Upgrade your grass
If you have decided that conventional lawns are a waste of time, petrol and water, as well as lacking in aesthetic appeal and habitat value for birds and insects, what are the options for creating a more diverse and attractive planting in a space that you want to keep open so you can see the views and/or enjoy the sunlight coming into your house?
English gardening books often advise ‘lawns’ made of low-growing herbs such as perennial chamomile, or thyme. I say – too much weeding and general care involved, so I wouldn’t create such a lawn except as a small feature in a herb garden. A much better alternative, which requires very little attention after the initial establishment phase, is to go for grasses that grow naturally as a large clump. Native tussock grasses are a prime example, and anyone who visited one of our very few tussock reserves and seen how glorious they look tossing in the wind will know they are much better to look at as well as much easier to look after than lawn grass. Native grasses come in a great range of colours, sizes and seed heads, from the little coastal blue tussock to the tall toe toe. My personal favourite is the unique-to-New Zealand wind grass, Anemanthele lessoniana, which can form clumps up to 80cm tall and 1m across, with light feathery red seed heads above bronze leaves. It is very hardy, in sun or light shade, and needs no care apart from an occasional ‘combing’ of old, dead stems. Don’t plant it right next to a narrow pathway though, as the seed heads and stems will overhang and form a damp obstruction after rain. Choose smaller grasses or suitable low-growing, spreading shrubs or perennials instead. Excellent choices would be little blue tussocks, low growing hebes, or native daisies (Celmisia spp.) For all you need to know on the diverse range and many uses of our indigenous members of the great grass family see Lawrie Metcalf’s book The Cultivation of New Zealand Native Grasses.