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Creative, Lawn-less Outdoor Spaces

I´ve always wanted my yard to look like it popped right out of Sunset Magazine. When my husband and I were looking at completing our front yard, we were torn. More lawn would require more irrigation piping, additional timers, different-looking grass from our existing hodge-podge lawn and of course, more water.

We thought about what purpose the space would serve. It´s a small side yard on the left side of an entry brick walkway. There is a lovely rock wall between our house and our neighbors. A very stately, aged valley oak graces the front of our house on the left side as well. An established light yellow tea rose stands at the street entry to the walkway, having survived my pruning attack two years before (later I learned tea roses require only light pruning). My husband and I decided we wanted a space where we could sit outside, wave hello to the neighbors or hand out Halloween candy—an elegant, practical, cost efficient space. Serene and cool, but without the burden of lawn. We understood our oak did not need nor require water, except the water that Mother Nature provided during the winter. We perused many landscaping and gardening magazines, including Sunset. We decided upon a Mediterranean type garden space.

What is a Mediterranean garden? It´s a landscaping plan that incorporates plants suited to the Mediterranean climate with its hot, dry summers and cool, damp winters. Plus, I wanted to incorporate my love of Claude Monet´s famous garden at his home in Giverny, France, my love of fragrant plants and my love of the sound of water trickling from a seasonal creek or fountain. My husband, great guy that he is, loves these things too (mostly because I love them), which makes the idea of our Mediterranean garden even more special. With these thoughts and ideas in mind we hatched a plan. When starting a garden project, I highly recommend having a plan.

The first task was to level the space. Previously it had been occupied by juniper, a blue spruce that would have loved the forest more than our front yard and quite a bit of ivy. We had removed the majority of the shrubs, trees and ivy the previous summer, so all that was left to do was level out the bumps and remove a couple of stumps.

The next task was creating planting beds that could house roses and lavender, and plumbing them for drip irrigation. We laid landscaping fabric to prevent the weeds and ivy from coming back. During the week, when we were working, my husband found the time to bring me samples of all kinds of rock and sand. We settled on concrete sand, which happened to be, unbeknownst to us, the most cost effective of the choices. The sand arrived the next weekend. If sand can be beautiful, it certainly was. When the truck came to dump the sand, it crushed a good part of my light yellow tea rose. I admit it brought me to tears.

The real labor was moving the sand to cover the landscaping fabric and compacting it enough to withstand the weight of outdoor furniture and the occupants of the outdoor furniture. I will say my husband did all the hard labor. I mostly supervised and on occasion provided refreshments. It took an entire day to compact the sand enough. Finally, the hard work was done and the fun tasks could begin.

Choosing plants, furniture and the water feature were fun tasks we both looked forward to. Because we had a limited budget we decided to use our existing outdoor furniture. We then had to determine what kind of roses and lavender we wanted. For the roses we determined every color would work and decided to pick varieties for their scents. We ended up with more hybrid tea roses; pink Aromatherapy, yellow Midas Touch and a yellow and red Double Delight, to name a few. In the lavender arena there are many choices and types. I wanted the lavender more for containers than in the soil and chose English Lavender varieties for their wonderful scent and because I could cut and use it. We were able to plant the roses in a border against the brick walk way and the street. The poor, ravaged light yellow tea rose held its own and is currently the star of the roses. What´s missing is a fountain, something that will add to the ambience of our lawn-free garden, but not detract from admiring the scenery. I´m hunting high and low for a solar powered fountain, but as of yet, haven´t found one big enough. I´m holding out for the right one.

Our Mediterranean type garden is almost complete. We have a beautifully compacted sand garden with fragrant borders and simple but elegant containers framed on one side by a graceful rock wall all under the canopy of our stately Valley Oak. It´s a great place to have a cup of coffee in the morning and wave to neighbors as they pass on their morning walk. It´s also a wonderful feeling to know that we´ve created such a haven on a very small budget with negligible impact to our water bill.

Lori Littleton graduated from the Master Gardener training program in May 2006. She shares her yard projects with a full-time job, a newly-purchased home, a husband, and two small children.