I have a lawn. It’s lush, green, and soft. It’s soothing under my bare feet.

There’s a lot of hate for lawns within the permaculture, gardening, and eco-action communities, and some of it is warranted, but everything has its place.

Lawns aren’t for everyone

A lawn won’t work everywhere. A lawn shouldn’t work everywhere. If you live in a semi-arid climate, you probably shouldn’t have a lawn. It would be irresonsible of you to waste water on it. Here in Southern Quebec, however, it’s an ideal scenario. It just grows. I never fertilize, I never water, yet it’s lush and green. The topsoil around here (my immediate area) is dark and heavy, filled with worms, and about 20-30cm deep. Underneath the topsoil is a ~15cm layer of pure, dark gray clay, then a hard-packed mix of clay chunks, shale, and sand.

Additionally, if you live in a biome that can easily support a low/no-maintenance lawn, you might find a lot of value in it. Such biomes — like mixed plains or grasslands, might be able to easily support all the dynamic beings and resources that make up a low/no-maintenance lawn.

Obtain a yield, and some added benefits

I let some it it grow wild in certain patches, for a yield of flowers and fruit, and for insect habitat, and the rest I mow once every 2 weeks. I rake some the clippings from the lushest spots, and use it as a rich, green, nitrogenous mulch around the perennial plantings of young trees, asparagus, and berry shrubs.

The next evolutionary stage of the lawn is as a patchwork of perennial gardens and usable spaces. Islands of beauty and bounty.

My lawn is comprised of more than 16 species (and counting…) of native and introduced plants. It produces flowers, herbs, medicine, and fruit; Dandelions, self-heal, sorrels, violets, clovers and strawberries are just a few of the characters on this vigourous green earth mat. Many grow in patches, and fade in-and-out in a seasonal succession, as the context changes throughout the year. There are a few overly enthusiastic invasives which I keep an eye on, and try to inconvenience by pulling when I get the chance, but for the most part I let it be.

For the creatures

Frogs love it, birds love it, bees love it, moths love it, worms love it.

Over the short time I’ve lived in this house (1 of each season!), I’ve seen a ridiculous amount of biodiversity. Aside from the hundreds of species of insects, amphibians seem to enjoy it for at least 3 seasons, with 3 species of tree frog so far, toads, and even a salamander. We’ve also had a couple garter snakes use it for sunning, and the neverending stream of butterflies and bumblebees make it feel so alive.

A colony of a species of squash bee who have made their little underground homes in a grassy corner, happily get drunk on and pollinate my squash. I don’t mow their village.


For those who don’t want or need, or aren’t in a location that’s condusive to a lawn, and are looking to replace yours, there are tons of resources on that topic, and some great organizations (like Food Not Lawns) dedicated to helping people transform their lawns into more productive landscapes.

The clover lawn

Clover is a low-maintanence ground-cover, is generally non-invasive, and makes for great bee forage. You can walk on it just fine, and some of it tends to be lower-growing and so is said to take a lot less maintenance.

Common white clover (Trifolium repens) seems to be one of the more popular go-tos for clover lawns, but I could see Trifolium dubiumor yellow clover staying small enough to provide a decent grass alternative as well.

The meadow

A meadow is a simple alternative to the classic lawn. In many cases you can just let your lawn grow, and see what happens.

This spring I decided to let a large swath of our front lawn go wild. After a month it was absolutely buzzing with life. Alongside the creatures, the space was quickly filled with Queen Anne’s Lace, several species of clover (5!), pansies, bladder campion, dandelions, chives, sedges, common mugwort, dock, sorrel, and several others.

Additionally, broadcasting some native wildflower seeds could really encourage the landscape, and add some more showy plants to keep your neighbours in check.

Flock Finger Lakes has a great video about transforming a large part of their lawn into a low-growing meadow.

The food forest

The food forest, or at least a food savannah, is peak anthropogenic succession. Start with designing the space, working with the natural features. Plant some fruiting shrubs, and some fruit or nut trees, throw some bulbs underneath, maybe some strawberries and chives, and through a few wildflower seeds in and around and you’re good to go.

Okay, it’s not that easy, but that’s the gist of it. The idea is to mimick the natural patterns of a forest’s edge — the most diverse, and productive point.

If you want to learn more about food forests, I’ll let one of the pros take this one: The Forested Garden: What is a Food Forest? by Geoff Lawton.

The future of the lawn

I’ll probably always have a lawn, but over time, more and more of it will be filled in with perennial polycultures and annual underplantings.

The next evolutionary stage of the lawn is as a patchwork of perennial gardens and usable spaces. Islands of beauty and bounty.

Aside from all the patchwork gardens, eventually I’d like to install a pond, and a brick/stone fire circle, but I’ll always have a lawn. Just enough to mow by push mower would be ideal.

There are good lawns, there are bad lawns. There are sustainable, permaculture-aligned lawns. If the inputs are low (or non-existent!) and you obtain a yield, why not? I have a lawn and I like it.