From the February/March 2015 Issue:

Less-Lawn Landscapes

    Writer: Mary Vinnedge |

Homeowners will sacrifice grass for outdoor rooms

Article Photo
enlarge | Techo-Bloc’s Borealis, shown in the color Smoked Pine, mimics the look of wood.
Grass is far from an endangered species in New Jersey landscapes, but it’s definitely losing ground.

Some homeowners minimize lawn to reduce their maintenance (mowing, fertilizing, seeding, watering) while others make the choice out of environmental concerns, opting for beds of native or well-adapted shrubs, perennials and other plants that need little to no pesticides and irrigation.

But most end up with less lawn because they want outdoor rooms for family time and entertainment, say Doug Miller of Miller Landscape Services Inc. in Neshanic Station; Jessica Ciccarello of Techo-Bloc, a manufacturer of concrete pavers and other landscaping masonry; Marianne Anzaldo of EP Henry, a Woodbury-based manufacturer of concrete masonry products; and Joe Palimeno of Ledden Palimeno, a design-build landscape firm in Sewell.

“The backyard is becoming a party room, and homeowners are looking for creative and functional ways to entertain their guests under the open sky,” Ciccarello says. These outdoor living rooms, dining rooms, kitchens, bars and poolside lounges usually have heat sources such as fireplaces, fire pits and portable heaters that extend the usable months from March to November, Miller says.

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enlarge | EP Henry’s ECO has a coarse material between pavers to help rainwater trickle into the soil underneath.
Solid Surface
In these rooms paved floors trump lawn for function: Furniture moves easily, without chair legs sinking into the earth; heavily used areas don’t end up with bare soil; and rooms can be used right after a rain. Paving also has overtaken decks in popularity, Miller says, because decks require more maintenance such as waterproofing, staining and occasional replacement.

Although brick and concrete slabs are options, our landscaping experts say natural and man-made stone are today’s favored choices, balancing aesthetics and durability. Man-made stone and pavers cost about 20 to 40 percent less than natural stone, Anzaldo says, adding that their consistent sizes and shapes can also mean savings on installation.

Man-made stones come in collections with various selections of colors, sizes and decorating styles, including slate, brick, cobblestone and even wood lookalikes. Among the cast-concrete paving units available today, Anzaldo and Ciccarello say that bigger stones are in high demand, with Anzaldo citing 12-by-12-, 24-by-12- and 12-by-18-inch sizes.

For best aesthetics and a coordinated design scheme, materials used on floors should be used also to edge planting beds and for any steps used along slopes.

For “walls” in outdoor rooms, look to fences and the exterior walls of structures as well as full-skirted evergreens and hedges of dense shrubbery. Palimeno suggests staggering the plantings to enhance visual appeal and to ensure the privacy that’s vital to well-functioning outdoor rooms. Landscaping designs often call for plantings of colorful perennials, groundcovers and annuals to enhance enjoyment of outdoor rooms. (These same plants are staples when planting beds displace lawn in the front yard.)

Article Photo
enlarge | Top left: Miller Landscape Services planned two outdoor rooms for Clinton homeowners. Above: Miller Landscape’s Dominick Stanzione designed pea gravel pathways to improve permeability around a stone patio at the Clinton property. Spikes of liriope bloom near the arch. Left: A second stone patio that Stanzione created for the same property provides a place to read, observe wildlife and enjoy a snack. There’s limited lawn and limited maintenance in this casual setting.
Getting Through
The only downside to many of these family- and entertainment-friendly rooms is how much they block water from draining into the ground, also known as impervious coverage. “It’s important to be aware of the restrictions that each town enforces for impervious coverage and to stay well within the parameters,” Miller says. Typical stone and concrete surfaces don’t allow water to penetrate, so heavy rains can lead to erosion-causing runoff that also can carry fertilizers and pesticides to storm sewers. When water can soak into the ground, the soil provides filtration of many pollutants.

Some ways to reduce impervious coverage include spaced-out paving, with plants growing between. Thyme or grass “between concrete slabs gives a hint of green without the maintenance of a full-size lawn,” Ciccarello says.

But permeable paving enhances permeability without the need to tend plants if lower maintenance is a priority. EP Henry and Techo-Bloc have special paving systems in various colors and styles that are designed to help rainstorm runoff percolate into the soil. This type of paving is especially useful for driveways, which cover large areas, Anzaldo notes.

Other permeable alternatives to consider in home landscapes are pea gravel for paths and driveways. Of course, mulched walkways are permeable also, but they aren’t as popular because they’re messy, Anzaldo says. They also need to be replenished regularly as the mulch decomposes, Miller points out. He cautions that certain mulches have been known to contain toxins; others, made from diseased trees, have spread plant diseases. As a result, he recommends a double-shredded organic hemlock or cedar mulch for all gardening purposes.

Palimeno cites an innovative, outside-the-box solution to permeability challenges: Homeowners are “capturing rainwater and using it for drip irrigation as a way of getting around permeable issues.”

The takeaway here is to check with local government offices to find out how you can comply with impervious coverage restrictions while creating the party room of your dreams.

Less Grass, More Color

Doug Miller and Dominick Stanzione of Miller Landscape Services Inc. and Joe Palimeno of Ledden Palimeno recommend the following plants for strong visual appeal when used in borders and adjacent to outdoor rooms.

Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia spp.)
‘Blue Maid’ holly; other hollies (Ilex spp.)
Boxwood (Buxus spp.)
Carex (ornamental grass)
Catmint (Nepeta spp.)
Cherry laurel (Prunus laurocerasus)
Crabappple (Malus spp.)
Crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica)
Creeping thyme (Thymus praecox)
‘Crimson Pygmy’ barberry (Berberis thunbergii)
Japanese painted fern (Athryium niponicum)
Knock Out roses
Kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa)
Liriope (ornamental grass)
‘Limelight’ hydrangea
Oaks (Quercus spp.)
Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris)
Pachysandra terminalis (ground cover)
Paper-bark maple (Acer griseum)
Purple and white coneflower (Echinacea spp.)
Red twig Dogwood (Cornus sericea)
Redbud (Cercis spp.)
Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia)
Sugar maple (Acer saccharum)
Schip laurel (Prunus laurocerasus ‘Schipkaensis’)
St. Johns wort (Hypericum)
Vinca (ground cover)

Mary Vinnedge, the managing editor of SUCCESS magazine who moonlights for Design NJ,is fascinated by permeable paving systems. Contact her through or