While I am not as anti-lawn as some people—I admit I love a lawn in a public park, especially in the evening, with long tree shadows and a green that looks lit up from within. However, the tiny lawns in front of our inner city homes, are not sweeping swaths of green, they are postage stamp sized annoyances. Does it take you longer to get the lawnmower out and put it back than it does to mow?
Digging up the lawn and replacing it with shrubs, trees and perennials makes a lot of sense. When like-minded neighbours join together, the result is a string of front gardens with varied plantings that is a huge improvement on the boring monoculture of a lawn. It not only adds a park-like setting to a residential street, improves the value of the home, but simply makes it nicer to to take a walk in your neighbourhood. I like to imagine an entire city with front gardens this way.
Once the lawn is gone, you can introduce plant material that is good for wildlife, bringing butterflies and birds to your property, even frogs and toads. Achillea, Coneflowers, Asclepias, Joe Pye Weed and Phlox bring butterflies. Amelanchier (Serviceberry) provides berries for birds, has white flowers in spring and turns orange in fall. Evergreens provide bird shelter. Scented plants are a must, like mock orange, Korean Spice Viburnum or miniature lilacs. (Persian lilac) Shrubs like red berberis, and small trees like Japanese Maple provide a shot of intense burgundy colour, and are even a more fiery red in the fall. Taking it in stages is the easiest way to transform your front yard: take out a bit each year, and one day you’ll be able to give away that lawnmower forever.