Grow Food Not Lawns! This is my new mantra. While lawns can be nice for playing soccer, rolling around on, or as a place for your dog to poop (don’t roll on it after that), all of those tasks can be done elsewhere. Beyond that, with the drought that we’re having out west, why would you want to waste your precious water on a lawn when you could be using it to grow food instead? Not to mention having to mow the darn thing. I’d much rather be putting my energy into planting things that will feed my family. And personally, if you do it right, I think it looks a lot better!
We did exactly this recently for my sister’s front yard near Portland, OR. By “we” I mean Joel, because he did it all. He is a permaculture mastermind and landscaper extraordinaire, so he knows what he’s doing. But you don’t need to be a professional to do this. It’s actually quite simple. In this post I’m going to show you how to ditch your lawn and grow food instead!
First up, a couple of before shots of my sister’s yard.
It’s a pretty run of the mill front lawn for a suburban Portland neighborhood, complete with crappy looking nondescript bushes. Not that I’m against crappy looking bushes, because they are plants and they deserve a chance. But, especially when you have a small space, they should at least be functional by providing food or medicine, or by attracting bees or other beneficial insects.
How to Ditch Your Lawn and Grow Food
The first thing Joel noticed were these retaining wall blocks in front of the bushes. It’s always nice when you can repurpose items that you already have! Out came the blocks, and the bushes. Sorry bushes, but we had no choice.
The blocks were set aside to be used to build a garden bed.
My sister and her family are busy, so a small annual garden bed will work best for them. Joel put it pretty much right in the middle of the yard to make it a focal point, plus it gets the most sunlight.
Now it’s time to raid your cardboard stash! This is how you will kill that lawn of yours.
Layer the cardboard over all of the grass. In permaculture this is the first step in sheet mulching.
Take in consideration what other hardscaping you want and work around that. You can see a space where there isn’t any cardboard because there will be some brick edging there.
We decided to use landscape fabric on top of the cardboard in this particular situation to really make it low maintenance. Not quite the permaculture way to do it, but a good alternative nonetheless.
Rock goes on one side, bark dust on the other. You know, to make it look pretty. Notice how we decided to keep the tall bushes between the houses. We considered ripping them out, but they serve as a barrier, which is nice when you live in a suburban neighborhood. Joel did prune them back a bit hoping that they will fill out and look a bit nicer next year.
We chose low maintenance, mostly native perennials and herbs for the main plantings. Blueberries, huckleberries, red currant, Oregon grape, juniper, lavender, rosemary, thyme, and mint. You could also grow chamomile, basil, chives with their beautiful pink blossoms, calendula, or oregano.
The finished product! This summer they will plant tomatoes and peppers and other annual veggies in the box in the middle. The perennial bushes and herbs will fill out and get much larger as the years go by, providing nutrition as well as beauty. You can’t beat that!
What a world of difference. There’s absolutely no reason that anyone should be growing a lawn. Making a minimalist landscape that grows food makes so much more sense. Basically, it’s less work for more food and a prettier landscape. You’ve really got nothing to lose!
Discover More says
Thanks , I have recently been searching for info about this topic for ages and yours is the best I’ve found out till now. But, what concerning the bottom line? Are you sure about the source?
Grow Forage Cook Ferment says
Hi there. I’m not really sure I know what you mean. Can you explain?
Jessica O'dell says
I am currently buying my first home and the yard is huge and all weeds. I wasn’t sure what to do with it but this is inspiring! I’m not a fan of the rocks but I am sure there is a way to incorporate growing food with such a large space. I’m considering a hedgerow along the property as well for privacy. Do you know any good bushes that make good hedgerow and also produce food?
Maria Morton says
You had my interest until you added the landscape fabric.
I loooove this! This is Great for a busy family or a beginner gardener like myself. Can you use that cardboard methods in garden beds? We just recently purchased our first house and the previous owners used cotton burr mulch that I’d like to some how get rid of and turn the beds into a veggies and herbs garden
I really don’t like your gravel sea…I have a barefoot policy for my grounds and gravel hurts were it lays and then it always creeps onto the sidewalk..ouch.
Grow Forage Cook Ferment says
To each his or her own :)
Wow! Neat idea. I’d love to see an updated picture. Thank you for the inspiration!
Robin Jozovich says
That does look really good, Joel! I would like to see a picture of the growth by the end of the summer!
Dawn Post says
1st, Congratulations to you on your marriage. 2nd, we love Costa Rica and the Osa area is our favorite place. We always head south and have been to some of the places you’ve mentioned. Your article just brought back how much we love Costa Rica and miss our friends and being there.
AND I’m now a fan of your pages about gardening.
Thank you so much, I’m so glad that you like the blog! I really appreciate it :) We fell in love with the Osa as well. I will be doing a more in depth post next week on all of the wonderful permaculture things that are going on there, so stay tuned for that!