Garden Bloggers’ Design Workshop – Covering the Ground

– Posted in: Garden Design

Delosperma cooperi Artemisia abrotanum June 25 07

In past Design Workshops, we’ve talked a good bit about vertical design elements, such as walls, fences, trellises, and screens. This month, let’s take a look at the horizontal plane: the various ways we gardeners handle the “floor” of our outdoor spaces.



Some sort of lawn, as well as some paved areas for a driveway and walkway, are what many of us face when we start gardening. While we’re pretty much stuck with the hardscaping necessary for access to our home, we may be able to choose or replace the materials used for them, or for new features we add, such as paths, decks, and patios. These design elements tend to be expensive and relatively permanent. Sometimes we have to settle for a surface that’s more practical than beautiful, but if we’re lucky, we may be able to upgrade to something more attractive and/or environmentally friendly, such as porous paving.

Have you written any posts on your blog about your favorite hardscaping features? Or have you documented the process of constructing a deck, patio, walkway, or other hardscape feature in your garden? All links are welcome! Photos of great-looking paving and other sorts of horizontal hardscaping would be great too.


Arc borders 2 July 19 07

Unless you’re starting with a completely blank slate, it’s likely that you have at least some grass-covered ground to deal with. You may want or need to keep some turf to have space for kids or animals to play, and maybe you love the look of green grass as a setting for or paths through your gardens. Or, maybe you have areas where you mow whatever grows, simply because you don’t have the time, energy, or money needed to turn it into something else.

The folks over at the Lawn Reform Coalition ( have gathered lots of information on and links to resources on organic lawn care, low-maintenance turfgrasses, and reducing or replacing lawn. But there’s always room for more ideas and inspiration, so if you’ve written about any lawn-related topics on your blog, we’d love to include your links here.

Gardens, groundcovers, and meadows

Upper meadow 3 Aug 16 07

There are lots of reasons to replace turfgrass with other plants: if it’s hard to maintain or not well adapted to your climate; if you’re bored with having to mow regularly; or if you’re simply ready to get growing with more exciting and diverse plants. This is your chance to tell why you’ve decided to get rid of some or all of your grass, and what you planted in its place. Have you had good luck getting groundcovers started, or have you planted some that you wish you hadn’t? Have you figured out a good way to keep lawn grasses from creeping into adjacent gardens and groundcovers? Have you stopped regular mowing and let some of your property grow into a meadow or woodland for wildlife habitat? Posts on any non-lawn plantings are fair game.


Orchard path late May 07

What about those spaces where hardscaping isn’t a realistic option but lawns or plantings aren’t practical either? Gravel, shredded bark, or other mulches may be your choice for lesser-used pathways, heavily shaded spaces, bone-dry areas under shallow-rooted trees or roof overhangs, and other tough sites. If you’ve chosen one or more mulches to cover the ground in your outdoor spaces, let us know how it worked out for you.

Uncovering the Ground

Easter border extension with sod cutter 1 Oct 19 07

One of our top-5 posts of all time here at GGW is a post I wrote two-and-a-half years ago – Sod Off (in an Eco-Friendly Way) – about removing lawn with a manual sod cutter. Searches for “manual sod cutter” and “removing sod” also bring loads of traffic here. It’s not a fun topic, and it doesn’t make for pretty posts, but it’s a subject that people really want to know about. So, how about sharing your favorite techniques for getting rid of grass: chopping it up with a mattock, peeling it off with a spade or sod cutter, or smothering it with plastic or mulches. If it works well for you, you’ll be doing a great service to your fellow gardeners when you write a post about it!

How to Contribute

If you’d like to share your ideas for this month’s Garden Bloggers’ Design Workshop, write a blog post on anything related to covering the ground and give us the link below, or simply leave a comment here if you don’t want to do a separate post. If you’ve written about the topic in the past, those links are equally welcome; it’s not necessary to create a new post to participate.

I’ll gather all of the links into one summary post for easy reference. It’ll go up on May 28th, so please try to get your links in by the 26th.

If you’re interested in checking out previous Garden Bloggers’ Design Workshops, you can find them here.

Nancy J. Ondra
Nan gardens on 4 acres in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. In the firm belief that every garden ought to have a pretentious-sounding (or at least pretentious-looking) name, she refers to her home grounds as "Hayefield." There, she experiments with a wide variety of plants and planting styles, from cottage gardens and color-based borders to managed meadows, naturalistic plantings, and veggies--all under the watchful eyes of her two pet alpacas, Daniel and Duncan.
Nancy J. Ondra

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Sheila May 3, 2010, 8:48 am

I’ve written a number of posts about covering the ground (including one about the same manual sod remover!) at


That’s a great resource, Sheila – thank you for sharing it!

Susan Harris May 3, 2010, 9:17 pm

Wonderful topic and I’ll link to this on the Lawn Reform site.
Here’s a post about my sorta formal ex-lawn in the front of my house, using assorted thymes and other low creepers.
And here’s a post about the lawn replacements in my back yard: Sedum and clover.

Great, Susan! It took a while to get around to this topic, but I’m hoping we’ll get lots of responses.

Gail May 4, 2010, 9:46 am

I’ll check into this when I get back to the garden. It’s a great topic! gail

Perhaps a post on flood-tolerant groundcovers would be in order? I hope your garden is ok!

ryan May 8, 2010, 3:52 pm

I’ve always meant to write a post about sheet mulching over lawns. We teach a workshop about it every year and we usually replace 2 or 3 lawns a year for clients. It’s really easy in our summer dry climate I get kind of bummed when I see people go to the effort of removing the sod and hauling it to the dump, when all they’re really doing is removing organic matter. We start a lawn removal project in two weeks. We’ll see if I get a post up in time.

That approach works well here in the east, too. I can’t imagine taking sod to the dump – what a waste!

Town Mouse May 8, 2010, 10:52 pm

Inspired by my visit to the Berkeley Urban Bee Garden, I’ve done a post about the value of bare dirt in your garden. You can read it here:

How exciting that you shared this, Town Mouse! I had no idea how important ground-nesting bees are.

Lois J de Vries May 10, 2010, 7:44 am

My philosophy of having “just enough” of everything extends to the lawn, as well. I suspect most people don’t consider how much lawn they “need,” but simply accept what is provided by the builder — grass seed or sod is so much less complicated to design and install than any other option.

My post is on deciding how much lawn to keep.

Great point, Lois. It’s easy to understand why lawn is the default groundcover for most homes, but it doesn’t have to stay that way.

Frances May 12, 2010, 9:25 am

Great subject matter, Nan. I believe this recent post fits in nicely with this topic.

No Mow

Thanks for the tour, Frances. It’s a perfect fit for this month’s theme.

Genevieve May 12, 2010, 11:17 pm

Oh, I love this topic! I just wrote about groundcovers for coastal conditions:

And in the past, I’ve written about the different kinds of mulch available and why you’d choose or not choose each:

I’m off to go read some of the links above – I’m particularly entranced by the manual sod-cutter idea, and the idea that bare soil is important. I never knew that, Town Mouse!!

I really appreciate your contributions, Genevieve. There’s a wealth of great info on your site!

healingmagichands May 13, 2010, 1:53 pm

What a great subject! I have covered a lot of ground over at the Havens, and today I put up a post featuring the transformation of a barren slope into our scree/rock garden with a flagstone path.

In the past I did a post on how to change a lawn area into a garden bed using the “lasagna” method.

Thanks for giving us this opportunity to share our “expertise” with other gardeners.

Thank *you* for taking the time to share your experiences. You’ve accomplished so much! It’s inspiring to see what a fellow gardener can accomplish with a lot of thought, time, and hard work.

Elephant's Eye May 18, 2010, 5:25 am

We have no lawn, but I am constantly battling Kikuyu runners, which sneak in everywhere but, in the neighbour’s lawn where they are planted.

Porous paving was urgent when we moved in three years ago. Mix heavy clay soil, baked hard by the summer sun, with winter cloudbursts – and we got floods. The ‘rivers’ in our garden are brick edged gravel paths, which drain away that water quite quickly.

Urgent indeed, Diana! It’s a good thing you found a way to cope with the yearly inundation.

Meems@HoeandShovel May 20, 2010, 11:17 pm

Hi Nan,
I’ve gradually removed more than half of my lawn grass in the past few years. I’ve written about those projects at times. Here’s a link:

Really love seeing images of your beautiful garden!

Thanks, Meems! It’s a treat to indulge in the lush beauty of your garden too. Boy, I wish we could get that lovely pine straw up here in PA.

healingmagichands May 23, 2010, 1:27 pm

You guys have been quite inspirational this month. I did another post on this subject today, more history.

I really should go to the trouble of putting together a post of the history of the vegetable garden too, which would involve scanning photos taken BD (Before Digital). However, I have a huge weeding project that needs attention so I shall defer this for another time.

I appreciate you taking the time to share this post too. If you find the time to do another post, you can always come back and leave a link. For now, good luck with your weeding!

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