Landscape Design Without Plants

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Landscaping without plants may sound a little bizarre at first, but cutting down on thirsty plants will not only be good for your budget, it will also minimize the amount of time you spend maintaining your yard (not to mention, it’s eco-friendly). Plus, these non-growing materials can be sources of beauty for your yard while also offering you more usable space.

A good landscape design is all about making the practical beautiful — tailoring your garden to your lifestyle. Ask yourself what you want from your outdoor space. Do you want a quiet retreat for yourself? A space for entertaining? A space that can accommodate children? Utilize landscape design to get what you want from your space.

We usually think of gardens as being all about plants and flowers, but there are places where weather makes it impractical to rely on traditional means of constructing a garden. Non-living materials and minimal plantings can be easy-maintained and can be both decorative and useful year-round.

Construct functional areas that lend themselves to design. These areas can serve a similar purpose as lawns — only they’re easier to maintain since they don’t require regular watering!

Some landscape designs that naturally lend themselves to minimal planting include Zen gardens, walkways, mosaic designs, utilitarian outdoor rooms, patios, workspaces and children’s play areas. Dry riverbeds and pebble gardens can add interest to your yard, too.

Have fun and use your imagination when selecting non-living materials. I’ve included a list of common materials below, but this shouldn’t stop you from coming up with some conversation-starting pieces of your own. I’ve seen colorful broken pottery, marbles, industrial vinyl scraps and other clever mulches that add color and texture to yards. Just make sure whatever you use is safe and non-toxic. Here is one creative solution that uses recycled bowling balls as a ground cover guaranteed never to wash or blow away in any weather!

Here’s a handy reference list of some loose materials that work well for covering open spaces:

  • Pebbles
  • Sand
  • Flagstone
  • Cut stone or concrete slabs
  • Rock chips
  • Gravel
  • Decomposed granite
  • Tumbled glass
  • Bark
  • Shredded recycled tires
  • Tiles (use outdoor tiles, not thin ones made for indoor use)
  • Bricks
  • Wood –slices of tree trunks or branches
  • Cement blocks
  • Slate pieces
  • Shredded  bark
  • Cocoa mulch (Beware: this can be toxic if eaten by pets, but it smells great to us humans!).

Do you have any suggestions for practical, low-maintenance, novel or artistic ways to landscape a garden without plants? Share your ideas in the comments below!

Photo credits: Jane Gates

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