Alternatives to Grass
Consider these practical, low-maintenance alternatives to a traditional lawn.
In a sunny, well-drained garden, spread gravel 1 in (2.5 cm) deep over a geotextile membrane; this will suppress weeds and create a seaside mood. If you plan to lay down paving, it needn’t stay dull and gray. Leave out a slab here and there to make room for a small tree or low shrub, and plant small ferns or creeping Jenny in moist, shady cracks. Plants such as cyclamen, hellebores, or Vinca minor grow well under trees.
Some, like lilyturf (Liriope) and ajuga, even put up with dry soil. Once they have settled they will take care of themselves, especially if you use mulch to suppress weeds and retain soil moisture.
While grass might not tolerate a very shady, damp area, this is the perfect environment for moss to establish; let it spread, don’t walk on it too often, and plant early-flowering bulbs like snowdrops (Galanthus) or lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis). Cyclamen is quite happy growing in the shade cast by trees, providing ground cover and brightening up a shady spot.