Grass Alternatives

If you like a green lawn, but don’t enjoy the regular grass cutting, why not try a grass substitute? None of those suggested here will stand up to the hard wear of a children’s play area like grass, but just for occasional foot traffic and as a feature that is for admiration only. Here are some practical alternatives that don’t need regular mowing.

Some common alternatives

Thyme: Thyme is aromatic when crushed, and makes a good grass substitute, but don’t use the culinary thyme (Thymus vulgaris), which is too tall. Choose a carpeter like T. pseudolanuginosus or T. serpyllum.

Chamomile: is highly aromatic. Chamomile (Chamaemetum nobile, syn. Anthemis nobilis) also looks good. Look for the variety Treneague, which is compact and does not normally flower.

Clover: If clover is a problem in your lawn, it may make a good grass substitute. Once established it will keep green for most of the year, and will tolerate dry soils. It tolerates walking on and can look quite attractive in summer, and is probably greener than grass in dry weather. You’ll only have to mow a couple of times a year, after the flowers appear, to keep it looking smart. White clover (Trifalium repens) is a good one to use for lawns, though you will need to mail order the seeds from a company that sells wild or agricultural seeds.

Cutting costs

Pot grown plants from a garden center can be expensive if you need a great number. You can cut the cost by buying just some plants and using these for cuttings. Grow them for a year before planting in the garden. Some thymes are easily raised from seed, but start them off in seed trays then grow in pots.

  1. Always lay paving on a firm base and excavate the area to a depth that allows for a hard core, mortar, and paving. Firm the ground, then add 5-10 cm/2-4 in of hard core for foot traffic, about 15 cm/6 in if vehicles will use it.
  2. Compact the ground thoroughly. Bed the slabs on five blobs of mortar, using five parts of sharp sand to one part cement.
  3. Alternatively, you can lay the slabs with a solid bed of mortar, although this will make it more difficult to adjust them.
  4. Start at a known straight edge, and then position each slab in turn. The best way is to lower the slab down from one side, then slide it if adjustments are necessary.
  5. Tap the slab level with a mallet or the handle of a club hammer, using a long spirit level that spans adjoining slabs. If a large area of paving is being laid, it may be necessary to lay it on a slight slope to drain rainwater, in which case you must allow for this.
  6. Unless the slabs are designed to be butt joined, use spacers to ensure a gap of consistent width. You can make these from scraps of wood. A few days after the slabs have been laid, point with mortar.


You must prepare the ground thoroughly and eliminate as many weeds as possible otherwise weeding will become a tiresome chore if left unchecked. Time spent now will be time saved later.

  1. Prepare the ground thoroughly by digging over the area and leveling it at least a month before planting. This will allow the soil to settle and weed seedlings to germinate. Then dig our any deep-rooted perennial weeds that appear. Hoe out seedlings and a rake level again.
  2. Water all the plants in their pots first, and then set them out about 20 cm/8 in apart, in staggered rows as shown (a little closer for quicker cover, a little further apart for economy but slower cover).
  3. Knock a plant from its pot and carefully tease out a few of the roots if they are running tightly around the edge of the pot.