Ideas That Matter

Native Grasses and Mow-Free Sod

Lisa Gimmy
Native Grasses and Mow-Free Sod

Still Great Lawn Alternatives
By Jeff Graham, ASLA

While rains have left our region looking lusher and more refreshed than they have in years, one thing is certain: here in Southern California the welcome reprieve will only be temporary. With our Mediterranean climate we must look to plantings that can take advantage of the hot, dry summers. Succulents, native grasses, evergreens, and fruit trees such as olives, figs, walnuts and grapes almost always do well. But what about the lush green lawns, for which Los Angeles has become famous? They’re not exactly climate-appropriate. So what is a suitable alternative? As landscape architects, we are inspired by the biodiversity that a living landscape can provide. What we don’t want to see is artificial turf.

Artificial turf enjoyed a surprising resurgence in popularity as an alternative to water-thirsty lawns. However, synthetic turf is often composed of recycled tires and polypropylene. A Yale University study found 11 chemicals used in these materials are likely to be carcinogenic, while 20 are skin, eye and respiratory irritants. Additionally, the surface temperature of artificial turf on a 98-degree day can reach 170 degrees—which is hotter than asphalt. This “heat island” can increase energy costs, and damage adjacent plants and trees.

We’ve employed two types of natural alternatives to high-water lawns. At the Richard Neutra-designed Hafley House we installed Native Bentgrass (pictured above). This medium leaf sod thrives in full sun and partial shade, is drought tolerant, and its strong sod mat provides an effective weed barrier. The texture and bright color of the Native Bentgrass at the Hafley House (pictured above) provides a nice contrast.

At the historic Hindry House in Pasadena, we opted for something different: Native Mow Free sod, a versatile grass that is beautiful either as a traditional turf lawn or as a short meadow grass, reaching 18.” It’s a mixture of Festuca rubra (Molate fescue), Festuca idahoensis (Idaho fescue), and Festuca occidentalis (Western Mokelumne fescue).

One week after installation, we were excited to already observe new growth.

Selected it for its reputed shade and cold tolerance (said to be greater than Native Bentgrass), it does well in full sun, and can endure light foot traffic. While it’s a slow grower, if you do decide to mow it, cut no shorter than 4.”

Two weeks after installation at the Heineman and Heineman-designed Hindry House, the grass is greener and longer.

Once it’s established, Native Mow Free should require half of the water that sod typically demands. And if it turns to a straw-like color in the summer, low supplemental water will bring back its deep green hue.

One month after installation, it’s ready for its first mow.

Gagnier Landscape, the contractor (who sourced the sod from Soils Solutions in Los Angeles and through the grower Delta Bluegrass), did a great installation. LGLA is excited to continue watching how this grass transforms through the coming months.

Hafley House
Hindry House at KSM Architecture
Hindry House at LGLA


Writer and Media Management Consultant Taylor Van Arsdale provided research and contributed to this article.

Lisa Gimmy Landscape Architecture

Helms Bakery Building
8800 Venice Blvd., Suite 216
Los Angeles, CA 90034

Phone: (310) 202-8320
Fax: (310) 202-8350

Creating landscapes for California living


Lisa Gimmy Landscape Architecture is a professional consulting firm offering master planning, site planning, and landscape design. Since its founding in 1992, LGLA has designed landscapes for schools, campuses, boutique hotels, buildings, public parks, estates, and private residences. At LGLA each project is viewed as an opportunity to explore a series of relationships: between the site and the region, architecture and landscape, and most importantly, between the landscape and the people who will use and enjoy it.

Recent Posts




    furniture multidisciplinary designer Florence Knoll Garden of Sculpture Los Angeles Times Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency landscape architecture in los angeles Craig Elwood Darin Marten tropical planting Pasadena Craftsman Cranbrook Academy of Art garden design Hindry House Julius Shulman Dominus Winery Cleo Baldon Grand Hope Park pool landscaping Heather Scott Peterson Vaux le Vicomte Kitchen for Exploring Foods Los Angeles Conservancy Villa Pisani Italy exhibition design Japanese gardens FIDM Charles Waldheim Marin Stinson Beach TCLF Kengo Kuma Friends of Robinson Gardens Ruth Adler Schnee TheBlack Desert House poppies Nord Eriksson Jon and Liliane Lovelace Jack Coyier Craftsman Soils Solutions fabrics Lisa Boone EPT Design Landscape Sequence Kun II garden color Kelly Sutherlin McLeod Architecture Carl Andre Landscape Architecture Opera on the Great Lawn Eugene Kinn Choy, Garden Dialogues, The Cultural Landscape Foundation granite LIght/Breeze House Garden Conservancy Landscaping George Hargreaves Nasher Sculpture Garden Wendell Burnette California Preservation Foundation Native Mow Free Heineman and Heineman Queer Eye for the Straight Guy Open Days Ralph Cornell, Malcolm Leland, Howard Troller, UCLA, Franklin D. Murphy Sculpture Garden Frank Lloyd Wright Albert Frey Lawrence Halprin Isabelle Green, FASLA Howard Rosen Hafley House Paulette Singley Andre Le Notre Wells Fargo Plaza Edris House garden restoration David Collins Rose N' Palm Lovelace Pool Transforming Small Spaces, Intimate Courtyards, Custom Steel Gates, Velvet Elephant Ear, Kalanchoe Beharensis, Bluestone Pavers, Bourget Brothers, Moroccan Motif grasses Courtney Coffman Richard Neutra Annie Chu mid century landscapes Bunker Hill Steps Denise Scott Brown Grand Eclair Barbara Lamprecht Photography by Marion Brenner toys Docomomo Award Palm Springs Modernism Bolinas First Point Construction Landscape as Catalyst New York landscape architecture Los Angeles Central Library Max Palevsky House Garden Dialogues tablescape E. Stewart Williams Floating Teehouse Desert Courtyard House Maguire Gardens Leslie Cozzi Virginia Robinson Gardens rock Gere Kavanaugh Don Chadwick California natives Flowermaid MoMA, Museum of Modern Art Grace Miller House Ralph Bacerra graphic design Loewy House Adolf Loos Mission Revival Peter Walker Lina Loos 9-11 Memorial Artecho Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre Elrod House downtown Los Angeles John Lautner Koffka/Phakos Design King Palm forest Pamela Palmer Architect's Garden Kaufman House Ray Eames mid century architecture Lisa Gimmy Thomas D. Church Martin Garden Jeffrey Dahl, John Wooden, Dustin Dorr, Rosemarie Allaire, Yoshikawa Delta Bluegrass interiors Virginia Robinson Frank Gehry Herzog and de Meuron Oller & Pejic Deborah Sussman Ira Keller Fountain Allegra Fuller Snyder Native Bentgrass, Hafley House, Hindry House, Artificial Turf