If you have more time and patience than money to spend on your “yard,” here’s two ways of recapturing some garden bed space that was formerly grass using low impact, low cost, low effort methods.
1) First is the assertive plant method. Plants such as ornamental strawberry, gooseneck loosestrife, day lilies, irises, and heather are great starts. Ask at your local garden center for ground-covers and quick-growing perennials suited to your location. I’m in the Pacific NW.
What you do, is plant the plant and just wait for it to crowd out the existing grass. My example is of Gooseneck Loosestrife – the white color, not the more invasive purple. Each year it has spread in my yard and overtaken the lawn grass, just as I’d hoped. And I marvel at it every year in it’s whimsy. It is quite prolific–but easy to control if necessary as it is shallow rooted. One year, a neighbor asked to harvest about 200 stems for her daughter’s wedding. I was out of town when she came buy to cut the stems. When I returned, I didn’t think she’d taken any!
2) Second is the black out method. All you need to do is find some sort of good heavy material* and lay it down on the ground, put some large rocks or dirt clods on the corners and along the edges, and leave it there for, oh, 8-12 weeks. It depends on the material, on the hardiness of the grass or weeds, time of year, etc.
* You can use layers of newspaper, old tarps, flattened cardboard boxes, pieces of plywood, plastic signs, old towels or bedding (folded over a couple of times to make it dark), or do what I did and scavenge some old “carpet squares” from an office building that was being re-carpeted. These squares aren’t really suitable to use in an area you will be growing vegetables or any sort of food crop, as you don’t really know what nasties might leach out into the ground.
The theory is that you’re blocking the sunshine so the grass below will eventually weaken and die. It’s helpful to cut the grass or weeds underneath the covering layer as short as possible, but not necessary.
After several weeks, revisit the area and see how lovely brown the newly reclaimed earth is. Go forth and plant — or whatever you have planned for your bare earth.
I’ve used these methods to take my grassy areas from covering 80% of my landscape to about 15%. Less fuss, less muss!