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Grass-free zone
The Kleimenhagens have worked diligently over the years to build a beautiful yard where no grass is allowed

By PATRICE PELTIER

May 2007

So delighted were the Kleimenhagens by the results of their backyard undertaking that a few years ago they decided to take on the front yard, too. Today, brick paths alternate with walkways made of wood chips or stepping stones. Ferns, bleeding hearts, May apples, Jacob’s ladders, lungworts and brunneras fill in the spaces with a tapestry of color and texture.


Hartland resident Betty Kleimenhagen and her daughter Louisa have done the nearly unthinkable: Created a subdivision landscape that doesn’t include a blade of grass.

Instead of a lawn, the Kleimenhagens have sweeps of shade-loving plants that provide an ever-changing vista on the family’s wooded, one-acre lot. "We think grass is a weed," chuckles Louisa. "If my husband sees grass, he pulls it," Betty adds. "That’s his contribution to gardening."

When the Kleimenhagens bought their lot in the late 1970s, it was because they wanted to live among the trees. They cleared many of the smaller trees themselves to make way for their saltbox house, and paid their builder a premium to work around the towering oaks, maples and hickories. At one time, the backyard held a big sandbox and other accoutrements of an active family. About 10 years ago, with her children grown, Betty decided it was time to transform the landscape.

Louisa, who has a horticulture degree from UW-Madison, was recruited to create a landscape design.

"I wanted to do the planting myself, and I didn’t want to be overwhelmed, so I told her, ‘Put me on a 5-year plan,’" Betty recalls. Like most gardening projects, this one took a lot longer than anticipated.

Louisa’s plan was to collect the hodgepodge of existing plants and organize them into groupings. She envisioned massed plantings, each with a different foliage color or texture to create an interesting pattern even when the plants aren’t in bloom. She repeated groupings of some plants to lead the viewer’s eyes through the landscape. When viewed from the serenity of the screened porch or back patio, the effect is a cool and restful retreat.

As every gardener knows, the work in the garden is far from done. Already, the two are planning to add one or maybe two water features. There’s also a rain garden on the drawing board with a resting place where storm water can be absorbed into the soil.

There is, however, one common maintenance task that won’t make the project list. There won’t be any grass to mow.

Mother and daughter also wanted the yard to be interesting as much of the year as possible. They planted daffodils and Virginia bluebells for early spring color. After these plants flower, their foliage dies back, and their places are taken by plants that get a later start on the growing season. When the summer-flowering plants are finished, the gardeners leave big sweeps of black-eyed Susan seedheads for birds to enjoy along with the nuts and berries of the yard’s many shrubs and trees.