After dramatically reducing the amount of turf grass we have, we've experimented with other options for lawn-like areas, especially in the "hellstrip," i.e. the space between the sidewalk and the road.
No Mow lawn
We started out with a small experimental patch of No Mow lawn along our flower bed. That turned out so well that we converted much of the lawn between the road and sidewalk (sometimes known as a "hellstrip") to No Mow.
It seemed to handle road salt quite well. It's dark green, fine textured, and doesn't need to be mowed, fertilized or watered. Though not required, we mowed it once in the spring and once in the fall.
Since we hadn't planted it thickly enough, though, it became infested with weeds, and we have since replanted with other things.
We tried a white Dutch clover lawn, supposedly popular in Canada. We planted it along the street in a small experimental patch.
One advantage of clover is that it's nitrogen-fixing. Another advantage is that it provides nectar for bees, if you allow it to get tall enough to flower. (People who don't want bees can just keep it mowed.)
The following year, our thriving clover patch wasn't very healthy looking. Perhaps, since it borders the road, it got a heavy dose of road salt in the winter. At any rate, we took out that patch and replaced it with No Mow grass.
Anemones in the hellstrip
Putting the Canada anemones (Anemone canadensis) in the hellstrip solved two problems. It gave me a place to put these somewhat aggressive, but beautiful, plants in a place that will keep them in bounds, and it is functioning well as a substitute for lawn in this area.
Plants instead of lawn
Wild ginger (Asarum canadense) makes a lovely lawn substitute, though I'm not using it for that here. This is actually part of my woodland garden in the back yard, so there is a fern and some woodland phlox mixed in.
But there's no reason an alternative lawn has to be uniform anyway, so if we were growing this patch as a lawn substitute, I'd still leave some of these other plants.
Of course, we wouldn't be able to walk on it as we would lawn, but people walk on most of their lawn area only when they're mowing it anyway.
We especially like this native sedum (Sedum ternatum). It's beautiful when it's flowering like this, but even after the flowers are gone, this low-growing plant is very attractive and seems to fill in the area where it's planted, though not aggressively.
Of course, to cover any large area, you'd need a lot of plants. Perhaps these kinds of plants could be used along the edge of a lawn area.
Front yard in transition
In this photo, we still have many non-natives such as sedum and hosta. These aren't invasive, but we're gradually replacing them with natives as we have the opportunity.
©Janet AllenWoodland plants
Currently, one of our small woodland areas is beneath the redbud. The mayapples, goldenseal, and foamflowers are already starting to spread, and the bluebells we started from seed are at blooming size now. I've already started to remove some of the hosta to make room for these more interesting and more beneficial plants.
For most of our front yard, though, we've simply planted shrubs and perennials, such as these columbines. Lawn substitutes don't have to be low-growing and uniform!
All in all, we find that we just don't need so much lawn or lawn-like areas. So many other plants can grow on that land instead. And these plants are so much more enjoyable than just plain lawn.