Garden Photo of the Day

Gardening Through Challenges

Out with the lawn, in with the gardens

front yard with no lawn

Today we’re in Cincinnati, Ohio, visiting with Erin Houlihan.

This garden has developed over 34 years in a very small urban lot. It has evolved from challenges, and it is very unique. I have no grass and tend it all organically.

The backyard has been challenged by the large pin oaks in back, which provide more shade each year, and a silver maple (Acer saccharinum, Zones 3–9) volunteer from my childhood home. The maple is now 32 years old, and its shallow roots make it very inhospitable to most plants.

The front and side yards had lawn that was mostly weeds. New stone walks have now replaced it. The side yard had large white pines that declined, and they were removed last year. I started a meadow there this year, since I am running out of sun in the back. I put in lots of natives and some anchors from the back that needed sun. I will continue to work on the meadow.

Through the years, I have lost many plants by drainage, nature, and general learning experiences.

stepping stone path through a gardenA stone walk winds through the garden, leading you on to explore.

shade garden with various flowering plantsAs the pin oaks (Quercus palustris, Zones 4–9) grow, they make this garden increasingly shaded. Learning to change the plantings to adapt to the light levels is something most gardeners have to deal with in a maturing garden.

garden path leading to shade gardenAnother stone path leads through a bit of shade, with views of a sunnier part of the garden ahead.

lilac plant in bloomA beautiful lilac (looks like Syringa pubescens ‘Miss Kim’, Zones 4–8, or a similar cultivar) trained as a standard makes a dramatic feature.

front yard with no lawnNo one misses the weedy front lawn if this is what it has been replaced with!

stone garden path in front yardGround covers like creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’, Zones 3–9) will fill in the space around the stone pavers in the front garden.

side yard with new plantsA statue holding a container of orange pansies (Viola × wittrockiana, annual) adds a pop of color.

garden path leading to small pondI love garden paths like this, with a half-obscured view, hinting at what you will find ahead.

garden pond covered in plantsContinue down that path, and you find the pond, complete with blooming water lily (Nymphaea sp.) and tall lotus (Nelumbo nucifera, Zones 4–9) leaves.


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View Comments


  1. User avater
    treasuresmom 09/21/2021

    Lovely what you have done.

  2. btucker9675 09/21/2021

    Love this garden so much! I have managed to get rid of most grass in our back garden, helped when we put in a pool, and am working slowly to do something similar in front. Since we're in a subdivision we're not permitted to have no lawn in front but I'm expanding my garden beds to eventually have very little grass! Your pond is so lovely - I would love to walk through your gardens.

  3. wittyone 09/21/2021

    I love all your winding pathways. I generally expect them in larger gardens but yours make way for surprises around each bend which makes them quite intriguing.

  4. User avater
    simplesue 09/21/2021

    I love your garden style, so much like what I aspire to accomplish in my own garden!
    So beautiful, woodsy, natural and so peaceful- what a great garden you've created!

  5. cheryl_c 09/21/2021

    You have done an amazing job of turning a city lot into a park-like setting. We all learn as we go along. My gardening brother says you gauge the daring of a gardener by how many plants s/he has killed along the way! Each dead plant is a new opportunity!

  6. Cenepk10 09/22/2021

    Beautiful. Makes me miss my old small garden. Was so much fun to play/plant in.

  7. reymac214 10/14/2021

    Very beautiful garden. Thank you for sharing.

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