How to design a garden without grass

 In Garden Design

As our climate warms and lifestyles change more and more clients ask me to design a garden without grass. Here are my top tips for ditching the lawn.

When I’m asked to design a garden without grass, my first line of questioning is to ask why. What is it that the clients don’t like about lawns? The answer helps me to understand what they need from their garden and what they really want designing.

  • Hate mowing = the garden needs to be physically easier to manage
  • No mud = possibly underlying drainage issues but most likely this person wants to use the garden all year round no matter what the weather is doing
  • Grass won’t grow here = shade, drainage issues or the area is subjected to lots of wear and tear
  • Not enough room for a lawn = either it’s a faff to store a mower and drag it out of the shed to trim a tiny lawn or – the client doesn’t feel compelled to spend any time in the garden as it is.

Why do we need lawns anyway?

garden with lawn

Lawns are great! They’re a cost effective way of keeping larger gardens neat and tidy. But if you hate mowing, there are plenty of alternatives.

The tradition in Britain is to have at least part of the garden laid down to lawn. It is however, a relatively recent trend. Until lawn mowers were mass produced and therefore affordable, most gardens would have either been paved over or been used to grow food. Only the very wealthy had lawns and these were either mown by an army of gardeners with scythes or they were grazed by sheep.

The beauty of a lawn is that it is cheap to create, it soaks up rainwater, makes a great play surface and benefits the environment. However, the disadvantage is that it does need regular maintenance to keep it looking great. When you consider the lifetime cost of a lawn – it’s probably not much different to the lifetime cost of hard landscaping – it’s just that the cost is spread over many years.

What’s the alternative to a grass lawn?

sloping garden without grass

Small gardens and sloping gardens don’t lend themselves easily to grass lawns. Here’s a recent design for a front garden without grass

There are lots of choices for garden surfaces. Paving, aggregates, artificial grass, bark mulch, wildflower meadows….the list goes on. The art of designing a garden without grass is to think about functionality – and practicality.

Need a play surface? Artificial grass or play grade wood chips are great.

Growing plants? Think about the spaces between the plants. Do you want hard paths and well defined beds or would you prefer something like gravel to encourage lateral spread

Accessibility. How will you tackle slopes and do you need wheelchair (or buggy) friendly surfaces? Gravel is a demon for anyone with restricted mobility.

Wildlife friendly? Why not think about a wildflower meadow garden. The space needs careful designing otherwise it can look a mess but maintenance is simple and the rewards are infinite.

oxeye daisies in wildflower garden

A wildflower lawn is very low maintenance and a great support for insects, birds and small creatures. Incorporated into a well designed garden it’s a real asset to the environment.

A holistic approach to garden design

Whichever surface you choose as an alternative to a grass lawn, it must allow the journey around the garden to flow seamlessly. Try to incorporate an element of hide and reveal, allow for seasonal changes if you can and make each element easy to maintain.

Here are a few examples from the Silver Birch Gardens Portfolio of how to design a garden without grass.

garden without grass

A recent project in North Curry. Lots of planting in easy to reach raised beds with attractive all weather surfaces between them

hard landscaping with pavers and bricks

Using contrasting textures creates interest in hard landscaping

brightly coloured summer planting plan

A garden without grass needn’t be short on interest. In this hard landscaped area the vibrant planting and clever lighting makes for a beautiful space.


Never let it be said that Dan Richards doesn’t like lawns. In my next blog – I’ll look at how to design a garden WITH a natural lawn.

You might enjoy these articles

Revealing the garden design process – how DO garden designers do it?

Tips for creating a stylish contemporary garden

What does a new garden cost?


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