japanese rock garden japanese rock garden You don't have to have a lawn just because your neighbors do. (Photo: marinatakano)

Forget lawns; try these beautiful, easy and useful alternatives

Imagine walking outside into a Japanese rock garden or wildlife refuge.

Lawns are a little ridiculous, if you think about it. They're patches of plants that take lots of watering and care, without providing food or even flowers. So why do we have them? Because medieval kings used them to show off how many serfs they had, wrote Yuval Noah Harari, an Israeli world history professor and bestselling author. Which doesn't seem like a terribly good reason to keep them around.

So if you're moving into a new place or considering redesigning your current yard, think about these alternatives before you buy a lawnmower.

For the lover of beauty: Japanese rock gardens

japanese rock gardenThe Japanese have been making rock gardens for over a thousand years. (Photo: Pavla/Shutterstock)

If it's aesthetics you're after, no lawn compares to a Japanese rock garden. These have been around for hundreds of years longer than lawns, probably because they're so beautiful. Rock gardens are supposed to imitate patterns in nature, rather than nature itself.

Oh, and guess how often you have to water rocks? (If you gave any answer other than "never," then please stop watering your rocks. We're in a water crisis. Plus, you're being weird.)


For the hungry homeowner: food forests

Ever wanted to have a garden without the annoyance of actually having to maintain a garden? Try a food forest. These alternatives to gardens use permaculture principles to plant fruits and vegetables that can then grow on their own.

“Parks need a lot of maintenance,” explained community organizer Nimrod Hochberg, who runs a food forest in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv. “Food forests are sustainable.”


For the person who wants a lawn without the hassle: clover

field of cloversThe Irish have long considered clovers lucky. (Photo: Wikipedia)

If you want something that's basically a lawn, without the headache of maintaining a lawn, consider clover. You don't need to water it, mow it or use fertilizers. It's also super cheap (apparently only $1 to cover 1,000 square feet) and stays green even during dry summer months. Plus, you can still walk and play on it.

Gardeners have long used clover to make soil more fertile. These little plants choke out weeds too. Seriously, the bonuses are pretty endless. Maybe that's why four-leafed clovers are so lucky.


For the person who wants to make the world a better place: wildlife habitat

Dragonfly perches on a rock at Ein Gedi springThe spring at Ein Gedi supports all manner of wildlife, from the buzzing dragonfly to the furry hyrax. (Photo: Nico Caramella/Flickr)

Humans are currently using 40 percent of the world's surface to grow food. And in the U.S., it's estimated that people grow more grass than any food crop, including corn and wheat. So most animals are losing their homes, and many are going extinct. But on the bright side, you can help reverse this trend on your own little patch of the great outdoors by turning your lawn into a habitat for local animals.

Some cities even help their residents transform their backyards into wildlife refuges. The New York state government website recommends things like turning your lawn into a meadow, planting native trees and berries and providing water for animals.

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