covers part of the front yard of Elaine and Larry
Stept's Pittsburgh home. "Our two
100-year-old oaks gave off so much shade you
couldn't even grow shade grass," says Elaine
decades, the perfectly mowed lawn has endured as an
American pursuit. But today, a growing number of
homeowners are rethinking this default landscape feature
in the neighborhoods of America’s heartland as they
downsize or replace these grassy spaces with other more
productive and often less time- and chemical-consuming
Pittsburgh couple chose to exchange their shaded,
failing grass for a thriving, no-mow moss lawn. A
long-time Cincinnatian installed dozens of towering
teepees to support his favorite flowering vines. And a
Columbus, Ohio, philosophy professor ripped out her
front lawn — the only sunny spot on her property —
to install multiple raised-bed vegetable gardens.
to Susan McCoy, author of the 2015 Garden Trends Report,
more homeowners are rebelling against horticulture
started seeing this trend with the backyard chickens and
front-yard vegetable gardens, where people were forgoing
lawns for more productive spaces," McCoy says.
magic: Elaine Stept of Point Breeze, a tree-lined
Pittsburgh neighborhood, doesn’t consider herself a
rebel gardener. She says she and her husband, Larry,
were just so frustrated trying to grow grass under her
shade trees that she welcomed landscape designer Phyllis
Gricus’ solution of a moss lawn.
two 100-year-old oaks gave off so much shade you couldn’t
even grow shade grass," says Stept.
Gricus’ help, they tore out what was left of the
scraggly lawn, ordered a variety of mosses, made a
slurry of the moss particles, then painted the mixture
across the yard’s amended soil.
you already have moss growing in a lawn, it doesn’t
take much more to encourage Mother Nature along,"
says Gricus. Still, she cautions, it takes some
the Stepts waited the four to five months for the moss
to begin growing, they fielded neighbors’ questions
about their muddy front yard.
their moss started filling in, and the neighbors began
to see and understand what the couple were planning. In
fact, more and more neighbors — especially those with
shady lawns — started taking interest and even donated
moss pieces from their own yards.
rebellion: "We’re not trying to irritate
people," says Dan Deters of Oakley, a
blue-collar-turned-upscale neighborhood of Cincinnati.
"It’s not like we’re putting toilets out front
and filling them with flowers." Instead, he
installed 50 teepee-style trellises to support flowering
vines of wisteria, roses, clematis and honeysuckle. His
green trellis botanical garden, as he calls it, spans
his 80- by 100-foot property and the adjoining
properties of four boardinghouses that he owns and
manages for 20 developmentally disabled adults.
residents love it, and as the saying goes, nature does
help nurture when it comes to their mental health,"
sale on wisteria prompted Deters’ vertical garden. He
had always dreamed of growing wisteria but considered it
too expensive at $50 a plant. So when a big box store
offered them at $20 for a three-plant container, Deters
purchased 20 pots and took them home to the property he
cared for when his grandmother owned it. For the next 18
months, he experimented with trellis materials and
2012, the "overnight appearance of 50
trellises" generated opposition from some
neighbors, he says, so he posted signs that read,
"Please give the plants a chance," and
encouraged neighbors to be patient until the plants
matured and covered the stark teepees. He created a
"Green Trellis Garden" Facebook page, printed
an informational brochure and worked with the Oakley
Community Council to design the trellises within the
the fully mature gardens have generated a number of
fans, including landscape designer Alexander Smith, who
happened upon the gardens when looking for a parking
spot. Luckily, Smith found Deters working in the garden
and was offered a tour.
was transfixed by his story as a caregiver of these
adults and caretaker of these connected gardens,"
says Smith, who has since returned annually with area
landscape design and horticulture friends. "When I
saw his teepees, I thought, what a great use of
in front: For years, philosophy professor Tamar Rudavsky
and her husband, Richard Brody, battled over turf. Brody
preferred a grassy lawn for a play space for their kids,
but Rudavsky wanted a lush vegetable garden to provide
flavorful, healthy food for the family.
think lawns are ridiculous," she says.
the couple became empty nesters in 2006 and moved to a
smaller home with a shady backyard in Columbus, Ohio,
Rudavsky gained ground in their turf war as she
negotiated for a front-yard vegetable garden. Within two
weeks of moving in, she dug up the front lawn and
planted her first crops.
their property is highly visible along a busy bike
trail, Rudavsky gave more thought to aesthetics in the
garden’s design. First, she placed raised beds in a
geometric pattern: Eight rectangular beds radiate from
one shaped as an octagon, which is in the center.
the garden, she intersperses color with sunflowers,
marigolds, canna lilies, red trellises, patches of
purple and green leaf lettuce and many other ornamental
edibles. When the plants wither later in the season,
Rudavsky has a curbside border of flowering perennials
along a split rail fence to mask the garden.
has become an edibles crusader by example as hundreds of
bikers pass to admire the vegetable gardens.
those who stop to learn more, she advises them to start
with a 4-by-8-foot raised bed. "You can grow a
summer’s worth of produce in that space." In
fact, four neighbors have followed Rudavsky’s advice.
from the rebel gardeners
Know the community’s rules, and work within them.
Deters studied the city’s code and designed his
trellises within the 15-foot height restriction.
Involve neighbors, and recruit their support. Take a cue
from the Stepts, who shared photos with neighbors and
asked for their help in gathering moss.
Consider aesthetics in the design. "People really
have to look beyond my row of perennial flowers to see
inside my vegetable garden," says Rudavsky.