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Originally published September 29, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified September 29, 2007 at 2:00 AM

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Eco-friendly yards | Replacing a grass lawn with a flowery meadow

Does the idea of a meadow right outside your door appeal to you? Are you interested in being less of a slave to your lawn? Consider alternatives to just...

Special to The Seattle Times

Resources for grasses

Nichols Garden Nursery, Albany, Ore.:

To order plants and seeds online, visit www.nicholsgardennursery.com or call 800-422-3985

Hobbs & Hopkins, Portland: It sells a mix called Fleur de Lawn, similar to the Nichols Garden Nursery mix, with dwarf perennial rye grass instead of colonial bent grass, and Pipolina MicroClover that can be mowed low to keep it from flowering. Visit www.protimelawnseed.com, or call 503-239-7518.

Grassland West, Clarkston, Wash.: Visit the Web site at www.grasslandwest.com or call 866-214-2947. Kevin Miller will

consult with potential customers

to tailor a custom mix of seed

suitable to their needs and site

conditions.

Does the idea of a meadow right outside your door appeal to you? Are you interested in being less of a slave to your lawn? Consider alternatives to just plain grass.

One solution is to plant an ecology lawn, or eco-lawn, a mix of grasses and flowering plants. Available from many sources, the exact mix depends on the supplier.

Nichols Garden Nursery, in Albany, Ore., is one source. Rose Marie Nichols McGee, the owner, developed her mix 22 years ago as a low-water-use and low-maintenance lawn alternative.

She recommends Northern Ecology Mix for the Puget Sound area, which includes colonial bent grass; strawberry and Dutch white clover (Trifolium species); the flowering perennials English daisy (Bellis perennis), Roman chamomile (Anthemis nobilis) and yarrow (Achillea millefolium); and an annual, baby blue eyes (Nemophila menziesii).

Colonial bent grass is not a vigorous grass and won't overwhelm the perennials. The annual baby blue eyes serve as a nurse crop, growing quickly until the perennials fill in.

Clover is a nitrogen fixer and provides nutrients for the other plants, which means less fertilizer application.

McGee recommends cutting the eco-lawn every three weeks in the spring, then about once in the summer. The key is to mow it often enough to keep the yarrow from developing woody stems, but allowing the perennials to flower between cuttings.

Flowers in the lawn attract bees, and that can be a concern.

For an eco-lawn with few flowers, Hobbs & Hopkins, in Portland, uses a new clover in its eco-lawn mixes, Pipolina MicroClover. This clover has the benefits of other clovers, providing a natural source of nitrogen, but does not bloom until it is 6 inches tall (other clovers bloom at much lower heights), so occasional mowing prevents clover flowers.

Another approach is to choose a seed mix that can be left longer for a natural meadow look — flowers, bees and all, evocative of times spent in the mountains or prairies.

Grassland West offers Xeriscape Mix, a combination of native plants, half grass and half perennials. The grass is Romer's fescue (Festuca roemerii). The combination looks best when mowed only once a year in the fall after the perennials have provided a summer of bloom.

The plants grow 18 to 24 inches tall to give a true meadow look. The perennial flowers take a year to establish and bloom, so the first year the meadow is mostly green. The Romer's fescue grass serves as a nurse crop while the perennials build strength.

Is it possible to turn our lawns into flower-filled grassy meadows, or would our neighbors turn us in as sloppy caretakers? Would the flowers tend to be dandelions instead of daisies?

Miller says the look of meadows and eco-lawns does not please everyone, and many customers go back to a standard turf lawn after a few years.

Even so, many remain committed to the advantages of a bio-diverse, easy-care lawn. The thick plant growth prevents weed seeds from germinating, and an occasional dandelion is lost in the profusion of textures.

Fall is a good time to seed one in. The weather is cool and rain will help to keep the soil moist for good growth of the tender young plants. Plant before mid-October so that the new seedlings can establish before winter cold sets in.

For large areas, consider hydroseeding, a process that mixes seed with a slurry of mulch and water that can be sprayed on. The seed germinates quickly because the mulch holds moisture. To find an installer, look in the Yellow Pages under "hydroseeding." Most hydroseeders have access to eco-lawn and meadow mixes.

Phil Wood has a degree in landscape architecture and designs and builds gardens. Write to him at thegardendesigner@seattletimes.com. Sorry, no personal replies.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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