By Bonnie Manion
A few years ago my husband and I got the Southern California message to ditch the lawn over concern about water scarcity and water cost. In fact in front of our home we have a gravel auto court, and an enclosed gravel courtyard, top. We have no lawn anymore, yet the front yard still looks warm and inviting. Here are a few tips I used to create that look. Whether you have a lawn or not, these tips will work for you too.
Plant rock purslane - Around the courtyard fountain I planted rock purslane (Calandrinia spectabilis). I consider it a groundcover but have seen it called a shrub. Originally a Chilean perennial, rock purslane works well in Zones 8-10. It resists drought and deer, is ever-blooming, attracts birds and butterflies, and will thrive in sun to partial sun. It gradually spreads several feet, to the point that it has nearly surrounded the courtyard fountain.
Sword fern - In the courtyard I also repeat sword ferns (Polystichum munitum). These common upright bushy ferns add interest, softness and texture in matched pots and urns. I place them together at my pathway entrances and front door. Grown commonly in moist, wooded areas, these ferns, with plenty of moisture, will adapt to Southern California sun.
Varied additional plantings - Nonfruiting olive trees, creeping Irene rosemary, Provence lavender, blue juniper and white 'Iceberg' roses are additional plantings I like for Mediterranean courtyard ambience.
Use containers - Consider using old carts, potted buckets of Verbena bonariensis and vintage containers to accent your garden style and soften a gravel courtyard. Have fun with these pieces, and change them seasonally.
Make a showy entrance - I planted two picotee sky flower (Duranta erecta) shrubs that flank my entrance gate into the courtyard. Native to Mexico, South America and the Caribbean, these dazzlers have upright, arching habits with delicate, intense violet-blue flowers that last from spring to summer. They also have contrasting orange-yellow berries. Because they can reach as high as 25 feet and as wide as 12 feet, picotee sky flowers benefit from regular pruning.
Note: picotee sky flower has a toxic compound that is known to be poisonous to humans and should not be eaten.
What are some ways you've ditched your grass habit?