Take back your front lawn

The front lawn's thirst for water and chemical fertilizers has earned it a bad reputation as the Hummer of the American garden. Here, then, are smart alternatives to that standard patch of green.

Americans have had a love affair with the front lawn for much of the last century. But after considering the large water and chemical demands of this lush green icon, many homeowners are calling the relationship quits.

They're tearing out the turf and putting in front gardens, courtyards and even orchards. Or they’re simply switching to something easier to maintain, such as moss, ground cover or groupings of native plants.

"Most people keep a lawn because they just can't picture anything else," says garden writer Rosalind Creasy, author of "The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping."

But, she says, if you travel outside the United States, you see more front yards with ground cover separated by steppingstones, or beautiful courtyards surrounded by a sitting wall with shrubs around it. "No place else on earth do you have a country with this much lawn."

Indeed, at an estimated 128,000 square kilometers — nearly 32 million acres — lawns have outpaced corn to become America's largest irrigated crop by area, according to NASA data.