Dryland Gardens and No-Mow Yards

We’ve all grown used to the ideal of a lush green lawn surrounding our homes, but is this really the best choice? Maybe not. Even if you are careful not to use chemicals on your lawn, you likely still have to water the lawn – and water is a valuable resource that should be conserved. Plus, the gasoline and pollution involved in mowing the lawn are harmful to the environment – not to mention all the labor and cost involved!

Photo from The Water-Saving Garden by Pam Penick.

As it turns out, there are exciting new landscaping alternatives to having a lawn. Xeriscaping is gardening or landscaping that reduces the need for watering. Done right, you can also eliminate the need for mowing! There are lots of beautiful and lush drought-tolerant plants and flowers, and native plants and grasses have evolved to grow and thrive in local conditions. There are also methods for creating gardens that actually capture and hold the rainwater so it seeps into the ground slowly providing much more moisture for thirsty plants and protecting the topsoil and nutrients from washing away. There are even very clever ways of dealing with paths and patios that help to save water.

Here are some excellent books with more ideas and information:

Beautiful No-Mow Yards by Evelyn J. Hadden challenges the traditional idea of a manicured lawn with new ideas for your yard. This book covers a broad range of related topics including living carpets, xeric gardens, play areas, patios and more. It has a section to help you design and convert your lawn to a garden – and maintain it as well. This book also includes a section about plants to use in different situations.


The Water-Saving Garden by Pam Penick has creative ideas for large or small scale projects and loads of practical suggestions such as grouping plants with similar water needs together and using berms (mounded soil) and swales (shallow gullies) to make the most of the rain. She also includes ideas for creating the illusion of water and a chapter devoted to water-saving plants. The Water-Saving Garden is also available as an ebook.


Dryland Gardening by Jennifer Bennett focuses on the plants that thrive in low water conditions. The first chapter gives an excellent overview of why and how someone would create a dryland garden. After that, it’s all about the plants – with separate chapters for herbs, grasses and groundcovers, bulbs, perennials and vines, annual flowers, and shrubs. The photographs in this book are gorgeous!


Rain Gardens by Nigel Dunnett and Andy Clayden focuses on capturing rainfall from buildings and sealed surfaces, and then storing and releasing the water within a landscape. Most of the projects covered in the book are larger than individual homes. I included this book because I was especially intrigued by the chapter on green roofs. Vegetation on the roofs of buildings reduces and slows water run-off. It also provides insulation that helps to keep the inside cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

These books are chock-full of beautiful photographs and creative ideas. They’re fun to browse even if you don’t have a yard. These are just a few of the books in the library’s collection on these topics. Browse our online catalog or stop by and check out the Lawn and Garden Neighborhood for more great ideas! The following websites also offer great information:

eartheasy: Solutions for Sustainable Living

the spruce: Xeriscape Landscaping

Rodale’s Organic Life: Top 10 Ways to Save Water in Your Garden

House Logic: Top 10 Tips for Saving Water in the Garden

Jill Mickel is a Public Services Specialist and a member of the Arts and Crafts team. Her passions are art and community, and she believes that art is for everyone! When she is not at the library or working in her studio, she can be found gardening, cooking, reading, or bird-watching.