First we removed the existing lawn. We dug it out by hand, but you could use a sod cutter for a large area. The soil was fairly good because we hadn't use chemicals on the soil for fertilization or weed eradication. Chemicals kill microbiota in the soil. They are nature's rototillers. Without them, the soil becomes compacted and sterile.
We added approximately 4" of an 80% tested compost mixed with 20% quarter-ten gravel. If you can't get quarter-ten gravel, use small pea gravel. Mix it in with the soil - not with a rototiller which will compact everything just below the tines of the rorotiller. It's better to do it by hand!
We shaped the large circle so that we had a mound in the center gradually sloping to the outside of the circle. Then we lightly raked another product called 'Turface' into the top 1/2" of the soil all over
the circle. It is used on athletic fields to support the weight of a
person walking on the grass, instead of them sinking into the soil and ruining the grass. It is made of tiny terra-cotta particles. These articles will suck up moisture and then when the soil is dry, they will release the moisture.
Because these actions disturb soil and bring weed seeds to the surface, we applied corn gluten to the top, watered it in, and let the soil rest for the summer. This allowed any weed seeds to continue germinating if they had already started, but the corn gluten prevented dormant seeds from germinating.
That fall, we planted plugs of Carex flacca, a blue-green-leaved sedge that is shade-tolerant and does not require much water. In early December, we planted 400 Allium caeruleum and 400 Camassia leichtlini, both blue-flowering bulbs.
The following spring, the Carex hadn't quite grown in yet over the winter. There were still sizeable gaps between the plants, but we were rewarded for the cold knees in December by masses of blue flowers. (below left)
By that fall, the Carex had mostly grown together with little to no soil visible, probably attributable to the great soil and the corn gluten, which also provides nitrogen to the soil.
Over the next winter, the meadow looked exactly the same as it did in October (see below).
Since planting our meadow, we have not needed to mow it...at all. True. We no longer need a mower. We will probably need to edge it on occasion and sprinkle some compost on it occasionally and perhaps cut the flowers off the Carex.
Otherwise this is the low-grow, no-mow lawn. Perfect and a perfectly beautiful alternative to water guzzling and weed n' feed inhaling turf.
If you want other alternatives to Carex flacca, read below for some Pacific NW native grasses and a couple of groundcovers.
The grass circle behind the blue meadow is Carex siderostoicha 'Variegata'. It is herbaceous and needs to be cut back at the end of winter.
Beyond that is our crop circle, ringed with boxwood. This is a long view across the middle of our garden, with the patio area to the left and the 'outback' to the right.
Pacific Northwest native grasses; some of these get tall and will need mowing to use as turf, but they won't need fertilizing and extra summer water after the first 2 years.
Groundcovers as lawn substitutes. (PNW=Pacific NW native)