I love the idea of no lawn whatsoever, but with small children and pets, a green recreational space is really a neccessity. At our house in Southern California, we laid down a very thick layer of mulch in our playspace. This was the least expensive, short-term,and (the most important consideration in a coastal desert) water-wise solution to our problem of the kids needing a place to play.
Of course, we're just renting for the moment, but as soon as I do get my grubby little gardening hands on my very own patch of dirt, I want to cultivate a green play area. Mulch has its place, but given how very warm it gets here in the summer, I want green leafies to help keep the yard cool. Plus, while mulch is a fantastic insulator and keeps water from evaporating, what would really benefit all of us the most, would be to encourage "invisible breathing" and transpiration of water on a microscale. I only recently learned about this concept and it's pretty exciting (to an earth nerd such as myself).
What else do I hope to accomplish by replacing a monoculture with a biologically diverse green space?
Well, the more diversity I can encourage in our green, the more I'm healing the soil.
A variety of plants will support and attract a variety of pollenators. Honey bees aren't the only ones out there, but with colony collapse decreasing their numbers so dramatically, I want to encourage as many different pollenators as we can.
Pollenators attract predators. Predators poop. Poop fertilizes my soil, and it also guarantees I get free seed flown in from elsewhere! Bonus!
A biodiverse lawn is going to do something else. It's going to grow me some more soil - good soil! Healthy soil! Soil especially suited for this particular plant community. Some plants will fix nitrogen, while others will draw potassium or phosphorus up into the top soil to share with their neighbors, who are doing their own good turn, whether it's something we've documented or understand or not.
People seem to go to great lengths to keep their lawns presentable. I don't want to go to great lengths. I want to picnic on a soft quilt in the cool dappled shade and listen to birdsong, and nibble on the sweet fushia trumpets of henbit, and watch bees drowsily collect pollen. I want to listen to my girl make up fantastical stories and build fairy houses. I want to kick a ball with my little boy and take afternoon naps in a hammock with my man. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to do a little legwork and identify what really wants to grow here, what will grow in my unkempt backyard that's been trampled by dogs and watered by the occasional rainfall.
Horseherb will. It's evergreen, and it doesn't seem to really mind if we step on it, and it has pretty little yellow flowers. I have no idea who else likes those little flowers, but nature's pretty economical. Those flowers ain't just for show.
So that's my project. Keep my eyes on the ground. Watch who's visiting what. Pay attention to what grows where, and next to who. And next winter, when the lawn dies back, nurture the weeds - the henbit that cuts our rabbit pellet bill in half, the horseherb that will never need mowing, the white clover that's the perfect living mulch for my vegetable garden.