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Herbal Lawns and other Lawn Substitutes

Suppose you are tired of all the mowing, fertilizing, watering, and edging that‘s required for a nice looking lawn. But you love the look of a level green sward, or have kids and dogs, or perhaps skills for a mean game of croquet. There are several low stature plants that give softness and a bit of color to the monoculture of smooth green, either added into turf for a cottage feel or a mix of plants and no turf.

Whether you’d like to try an herbal lawn with thymes, chamomile, Corsican mint, oreganos, and common selfheal or other sturdy lawn substitutes, it’s best to start small at first and see if you like it. The herbal lawn group of plants differs from other plants on this list only in that you get a lovely scent form the crushed leaves as you walk along. Here are a few tried and true plants that may be mixed together, either within existing turf or on their own. All can take at least some foot traffic, and the herb plants tend to attract more bees, except for the clover of course.

Bellis perennis English Daisy     Cheery little centers of pure sunny yellow surrounded by pure white rays in a diminutive but tough little plant. There are also Super Enorma seeds available in doubles: white, pink, rose-red. Sun to partial shade; best in cooler zones.

Isotoma fluviatilis Blue Star Creeper     Very sweet, soft blue stars are very charming amongst turf, coexisting quite well with it and fine with a lot of foot traffic. Full sun to part shade.

Muhlenbeckia axillaris  Small Leaf Creeping Wire Vine  Don’t let the tiny leaves fool you, this is a tough little plant that spreads just a as wide as its larger leaved cousins. Shining green leaves may turn bronzey in cooler weather. A great little plant to move around stones or as a ground cover.

Muhlenbeckia axillaris
Small Leaf Creeping Wire Vine

 

Phyla nodosa   Lippia

Phyla (Lipia) nodosa  Lipia   A California native, lipia is a very tough little plant with charming small flowers. It is light green in full sun, darker in filtered light. Bees like it, so don’t plan on walking barefoot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prunella vulgaris Common Selfheal     Another California native that plays well with others, either within turf or other short-stature perennials. Bright purple/magenta flowers and typical mint family flowers, it has medicinal properties and is edible.

Trifolium repens  White Dutch Clover     Easy from seed and a bee magnet, clovers fix Nitrogen in the soil, so are always bright green if they don’t dry out. Good for holding the soil in place; best in full sun except in the hottest areas.

Viola labradorica Labrador Violet     A naturalizing native of the northern U.S. and Canada, a short little cutie with heart-shaped purple-tinged leaves and lavender flowers. Spreads by seed and runners; partial sun to shaded exposures best.

Herbal Lawns

Achillea ‘Brass Buttons’ Dwarf Yarrow     Small creamy “buttons” atop fresh ferny foliage that’s durable and sun loving. Much tougher than it looks, and much easier to grow than Irish moss (Sagina subulata).

Chamaemelum nobile ‘Treneague’ Dwarf Roman Chamomile     This non-flowering form of Roman chamomile does best in full sun. It releases a pungent apple-mint fragrance when walked on.

Mentha requienii Corsican Mint     A tiny plant with a strong minty scent. Does best with plenty of moisture in the soil and mixed with other sturdier plants. A fresh green color, just a few sections here and there are a delight to walk on.

Origanum vulgare ‘Aureum’ Creeping Golden Marjorum     Beautiful chartreuse to golden-yellow leaves, flowers only occasionally. Although foliage looks best with some afternoon shade, this exposure also will increase stem length and ramp up spread. Lovely as a river of gold between other greens.

Origanum vulgare ‘Humile’ Dwarf Greek Oregano     Very pungent deep green leaves with frilly pink flowers that are very attractive to bees and butterflies. Leaves have a great flavor.

 Thymus necefferi Juniper Thyme     Very tough and an almost completely flat grower with gray leaves and pink flowers. Very little water required; leaves are soft but have an almost juniper-like appearance.

Thymus serpyllum ‘Elfin’ Creeping Thyme     Tiny, deep pink flowers rise above a flat mat about 2-3 inches tall. The leaves are aromatic but not necessarily of culinary quality. Best on edges or around stones.

Mentha requienii Corsican mint

 

Thymus necefferi  juniper thyme

 

Achillea ‘Brass Buttons’
Photo by Deb Kelly

Achillea ‘Brass Buttons’ growing beautifully on a slope.
Photo by Deb Kelly

 

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