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Help me design a new lawn

 
gardener
Posts: 2167
Location: Olympia, WA - Zone 8a/b
976
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Hello all,

I'm currently designing a new lawn for part of my property. The previous owners of my place mowed an area of about 13,000 square feet - I'm reducing that to an area of about 3,000 square feet. My little boy is only about 5 months old now and this new "lawn" will be next to a play area I'm designing for him and a new outdoor patio/kitchen/living room that I'm designing. The "lawn", the play area and the patio will all be design with permaculture principles in mind. I also plan on hosting friends and family in this area so I want it to work with a large group but also be great habitat for wildlife and provide a lot of food for my family and our visitors. This area will have some hugel beds mixed in (on the edges of the patio and play area), some small fruit trees, lots of berries and bordered by edible hedgerows.

For the "lawn" my design goals are for my little boy to be able to run and play on it. I also want to have family picnics on it and be able to kick a ball around on it. I also want to minimize or eliminate watering but I'm fine with mowing 2 to 3 times a month during the fast growing time (though less often is preferred!) - I have a nice reel mower that works great and mows at a height of 3.75 inches. I also want the "lawn" to be good habitat for wildlife - especially insects and birds.

The current lawn area will be completely mulched and then I will have some top soil brought in for the area I want to reseed as a "lawn". Bit of work and expense but it should create a very nice soil base for the new lawn which will reduce my work a lot in the long run. My existing soil is all clay and has almost no organic material in it - now that it is summer the soil is grey and rock hard but in winter it is water logged and the clay can be molded in your hand. Not very good soil!

I'm planning on just making my own seed mix to broadcast over the new lawn area in the spring. Currently, I'm thinking about using the following mix of plants as a lawn alternative to meet my above design goals:

- Creeping Oregano
- Creeping Golden Marjoram
- English Daisies
- White Dutch Clover
- Dandelions

I'm thinking that the oregano, marjoram and clover would make up the bulk of the "lawn" with the daisies and dandelions filling in here and there to give a nice mix.

What do you all think? Are there other species you would recommend? Any issues with the above list? The bottom three on the list are already growing in my existing lawn and I found a site talking about the oregano and marjoram as being good lawn alternatives. Are there any grasses that would work well with this mix? Not too aggressive - perhaps a bunch grass that is fine with being mowed and is not too tough?

Love to get some feed back from you all - please help me design my new lawn. Thanks all!
 
gardener
Posts: 6719
Location: Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
1378
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I like your idea both from a lawn perspective and from a soil building perspective.
The mix you have listed will do quite well and if you were to use a "mulching mower" you could build the soil even faster.
Since you have a reel mower and you plan to cut high, you will want to rake the trimmings and compost them.
That will remove the material for a nice appearance of "Lawn" but it will slow the soil building, not a bad tradeoff actually since the compost can be used for food plants.

If you are going to do berries for a border for such a space I would go with thornless varieties just for safety of the child and guests.
I like the idea of using hugels as a border for a patio but keep in mind what the goal of entertaining means for the space as well as the borders, that way you will end up with the best fit.

As you grow the lawn, the clay should begin to turn into more of a loamy type consistency a little more each year.

Good luck and best wishes with this project.

Redhawk
 
Daron Williams
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Posts: 2167
Location: Olympia, WA - Zone 8a/b
976
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Bryant RedHawk wrote:I like your idea both from a lawn perspective and from a soil building perspective.
The mix you have listed will do quite well and if you were to use a "mulching mower" you could build the soil even faster.
Since you have a reel mower and you plan to cut high, you will want to rake the trimmings and compost them.
That will remove the material for a nice appearance of "Lawn" but it will slow the soil building, not a bad tradeoff actually since the compost can be used for food plants.

If you are going to do berries for a border for such a space I would go with thornless varieties just for safety of the child and guests.
I like the idea of using hugels as a border for a patio but keep in mind what the goal of entertaining means for the space as well as the borders, that way you will end up with the best fit.

As you grow the lawn, the clay should begin to turn into more of a loamy type consistency a little more each year.

Good luck and best wishes with this project.

Redhawk



Thank you for your comments - My reel mower tends to cut in a way that I have been happy with just leaving the cuttings where they fall. I don't like removing the trimmings for the reasons you stated. My plan has been to just leave the cuttings in place to build the soil. Based on my experience mowing clover in the existing lawn I assumed that the trimmings would be a bit smaller than grass trimmings. What do you think? I'm also fine with trimmings being visible since I'm hoping I won't be mowing as often with this alternative setup.

I will keep that in mind with the berries - I will aim for thornless varieties near the lawn area. For the hugels I'm going to make them a bit smaller than I would otherwise and less steep since they will be right next to the patio. I'm also planning on setting up a woven fence that will be placed down the middle of the hugel beds to create a nice rustic feel and potentially serve as a trellis for snap peas. I will have some taller flowering plants on the back side of the fence (north side) away from the patio that guests should enjoy seeing (roses, lilacs, and others) and then focus on edible plants that are good for snacking closer to the patio. There will also be some flowers such as lupins mixed in near the patio on the south side of the fence. The beds on the south side of the patio will be planted a bit differently and I may focus on taller plants that will provide a little shade and wind protection in the summer months. Going to need to be careful about sizing everything to make sure I don't shade out the southside of the hugel beds.

Would you recommend adding any other plant species? I want to make sure it stays thick and lawn like so it fits the expectations of people who are used to regular lawns. I want it to serve as a conversation piece that could help get people thinking about new options on their own property. The whole patio/play area/"lawn" area is being designed to serve this function - I want people to feel comfortable in this area but also recognize that it is a bit different than they are used to so they ask questions.

Thanks again!
 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
Posts: 6719
Location: Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
1378
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That is a super reel mower to spit out small cuttings, saves a lot of time and trouble.

I don't have any solid addition recommendations really, the mix you have designed sounds like any small leaved "lawn type" plant would fit in well.
If you wanted to add grass plants you would want something like a short fescue, or perhaps blue grass (thin leaves and sturdy, less spreading than most grasses too)

When you get it going, I'd love to see some pictures.

Redhawk
 
Daron Williams
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Posts: 2167
Location: Olympia, WA - Zone 8a/b
976
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Thanks! I will look up those grass plants and see if they could work. I like having as much diversity as possible in this mix and having some grass will make it closer to an actual meadow.

I'm planning on mulching the area this fall and getting the soil layer added in late winter / early spring and then seeding in early spring. I will post pictures as I go.

Thanks again for your help!
 
Daron Williams
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Posts: 2167
Location: Olympia, WA - Zone 8a/b
976
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Well I guess I should have checked for seeds before deciding which plants I wanted. Having a hard time finding seeds for some of the plants I wanted - buying enough individual plants is just not practical for me. But I did find a site that has some interesting alternative lawn mixes. The site is called Pro Time Lawn Seed and is based out of Portland, OR (fairly close to where I live in the South Puget Sound). Seems like a company that is trying to make good mixes for alternative lawns.

I'm leaning towards one of these mixes from that company:

- PT 706 Herb de Lawn
Mix Includes:
Banfield Perennial Ryegrass - Lolium perenne 'Banfield'
Eureka II Hard Fescue - Festuca trachyphylla 'Eureka II'
Quatro Tetraploid Sheep Fescue - Festuca ovina 'Quatro'
White Yarrow - Achillea millefolium
Microclover - Trifolium repens var Pipolina ssp Microclover
Sweet Alyssum - Lobularia maritima
Roman Chamomile - Chamaemelum nobile

- PT 755 Fleur de Lawn
Mix Includes:
Banfield Perennial Ryegrass - Lolium perenne 'Banfield'
Eureka II Hard Fescue - Festuca trachyphylla 'Eureka II'
Quatro Tetraploid Sheep Fescue - Festuca ovina 'Quatro'
White Yarrow - Achillea millefolium
Microclover - Trifolium repens var Pipolina ssp Microclover
Baby Blue Eyes - Nemophila menziesii (annual)
Sweet Alyssum - Lobularia maritima (annual)
Strawberry Clover - Trifolium fragiferum
English Daisy - Bellis perennis

What do you all think about these two mixes? I'm leaning towards the second one since it is closer to what I was originally picturing for an alternative lawn but the first seems good too. Any concerns about these mixes?

Thanks all!
 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
Posts: 6719
Location: Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
1378
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I personally would go with the second one you listed, as it has a greater variety of plants. I might then add the roman chamomile and some cone flowers (Echinacea).

Since those fescues they are using are short fescues, no worries about anything.

Redhawk
 
Daron Williams
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Posts: 2167
Location: Olympia, WA - Zone 8a/b
976
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Thanks! I like the second mix too and I think adding some of the roman chamomile would be great. I like the cone flowers but don't they get a bit tall when flowering? Though there will be edge areas that I could easily add them to.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Location: Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
1378
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Yes the cone flowers do get a little tall but as a border plant they are awesome as well as showing you right where that border is from across the field.
The petals make an awesome tea and all cone flowers are varieties of Echinacea, a good herb for staving off colds, building your immune system and so on.
The roman chamomile is another really good herb and it will help the bacteria thrive as it grows in your soil, it will mine some minerals for you.
 
Posts: 410
Location: West Midlands UK (zone 8b) Rainfall 26"
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Round my neighbourhod the overriding lawn culture is to cut hard and frequently.  There are some gloriously weedy lawns which still manage to flower as soon as the pressure is off for a week or two.  My favourites are selfheal, white clover, hawkbits and catsear (I would favour these over dandelion as they continue later into the season and don't have the milky sap), mouse eared hawkweed, creeping buttercup, daisy, lesser trefoil, yarrow, field woodrush and even wild pansy.  Oh and the wonderful deep orange fox-and-cubs, Pilosella aurantiaca.
 
Daron Williams
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976
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Hester Winterbourne wrote:Round my neighbourhod the overriding lawn culture is to cut hard and frequently.  There are some gloriously weedy lawns which still manage to flower as soon as the pressure is off for a week or two.  My favourites are selfheal, white clover, hawkbits and catsear (I would favour these over dandelion as they continue later into the season and don't have the milky sap), mouse eared hawkweed, creeping buttercup, daisy, lesser trefoil, yarrow, field woodrush and even wild pansy.  Oh and the wonderful deep orange fox-and-cubs, Pilosella aurantiaca.



Thank you for the list! Some of those are commonly found in my area already and I'm sure they will come in on their own (carseat for example). I think I might have to add some of the wild pansy to the mix - I can order those seeds separately. When I was a kid we had some of those growing wild and it would be fun to have those around again Self-heal would also be great to have around. I have some of it growing at my place already so it might spread to the lawn area on its own.

Thanks all!
 
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Location: cool climate, Blue Mountains, Australia
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Marjoram and oregano would probably not do well in a lawn. I think they simply die. Clover and english daisy is very good.
I would not go for a mower mulcher because you will need the grass clippings as compost or as mulch and if you dry them you have chicken bedding.
Your little boy will grow bigger and if there is no space outside your property he will kick his ball in your garden together with his mates.
A fence around the vegetable garden is a very good idea, at least it slows them down before running over your beds.
To get a bit less kicking going I find trampolies very good and teenagers are still using it (you will have a trip or two to the hospital though) a net around is great to keep backflips safe(er).
If your accomodate too much for the kids you will always have the whole neighbourhood in your garden.....
 
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Daron Williams:  How has your lawn turned out?  What plants have worked best for you?  I have been making a similar lawn for the last 2 years, except that my problem is sandy soil and drought, not clay.  I just started with my existing (very poor) lawn and kept adding plants and seed to every bare spot that showed up.  My base has to be a mix of drought tolerant grass because it is a boulevard that gets a huge amount of traffic from schoolkids, dog walkers, bicycles, strollers, etc. etc.  Nothing else keeps the soil from turning into mud in late fall and early spring.  And to keep the grass from dying in the heat and drought of summer, all areas also contain white clover, red clover, yellow sweet clover, and lots of bird'sfoot trefoil.  Individual different areas have original heavy concentrations of violets, Indian strawberries, and cinquefoil which I monitor closely.  All three have good qualities - beautiful blue violets, yellow flowers and red berries for the Indian strawberries, and yellow flowers mixed with white clover flowers in a heavy clover/cinquefoil patch.  But all three have drawbacks as well such as dieback with frost leaving bare ground if not for enough grass also growing in the patch.

I started out just wanting survival of the lawn in bad droughts, but I soon progressed to also wanting it to stay green and also be filled with flowers as much of the time as possible.  I now have 25 flowering weeds that I actively encourage and at least 25 weeds that I actively discourage!  I've had to put larger wheels on my mower as well as change the wheel mounts to give me a cutting range from 2 inches to 8 inches!  Some of the weeds I want can be cut very short after they are established, but they must be left to grow to get started and they must be let grow in the fall to replenish root stores of starch.  Also leaving everything long is helpful during severe droughts and leaving everything long makes for beautiful displays of flowers.  All the weeds and grasses grow at different rates so it is very hard to achieve the "level lawn" manicured look.  To combat this, I mow in patterns or diagonals with high and low levels of vegetation.  This also helps capture more dew during droughts and also leads the neighbours to asking me more questions.  They have already gotten used to the idea that I spend time carefully transplanting weeds INTO the lawn.....

Razer
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