Wednesday, September 2, 2009

An Herbal Lawn

I was raised in a subdivision. A lot of cookie cutter houses, in cookie cutter yards.

Oh sure, there were subtle differences. Every other house, for example had the driveway on the left hand side of the house, and every other one on the right hand side. Corner lots were a bit wider, or narrower in the back, depending whether or not they were on the inside, or outside of the curve.

But the main differences were in the way people took care of their yards, lawns and gardens. Mrs. Smith’s roses, for example were her pride and joy. She spent hours on her rose bushes, even after she got sick. We would see her outside, with her oxygen tank, pruning, clipping, and fussing over her rose bushes.

After she passed away, and Mr. Smith moved away, it broke our hearts to see that the new neighbors just never gave the rose bushes the same love and attention that they deserved.

Mrs. Watkins flowers were also the talk of the street. She grew more varieties of flowers than anyone we knew. Every year, when people started growing the ones she had last year, she would be showing off new flowers that no one had heard of. She must have had a special, underground contact at a seed company or something, because she always had beautiful flowerbeds, filled with new and seemingly exotic flowers.

And then there were the lawns. Our house always had teenage boys living there, so our front yard seemed to be the place to gather and play. As a matter of fact, when I was in high school, my dad actually planted two walnut trees in the middle of the yard to discourage this. He said that since he couldn’t grow grass anyway, he may as well have shade.

I remember Mr. Calloway, and the pride he took in his lawn. He mowed it religiously, and not only did he mow it, but he made sure that his lawnmower tracks ran in neat diagonal stripes across the lawn. One would swear that he had laid the whole thing out with a chalk line and a tape measure, because the lines were always straight, parallel and perfectly spaced.

The Kirtin family, on the other hand, had so many dandilions and so much crabgrass in their lawn, that it was almost impossible to mow. I know this because I was one of many teenagers who mowed lawns for a few dollars here and there. I dreaded their lawn, and was secretly glad that they only had it mowed once or twice a month, although I heard more than one of the adults on the street complain (rather loudly it seems) about the way the Kirtin’s lawn looked.

Nobody, in our little world, would have dreamed of planting anything in their lawn but grass seed. It would have been a scandal that would have rocked the entire neighborhood.

So, I had never heard of herbal lawns until fairly recently.

What is an herbal lawn? Herbal lawns are a mixture of grass and herbs that can result in a lush green ground cover. If done properly, they can require less maintenance, and less water, than a traditional lawn.
They are inexpensive, tough enough to walk or play on, they smell incredible, when mowed, or just when you walk across them, and they can provide an attractive and tasty playground and habitat for chipping sparrows, goldfinches, bluebirds, robins, toads, garter snakes, and other critters, including of course bees and butterflies.

I have never tried this, but the more I research the more I can’t wait until I have the space to play, because the idea is very intriguing.

You can make an herbal lawn out of many various kinds of herbs. The challenge really is to find an herb that can handle heavy foot traffic at the same time that it is still comfortable if you like to play or sit on the lawn. There are many varieties of creeping thyme and chamomile that fall into this perfect middles ground. Creeeping Oregano, Creeping Golden Marjoram, and Mounding Marjoram, (also known as Betty Rollins) are also good choices, along with Yarrow and Pennyroyal. I even saw suggestions for using some of the creeping varieties of mint. The peppermint I have growing is a very low, fast growing plant that would work great.

Herbal lawns can be so relaxing on a warm summer day that people have been known to build what's called a 'gardener's couch' by shaping raw earth into a comfortable shape or shapes (custom shaped for your own backside of course) and then sowing with herb seeds. If you plant a variety of herbs, every change in body position will result in a different aroma..

Most of the articles I read suggest mixing herbs with grass seed, to keep up the appearance of lawn. Herbal lawns can still be mowed, but don’t need to be mowed as often as full grass lawns.

Before installing an herbal lawn, you should take time to think through a few questions. How much lawn do you and your family need or want, and what do you want it for? Is it just to look at, or is it a play surface for children and pets? Must it be a dense, fine-textured, emerald green carpet that feels great under bare feet? What do the neighbors think? Do you care what they think? How much time and money do you want to spend on a lawn?

I don’t have all the answers here, just the questions.

If durability, texture, and appearance are very important, perhaps the best solution is to have a turfgrass lawn or a mostly-grass lawn on most of your property and to restrict an all herb lawn to a small, defined area.

If those factors aren’t so important, you can spread herbs everywhere.

Quite a bit of good information about what plants work well for an herbal lawn can be found at :this website

And although I know nothing about the company, Hobbs and Hopkins Ltd a seed company, has some information on their web site about herbal lawns, and included a few pictures so you can see what a couple of their seed mixes would look like.


  1. Gee Troy! Thanks for doing all the research for me. I'm really considering putting in a herbal lawn in my front yard.


  2. Thanks for the links. I have a couple of areas in my yard that I'm not quite sure what I should do with them. This post is has got me thinking. Thanks!

  3. Hi Troy,
    I like the herbal lawn in the photo. I don't think my husband would go for something like that, but that's OK with me, because he's finally let me have the space I want for flowers. I do have some herbs growing in the flower beds. I have winter savory, oregano, hyssops of different kinds, and some whose names aren't coming to my brain. Thanks for the very nice comment you left on my blog about how you enjoy my photos.