Shut Up And Dig

First, Get the Lawn Shape Right

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This is the design that, some 20 years ago, turned my front yard into a garden I could love, and transformed me into a passionate gardener. Previously, the shape of the lawn had been far too complicated for such a small space. It needed simplifying, but it took a professional to realize that and make it happen.

I remember the designer (Holt Jordan) doing the math to create a perfect ellipse and my hippie-math-geek neighbor running over to show him how to do it. Some male one-upmanship may have been going on, but they were happy with the result, and I sure was.

Here’s one resulting view, with the simple but strong lawn line creating order, no matter what I crammed into the surrounding borders.

A decade later I kept the oval but replaced the turfgrass with far more interesting plants – primarily sedums and thymes – and added brick paths across the groundcovers. By then I’d (finally) replaced the English ivy-covered chainlink fence with a wooden one.

I was reminded of my garden’s lawn-shape makeover by the garden designer and design teacher Rachel Mathews in her video “Key to Great Design – Get the Shape First.” She explains that she’s seen far too many people buy tons of plants yet be unhappy with the results. Her advice: “What’s important is the shape you create in the areas of empty space, like your lawn and patio areas. If you get these right, they define how the rest of the garden looks.”

I can attest that that’s where MY eyes always go – to the shape of the lawn. One example I love is my former next-door neighbor’s garden, shown here in two seasons.

Here are two more examples from garden tours in the DC area. The one above is serenity-inducing, and relatively low-maintenance.

And for an avid gardener, a strong lawn can be surrounded by color and lushness.

Posted by

Susan Harris
on August 26, 2016 at 6:31 am, in the category Designs, Tricks, and Schemes.

6 Comments

  1. Oh my, Susan, I remember that day when Louis came over to help. I did learn how to properly layout the ellipse. However I bet I’ve used a garden hose many more times to layout a garden space.

  2. I love what you replaced your lawn with! Thanks for the inspiration. My husband likes to design the shape of the lawn when we put in a new garden, and he likes to do the undulating line and curves that is common in a lot of landscapes. It was nice to see simpler shapes in this post.

  3. Well, this post helped me. There’s one area in my back yard that lacks definition. While this area is bare dirt/ has no lawn because it’s under four very mature trees, just like a lawn, it needs a shape which I’ll give it with temporary mulch and edging. I’ll plant under-story shrubs/perennials around the border and see how it goes. This will be a big improvement compared with what it looks like now. Thanks. Great post.

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