and pictures are wonderful in this short blog. Can’t wait to get my hands on your books. I’m too am hoping to be shopping at Annie’s, an awesome spot.

  53. I live on a farm, so lawn is a relative term. The grazing sheep eat whatever dares to grow outside a fenced area and the chickens and sheep together fertilize the ground. Rain provides the only source of water for the grasses and other plants. In my small landscaped area, I’m choosing ground covers and edible landscaping.

  54. I am looking forward to reading Pam’s book and seeing how it differs from Evelyn Hadden’s on the same topic. I have been to Pam’s first garden and she is a very gifted garden designer. Anyone who’s read her blog knows she can write. It is about time more people started thinking just why they have a lawn.

  55. We say we got rid of our front lawn. Unfortunately, it had either ideas and we’re not the kind of gardeners who keep on top of these things. (Am hoping that the overcast weather returns tomorrow so I can attack part of it, and determine which of the seedlings are poppies and which are weeds in the center flower bed.) We could’ve used this book 5 years ago!

  56. book looks great…and love the giveaway…Huge fan of Annie’s Annuals…i would have no problem using the gift certificate!

  57. I have no idea why someone would want a lawn? Its a toxic mess to truely try keeping it weed free. I relish looking at Pams book and I welcome any visit to Annies Annuals for solutions. love that place.

  58. LOVE the organic, free flowing feel to Pam’s garden ideas. Gardens should always be a santuary, where one can restoreone’s spirit. Pam achieves this and more 🙂 With the help of Annie’s, everyone’s gardens can become more of a santuary for the mind and spirit 🙂

  59. This is definitely going on my wishlist. I’ve got a project I’m doing for a client right now and it looks like it’s got some wisdom to share on the subject. And if I win the drawing I’ll be getting it sooner than later. Thanks for the opportunity!

  60. Very, very interesting..a new-be at this stuff and really appreciate your web-site, newsletter and blog. Thanks for being so generous. Looking forward to the book and more stuff…I do enjoy a very green and manicuered lawn, as long as it’s not to big and taking away from the landscape. Thanks again! John

  61. Loved this article, and am planning to tear out our small front lawn, and put in something more long-lasting – your suggestions are so creative. We enjoy wandering around Annie’s to check out all the options, and have lots of veggies growing in our Hercules backyard.

  62. Sounds like a great book and blog.
    Love Annie’s as well. I’ve been going there for years!

  63. I look forward to reading and seeing the book. I have a small lawn, but changing it so I didn’t have to mow would be great.

  64. My lawn is becoming a quilt as each year more disappears to become something else – an herb bed, an asparagus patch an Annie’s Annual Place. Would love to learn more, incorporate more local natives and to grow my collection of Annie’s gifts of colourful annuals and perennials.

  65. I am excited to see this book come out! We do need less lawns and more productive space, or at least space that doesn’t suck up so much water.

  66. I love what you said about keeping the little bit of lawn just for the cats and chickens although I must admit, mine is getting smaller by the year. I don’t doubt that with Pam’s ideas, another few inches will be removed this year.

  67. I love Annie’s – it’s like going to a shoe store full of fabulous footwear, only with plants. I can’t leave there without more plants than I went for!
    I would love to convince clients to get rid of lawn; luckily, my last two didn’t want any at all…

  68. Love the no mow lawn, i have only seen that one other time on Yard Crashers. We moved in ten years ago and removed all the side and backyard grass the first month and i have been gardening for wildlife ever since and bonus i never have weeds. Then enlarged the front gardens leaving only 800 square feet of grass. It takes longer to get the lawn mower out then to actually mow. won’t have it any other way.

  69. I have been trying to talk my husband into this concept for about 2 yrs now. I am going to have to get Pam’s book and ease him into parts of the yard – till it is fait accompli! As for Annies, I love it – what a wonderful prize!!

  70. Building a garden incorporating herbs and veggies, and slowly encroaching on the lawn…these photos are great inspiration. Definitely want to purchase the book!

  71. Even better than the gift certificate is discovering this cool site/blog!

  72. I just found your website and really like it. I love Annie’s! Although I have already redone my lawn, I think this looks like a really good book and I will look for it locally. I am a school garden teacher, nursery office manager, horticulturist, and habitat pond specialist.

  73. Very cool! We moving into our HOA home last summer where the last owners worked on and won permission to take out the lawn. They left a patch and we’re ready to get rid of that too.
    This book looks perfect for us, love the regional help and the inspiring photos look beautiful. Thanks for the opportunity! Oh, and Annie’s ROCKS!

  74. Very cool! We moved into our HOA home last summer where the last owners worked on and won permission to take out the lawn. They left a patch and we’re ready to get rid of that too.
    This book looks perfect for us, love the regional help and the inspiring photos look beautiful. Thanks for the opportunity! Oh, and Annie’s ROCKS!

    Read more:

  75. i would love some ideas for lawn substitute…. looks like a lovely book with good ideas!

  76. Sounds like a great book, what better way to follow its teachings by buying plants at Annie’s! Thanks for this chance to win.

  77. I just have a small patch of lawn right now and am looking for ideas to see it go bye-bye and find alternatives.

  78. My next two project are a front yard lawn replacement for a client and adding a small lawn for a view plane and some critter comfort in my own back yard. I will probably not use grass though.

    Would love to get me some annie’s! Thanks for the contest!

  79. I’m a cottage gardener and feel that a small pathway through my planting beds is the best way to attack an open space. No lawns for me! My neighbors were aghast when I removed my lawn within the first week of moving in. Once they saw me plant borders around the property edges and then a center section filled with a mix of sunflowers and vegetables, they quickly lined up to ask me how they could convert their lawns. Let’s hear it for the suburban cottage garden!

  80. My husband and I planted sedum Angelina to replace our front lawn. Love the year round color.
    Thanks for the contest! Annie’s Annuals is my favorite place to visit while in the bay area!

  81. My front yard became a miniature botanical garden with 50+ South African species a few years ago. Many of them are from Annie’s Annuals. Ain’t no grass on this 50×100 foot lot in Portland, Oregon!

  82. If I got rid of my lawn, then my husband would no longer be able to grumble about mowing around the daffodils and tulips and I could have more perennials, tulips, daffodils and maybe some annuals from Annie’s Annuals too.

  83. What a wonderfully thorough book that should inspire even the most trepidatious! I LOVED getting rid of the lawn that came with my house. Doing it the “right” way was time-consuming, but I’m rewarded now with almost no weed pulling and limited returning grass. And people pull their cars over to compliment my garden! You’re so right: no one says “wow” over a lawn. My garden, populated by about 80% Annie’s finds, wows people on a daily basis. I’ll look into this book as a good housewarming gift.

  84. No need to convince me. My “lawn” has been low growing natives; manzanita, ceanothus and douglas iris for about 25 years now.

  85. I have replaced a large area of my back yard with a rock garden and succulents .
    Love it!

  86. Love the no-lawn concept and can say it has worked well for me for 20+ years!

  87. Thank you for the opportunity. It’s great reading blogs from other gardening climates.

  88. I wish I could afford to replace my lawn. I’m still working on filling the existing plant beds. I recently went to Annie’s website and put dozens of things on a wish list. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to actually be able to win some of them? Thanks for the opportunity. And thanks to Pam for some great ideas in her book!

  89. I am in the planning stages of going lawn less in my front yard. I agree lawns are a water waster and I feel I can create something more interesting to look at. I have been an Annie’s Annuals shopper for years it is my favorite nursery. I feel I would need a second job if I lived closer to it. Thank goodness it is an hour from my house. Love the unique plants she has. I am like a kid in a candy store when I visit.

  90. Backyard lawn already GONE! The drought got me started, and Pam helped me finish it.

  91. Im just learning how to garden! My fingers are crossed – since Annies looks like an amazing place

  92. Looks like a great book. I’d like to see options for big Northwest rural properties.

  93. I’ve laid down a cardboard mulch over the winter, now I’m ready to plant. I could use some help. I’d be delighted to win the Gift Certificate from Annie’s Annuals!

  94. I agree with some of the other comments. One of the hard things about pulling out lawn is the initial cost of getting the plants to fill in. Much easier to do it little by little. That’s why this is such a great giveaway.

  95. This book looks useful and inspiring. Down here in coastal southern CA , I’ve been gradually digging up my front lawn and replacing it with drought tolerant alternatives and a veggie patch.. We plan to eventually have gravel or DG paths with clumps of poppies, bulbs and some patches of groundcover. I’m a fan of the Annie’s Perennials website and ordered interesting plants from her a couple times – I’d love to make the trip up to Annie’s Perennials and finally see it in person!

  96. It really is a great book covering all the aspects of reducing lawn. Please enter me for the $50 certificate. Thanks Jenny

  97. My lawn which is mostly clover, moss and dandelions, gets smaller every year as I expand my borders continually. Would love to have some of Annie’s annuals to fill in gaps!

  98. What a great resource. We’re in the process of getting rid of our front lawn. (And I LOVE Annie’s.)

  99. I still have a little lawn, which the kids really us, but have my eye on it as more space for flowers, ounces the kids are grown. And I adore Annie’s!!!

  100. I refuse to water my lawn and now that there are only a few living patches left I am looking for ideas to give my front yard new life and to show up my scowling neighbors!

  101. I haven’t completely gotten rid of my lawn, but it’s going bit by bit.

    I always enjoy reading the Digging blog. How exciting that Pam now has her book out!

  102. Sounds like a great book. Have not used Annies before but would love to for our new front yard – in progress….thanks for the giveaway.

  103. Wow, fabulous blog! I’m in Portland, Oregon (hi, neighbor down south!) and am a big fan of no lawns (easy to see ideas here in Portland). Don’t have any lawn myself, and keep on adding more plants as I remove more and more concrete surfaces and discovering what my garden can become. Love Annie’s too, great prize!

    Thank you for hosting the giveaway, and thanks for your great blog!

  104. Just starting to get rid of part of my lawn … will always need some for the dogs to use … but want to dramatically reduce it. Cheers!

  105. Annie’s ROCKS!!! If you are ever in the SF Bay area you have to go. The $50 gift certificate would definitely help my Annie’s addiction. 🙂

  106. I always like to check the pictures and plant selections for the lawnless landscape although I must admit that I do like grass. At my own home my backyard does get a little smaller every season. Very challenging for a traditional low budget design so my veggie garden also doubles as a cutting carden. For now it’s lilies, glads, and zinnias…

    …but I’m sure with $50 additional in the spring budget I could add some variety! LOL!

    As always, good reading and inspiration. Even mild Ohio winters are dreadful for bloom people. It’s coming, I do see signs of life out there!

  107. My crabgrass lawn needs this kind of inspiration – thanks for offering the giveaway!

  108. We add new garden beds/planted areas to our three acres every year. We used perennials and small shrubs near the house, but plan on using larger shrubs and small trees further out. Would love the gift certificate to add some unusual plants to the mix!

  109. I have yet to get my hands on Pam’s book but I know it’s going to be fantastic. I’ve followed her blog for years and have found it to be such an inspiration. I expand my flower beds every year and fully expect to have grass paths by the time I retire 🙂

  110. Thanks for a great giveaway! I cannot wait to replace our lawn!

    bvbabybv at gmail dot com

  111. This Texan loves Annie’s! I’d REALLY appreciate $50 worth of plants for my new backyard! Thanks for the opportunity!