Classic, manicured lawns can take a lot of time and effort to keep them at their best, and they’re not particularly wildlife-friendly.
Fortunately, there are lots of great alternatives – not just meadows or fake turf, but patchwork carpets of tough, low-growing plants that attract wildlife and need much less mowing. They’re ideal for small areas or extremes of sun or shade. Gentle footfall will improve growth, stimulating the plants to spread and root from stems, though heavier use, including playing games like football, isn’t advisable.
While the initial cost is higher, you can save in the long term with savings on mower wear and tear, fuel and time. If you’re unsure, try it with a small area to see the results.
Check out some of the best alternative lawn mixes, below.
For a sunny spot
This mix is ideal for a sunny spot with good garden loam, producing a succession of flowers from late spring through summer and evergreen foliage for winter. Use dwarf bulbs to fill any winter/spring colour gaps.
We used: Geranium sanguineum ‘Vision Violet’, Saponaria ocymoides, Arabis ‘Old Gold’, Phlox subulata, Armeria ‘Bevan’s Variety’, Erodium x variabile ‘Album’ and lawn daises (Bellis perennis).
An alternative lawn mix of evergreen foliage with pink and white flowers
For a shady spot
Grass tends to struggle in lawns overhung by trees and shrubs, so a no-grass lawn is a great alternative. These shade-loving plants offer subtle rather than bright colours.
We used: Campanula poscharskyana, Veronica prostrata ‘Trehane’, Leptinella squalida ‘Platt’s Black’, Vinca minor, Prunella vulgaris, Mentha requienii.
Alternative lawn of shade-loving plants
For attracting wildlife
This plot was created with wildflower turf, which is quick to lay on prepared soil and will establish rapidly. You could also start from seed for a cheaper but slower option. For a low-growing alternative, use the perennial or sedum matting sold for green roofs.
We used: Silene dioica, Cynosurus cristatus, Leucanthemum vulgare, Trifolium pratense, Rumex acetosa.
Mature wildflower lawn
For a dry spot
Sun-loving plants that are adapted to hot dry conditions, with fleshy, aromatic or tiny leaves are brilliant for texture, colour and fragrance. Popular with bees and includes evergreens for winter colour.
We used: Erigeron karvinskianus, Sedum reflexum, Thymus serpyllum, Thymus ‘Bertram Anderson’, Sedum cauticola ‘Lidakense’ and Sempervivum hybrids.
Alternative lawn of sedums, thymes and sempervivums
Planting your no-mow lawn: soil preparation
Dig the soil weeks ahead, weed thoroughly, then wait for weed seeds to germinate so you can hoe them off before planting.
Planting your no-mow lawn: choosing your plants
Use small plants, which are cheaper and work well in a tapestry-style design. Plug plants will work, too. Make big savings by transplanting, dividing or taking cuttings from existing plants.
Planting a thyme plant
Planting your no-mow lawn: laying turf
This is a quick and simple alternative to plug plants. You can use wildflower turf, or low-growing sedum and perennial mats for green roofs. Prepare the soil in advance by digging over and weeding as above, then firm and rake level. Roll out the turf and firm down gently to ensure it’s in close contact with the soil, then water in thoroughly.
Laying wildflower turf
Stay vigilant for weeds and remove immediately if spotted. During dry spells, give plants an occasional soaking until well established. You can use a mower with the blades set high to trim the lawns, as well as shears or strimmers in smaller areas.
Trimming your lawn
All the alternative lawn mixes except the wildlife attracting option should have their shoot tips trimmed four to five times during the growing season to encourage bushy growth. As for the wildlife mix, cut just once, in late summer or autumn, after the plants have set seed. Remove any cut material to avoid fertilising the patch, which will encourage vigorous grass growth at the expense of flowers.
Trimming thyme in an alternative lawn with shears
Why go no-mow?
- Saves time on mowing, plus no need to scarify, feed or weedkill
- More eco-friendly – no chemicals, lower emissions and great for wildlife
- Perfect for extreme conditions, such as hot and dry, or shade, where grass struggles to survive
- Ideal for tiny lawns or awkward-to-mow spots
- Looks great – the garden equivalent of a patchwork quilt instead of a plain duvet