JoAnne Skelly: The Tapestry Lawn: Another way to support pollinators

JoAnne Skelly

JoAnne Skelly

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I’ve always known my lawn was less than perfect. Now, after reading a fascinating article the other day, I find out that I have actually created a modified tapestry lawn! In the age of trying to live more sustainably, especially in the face of severe drought, the perfect manicured lawn is not environmentally sensitive or practical. It uses too much water, too much fertilizer, often too many herbicides that pollute our waters and provides little food for pollinators. A tapestry lawn, on the other hand, can be more drought tolerant, lower maintenance, less chemical dependent and good for biodiversity including pollinators. It can also be a mix of lovely colors and textures that please the eye and the spirit.
A tapestry lawn doesn’t need to be weedy, just have all kind of low-growing hardy perennial plants mixed together. For example, there is clover, creeping thyme, violets and hardy geraniums in my lawn. The plants bloom at different times of year and provide a food source for pollinators and other beneficial insects through the seasons.
One challenge to a tapestry lawn, is that, depending on the perennials used, it may not tolerate foot traffic as well as a traditional lawn. So, for a children’s play area or for pets, you must choose particularly hardy plants. On the other hand, if you combine a mix of blooming or textural plants with regular lawn grasses, you can still have a foot-traffic, pet-tolerant surface as I do in my yard. I let the clover grow since it provides nitrogen naturally to the soil and the flowers feed the bees. The creeping thyme is tough, has purple blooms and smells great when you walk on it. The snow-in-summer has spread into the grass from an adjacent bed and mows beautifully. I also let dandelions grow — I know this is a horror to traditional lawn enthusiasts — because I like the color of the flowers and the finches love the seeds from the puff heads. We simply mow the tapestry plants along with the grass each week.
So many other plants can be used in a tapestry lawn such as sedums, delospermum (iceplant), chamomile and yarrow, to name a few. If they can be mowed, they probably will work.
I love the fact that a tapestry lawn combines traditional horticulture practices with ecological science to help create a more sustainable eco-friendly landscape. A grass-only format can actually create a “resource-draining green desert due to the lack of plant and animal diversity” (Smith, L. 2019. Tapestry Lawns, Freed from Grass and Full of Flowers).
June is Pollinator Month.
JoAnne Skelly is associate professor & extension educator emerita at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Reach her at


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