May 6, 2024 - News

No-mow lawns are thriving in Seattle

A yard with large boulders, bonsai and native plantings replace a traditional lawn.

A Seattle-area yard features landscaping that includes boulders, bonsai and native plantings instead of a traditional lawn. Photo: Courtesy of Elandan Gardens

Some Seattle gardeners are moving away from grass and instead aiming to landscape or "rewild" their yards by planting wildflowers, clovers and other cover crops, such as vetch, local experts say.

Why it matters: No-mow (or low-mow) lawns have been popular in the Pacific Northwest for decades but demand continues to grow as people seek yard solutions that require less maintenance while also benefiting birds and bees, said Kristin Jackson, co-owner of Urban Earth Nursery in Fremont.

  • Yards that feature native plants and other specimens with deeper roots than lawn grass can help soil retain water and fend off erosion.
  • In addition to using less water, low-mow grasses and native plants need less fertilizer and fewer chemicals.

Driving the trend: Seeds have become a huge market that consistently grows every year, per Jackson.

  • Among the shop's most popular items is the Territorial Seed Company's Mow No More mix, a blend of violets, clover and other low-growing plants that can be sprinkled onto existing lawns and bare spots.

Between the lines: The majority of customers at Elandan Gardens in Kitsap County are looking to capture in their own yard what they "love about the area ... some of the natural, irregular, beautiful world they see while hiking," said Will Robinson, a sculptor and landscape artist with his family's decades-old business.

  • Elandan, which has been named one of the top bonsai gardens in the U.S., specializes in creating mountain and forest scenes with bonsai, specimen trees, boulders, rocks and the remnants of old cedars, Robinson told Axios.

What they're saying: "People don't necessarily want everything to look like a well-groomed golf course," he said.

A naturalistic landscape design featuring a sculpture.
A landscape at Elandan Gardens featuring a sculpture by Will Robinson, one of the owners of the family-run business. Photo: Courtesy of Elandan Gardens

The big picture: The #NoMowMay campaign, which has spread widely on social media in recent years, urges people to stop cutting their grass for the month in an effort to boost habitat and food for bees and other pollinators and increase biodiversity.

Yes, but: While the "anti-lawn" movement is gaining steam, it's also prompting conflict with some homeowner associations and traditionalists.

  • The issue pits property values, aesthetics and "curb appeal" against concerns about drought, gas-powered mowers and biodiversity.
  • And even among those who prize sustainability, there's still debate over whether it's actually better to skip mowing in April.

Fun fact: Those pesky dandelions are beloved by butterflies and bees and humans can eat all parts of them, said Jackson.

  • The only problem is they're so good at propagating that you could end up with a yard full of them and "your neighbors might not be as pollinator-friendly."

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