Advice requested on landscaping

We have a 100-year-old farm house, fully restored. The house itself is quite beautiful, and I’ve described it here before. But as summer looms, we’re paying more attention now to the yard. Much like the house, the yard (1-1/2 acres) is beautifully landscaped. Reseeding annuals and perennials are planted all about in pine-needle islands, lined with stones. Beautiful flowering bushes line the curved sidewalk, and dwarf spruces stand like centurions on either side of the steps, while Nandinas and Azaleas and pretty purple things (we don’t even know that they are) frame the house. The long wooden porch, complete with rockers, swing, and metal roof, is replete with hanging baskets of ivy and petunias. Window boxes and copper kettles sprout a beautiful array of annuals. Dogwood, Crepe Myrtle, Japanese Cherry, Peach, red maple, and big old oak trees are everywhere.

So what’s the problem?

Our grass. Our soil is Piedmont red clay, which retains water very well, but the trees and other plants are so plentiful that they rob the grass of nutrients. (Or so says the gardener.) About an acre is developed (the rest is woods), and the grass is spotty, and overrun with clover (and a little crab grass). The back yard is much worse than the front, and is as much red dirt as it is grass. We are told that, for about $600, which we can afford, we can make our front yard into a year-round green carpet. (On preview, I guess I should mention that we cannot afford to retain the gardener for routine maintenance. We do our own mowing, trimming, watering, and so forth. He just does the tree-cutting, some new plantings, and things like that.)

But I have mixed feelings about this. I actually LIKE the rustic look of the patchy grass. And yet, I can’t help but wonder whether good grass would look better. On the other hand, there is already more to maintain than we can really do ourselves, and the new grass will require a whole new watering regimen of its own. (We cannot afford an in-ground watering system.) Plus, there are no guarantees. The grass might well come up just as patchy as before, or at least devolve to that.

So, I guess I’m really fishing for validation of my opinion. Must every lawn look like a green carpet? Doesn’t an old farm house need a rustic lawn? Am I just trying to avoid more work or the possible disappointment of a failed seeding job? Should I stop thinking about this and start thinking about world hunger? Or what…?

Don’t listen to the lawn Nazis. Have it your own way - seriously - unless of course you live in one of those bizarre places where there are regulations stating that you have to maintain a neatly manicured lawn. I only have a small front garden, but there’s no lawn at all - just shrubs and perennials with a little path through them, made of bark chippings

Anyway, new grass won’t necessarily be a long-lasting solution - you can probably achieve a better result by yourself. Lawns need good drainage and nutrition in the top couple of inches of soil - top dressing with a mixture of sharp sand and well-rotted compost nearly always helps. Or you could go for the ‘meadow’ look - scatter some wildflower seeds around and don’t mow so frequently.

The myth of the gorgeous lawn is one of the most pernicious bits of propaganda out there. Those lovely green rolling expanses considered the ideal are – English! They have a completely different climate, for crying out loud! (And armies of gardeners to roll the lawn and cut it blade by blade.)

The look is maintained here in the states by the constant application of major chemicals and by watering – a waste of a finite resource, which, btw, merely serves to flush all those expensive – and often dangerous – chemicals into the water table. To say nothing of the labor.

If you’re okay with your patchy grass – god bless you. Honestly.

Who cares about grass? As long as it’s green and of reasonable length, it really only is the backdrop to your larger plants and trees and it sounds like you guys have that covered nicely. Perfectly manicured lawns always look a bit cold to me, clinical and unwelcoming. Keep your clover.

One of the joys of living on a large lot is that your neighbors aren’t close enough to see your lawn up close.

My lawn is mostly weeds, has a few sparse spots, and has plenty of ruts from where I turned a bit too sharply while I was mowing.

But you can’t see any of that from more then 50 feet away. It looks more or less consistent when you step back. I bet yours is like that too. If so,
there are better things to do with your time then maintaining a golf-course quality lawn. Just knock the weeds down occaisonally and let the rain water what you have.

Yes. Our southern climate (not to mention the heavy, easily compacted red clay) is not appropriate for vast expanses of grass. Basically you are fighting an uphill battle, wasting water resources, and causing chemical runoff that’s bad for wildlife.

I seed my back yard with white clover on purpose. It’s pretty, the flowers smell heavenly in the warm sun, it feeds the bees, it’s hardy, and it stays short so there’s less care required.

Great, thanks! I feel much better now. Frankly, I was just sitting out on the porch with a cool breeze wafting over me, and it really hit me just how ridiculous our lawn would actually look overly manicured. Quaint old farmhouse, rustic landscaping, gravel driveway, FLAWLESS GREEN SHAG CARPET.

Um, no…

Good for you for thinking about it before going ahead with the monoculture lawn. In our neck of the woods, lawns are just silly. We have very little water (the Canadian Prairies are that short of being a desert), we have a short growing season, we have high altitude; we also have tons of gorgeous plants that can live quite happily here on their own with very little help from us if people can shake off that “golf green lawn” syndrome.

My best advice to you would be to get to know your local greenhouses, and see what they suggest for your area for low-maintenance plants. There are all different kinds for every area, from ground covers to trees, with all kinds of perennials and shrubs in between.

Besides, lawns are boring.

Your place sounds a lot like mine, but much nicer. Anyhoo, I have rocky/clay soil and my grass is crappy too. We tried seeding, fertilizing, and watering, and I’ve finally come to the conclusion that the forest next to the house is always going to send weeds. Those little tiny purple flower thingys that grow in my grass are impossible to kill, so I’m just going to embrace the beauty of nature, whatever it my toss onto my lawn. I gave up. (Though I’m sure for a ton of cash, someone could come up with something that would purty it up).

Personally, I think anything with flowers on it is good. Besides the clover in our back yard, we’ve also got some wild daisies, violas, and buttercups. I love them all. The only thing I don’t like is the wild onions, mostly because they reek.

I hate grass. I mean, I hate it. I hate everything about it.

Our solution, only partially in place as of yet, is a groundcover that we like. It’s bronze dutch clover.

This means that someday I’ll be able to go outside and look at the lawn and not want to bite someone.

I can’t help you with your lawn question other than to tell you if you’re planning on strating from scratch, Brown #2 Top Soil has a market price of $23 per cubic yard & a Superior Blend of Grass Seed between $70-$90 ber 50# bag north of you in NY.

You weren’t clear as to whether you are new to the home or have been living there for a while…but when I hear the word farmhouse, I immediately think deer.

If you’re new to the home and there are deer in your area - come winter, they’ll eat your unprotected shrubs, trees and just about anything that grows (except for boxwoods and a few other plant varieties).

While I don’t disagree with your main point, referring to water as a finite resource seems disingenuous. It’s not like the water disappears forever. And in many areas of the country (e.g. East of the Mississipi), shortages of water usually only happen during drought years. Water might be an increasingly expensive resource due to infrastructure demands, but it’s pretty much renewable.

Yup. Bad choice of words. (Too many years in Southern California.)

“Valuable” is more what I meant.


I’ll add another “screw the lawn Nazis” to the throng. Let the clover go nuts, it’s wonderful for rolling in. And I’ve liked the look of overgrown native grasses that turn with the seasons.

Your place sounds heavenly, BTW.

What they said.

My ambition is to reduce my lawn to a size where all I need is a reel mower.


Well, I dug out another couple square feet of our lawn today. I went snooping around the greenhouse to see what I can use to replace it, and I got a couple of good ideas. (I got a gorgeous red Asiatic Lily and a shade plant, too, but that’s not important right now. :smiley: )