Landscaping Where Grass Will Not Grow

Landscaping Where Grass Will Not Grow

If your garden cannot grow a decent lawn, do not despair. We’ve got lots of ideas for landscaping where grass will not grow.

There are dozens of reasons why your garden may struggle to grow a good lawn. 

Soil compaction: The clay soils around Essex, Suffolk and London have got many strong points but they are easily compacted – and compacted soils don’t grow great lawns. My pal Robbie Lynn is a lawn care expert working mainly with the clay soils of Belfast. He has lots of tips on combatting soil compaction – read them here.   

Heavy footfall: Small gardens with active families often struggle to cultivate a lush lawn – simply because the grass plants can’t grow fast enough to repair the damage caused by all that to-ing and fro-ing.

Shade: Most lawn grasses (and there are many different species!) need plenty of sunshine if they are to thrive. A lawn starved of light is typically thin and sparse with pale, weak plants that gradually fade away leaving nothing but mud. 

Dry Soil:  All plants need water to survive and lawn grass can be quite thirsty. Its normal for a lawn to go a bit brown during the summer months but on particularly thin or quick draining soil, grasses  are extra vulnerable to drought.

Wet Soil: Ground that is perpetually wet is just not suited to growing a lawn. It’s difficult to maintain a healthy sward when the roots are drowning and the soil is too spongy for mowing.

Irregular maintenance regime: Regular mowing and feeding is essential if you want to create your perfect lawn. If you’re short of time, or you hate mowing – your lawn will never reach its full potential. You might want to consider re-landscaping your garden and swapping the traditional grass lawn for one of the many beautiful alternatives.

Hard Landscaping where grass will not grow

Hard landscaping is a general term which embraces all of the outdoor surfaces you can imagine that don’t involve soil and plants.  Depending on how you want to use your garden, you might swap your traditional grass lawn for decking, paving, paths or even artificial grass.

semi circular artificial lawn

Our client in Danbury needed a low maintenance garden because the family was too busy for regular lawn care. The garden designers at Tapestry Design Studios suggested a mix of paving and artificial turf with planting pockets in between.  Read more about it here

Gravel gardens 

One of the most inspiring gardens I’ve ever visited is Beth Chatto’s garden on the outskirts of Colchester. Beth has sadly passed away but her garden remains as a reminder to us all that working with nature, not against her, brings amazing results.  

The soil here is difficult to say the least. Wet in some places and desperately dry in others. Beth has simply embraced it by using the right plants for each and every microclimate within the space.

A series of paths take you on a journey through a garden filled with colour, texture and joy – and it looks just as good in January as it does in July. 

If you want to landscape your garden to look as good as Beth Chatto’s, start with a strong layout. Create your paths and seating areas and fix any drainage issues. Then invest in a professionally created planting plan to ensure all year round interest.

Take a look at this small back garden which was inspired by Beth Chatto’s garden.  

landscaping where grass will not grow


Alternative lawns

If grass will not grow but you need a play area for you, your children or your pets, you might want to consider artificial grass. It has its plus points and its minus points. It’s low maintenance but does need regular brushing to keep the pile in good condition and to keep the weeds away. (Yes, weeds do grow in artificial grass! Moss, in particular is happy to colonise artificial grass is shaded gardens.)

A low growing wildflower lawn can be an absolute delight – and its reasonable hardwearing too. Imagine an outdoor carpet studded with clover, buttercups, daisies, wild thyme – gorgeous! 

If you don’t plan to walk on your lawn very often, groundcover plants such as sedums make a good alternative lawn. They like sunshine and well drained soil but need hardly any maintenance.

Help with landscaping where grass doesn’t grow


back garden with alternative lawns



There are lots of alternatives to a natural grass lawn. If you need inspiration for a garden design with no lawn, our colleagues at Tapestry Design Studios will be pleased to help.  

Already have a plan? Holland Landscapes are professional landscapers working in and around Colchester in Essex. Click here to contact us for a landscaping quote. For gardeners living further afield, the APL can help you to find a reputable landscaper.

You may find these article interesting

Frequently asked landscaping questions.

Turning your back garden into a space fit for a millionaire.

How to integrate your indoor and outdoor spaces. 

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