To create harmony between the house and the garden, turn to simple straight edges instead of curved beds
by GORDON HAYWARD
WE ALL WANT THE DESIGN for our gardens lo feel just right. We want our gardens lo be in harmony with the house as well as with the natural landscape beyond, so that house and garden feel as though they were always one. In order to create that harmony, more and more gardeners across North America are taking up all their lawn and surrounding their houses with rich and complex gardens instead. Meanwhile, those of us who don’t want the upkeep of all those gardens have put in greater swathes of lawn, which sweep up to the edges of our planted beds.
It’s at that meeting point, where lawn meets bed, that we’ve gone curvy-bed mad. In using curvy beds and curvy lawns, we run the risk of breaking down the relationship between house and garden. I’d like lo argue that straight lines–clean, straight edges–where lawn meets bed are OK. In fact, straight-edged beds and geometric panels of lawn arc crucial in marrying house to garden.
THE CASE FOR STRAIGHT EDGES
The largest and most important structure in your garden is your house. When you create gardens that extend its straight lines out into the landscape, and when you design gardens that share its style, color, and materials, you visually link house to garden. Curves are best used at the edges of your property, where their more organic shapes echo the natural landscape or small woodland at the edges of your properly.
When designing gardens along the front, back, and sides of geometric houses, we too often sweep a big curve here and a little one there, right near the house, paying little or no attention lo the shape of the house or the resulting shape of the adjacent lawn. But a well-shaped lawn is central to good garden design; it establishes the setting for and relationship between beds and house. Amorphous sweeps of bed and lawn separate house and garden. Once you get the hang of a straight-edge approach to designing near the house, developing new beds in relation to the established ones becomes so much easier than developing a garden where amorphous lawn meets amorphous bed.
THE FRONT GARDEN
To make the entry garden relate well to the house, it must be level; it should read like an extension of your first floor. (If your front section isn’t already level, you can create this area with a low retaining wall.) To ensure that the entry garden is in proportion with the front of your house, place the retaining wall, fence, or bed edge at least as far away from the foundation as the front wall of your house is high. Let’s say the front wall of your two-story house is 18 feet high and 36 feet wide. If you make your level entry garden at least 18 feel deep and 36 feet wide, the shape and proportion of your entry garden will be in direct proportion to your house. (If your one-story house is only 8 feel high at the front, then consider doubling or tripling that dimension to create an entry garden that is a more generous 16 or 24 feet deep.) If you outline that shape with a fence, hedge, or simply a bed edge that runs parallel and perpendicular to the front of your house, you establish a relationship between house and garden. Once you create that geometric outline and plant the space, you can then place curved paths within it anyway you’d like and they’ll feel right.
Site a bench or arbor at the end of a line leading from the back door. Organize beds and borders around this line to break up the lawn and accentuate the garden space.
THE BACK GARDEN
The main difference between the front garden and the back garden is expanse. The longest, broadest area for gardening is many times found al the back of the house. I lerc we often resort to perimeter gardening–we plant around the perimeter of the back deck, patio, or terrace and then we plant the perimeter of the lawn. This creates a large ill -defined expanse of grass. Our key challenge is to break into this lawn with engaging, appropriate spaces, Here we usually resort to self-conscious curves that, we say, “soften” the edges–but designing with straight lines is a better way.
On the Side
In the often awkward, overlooked side yard, it helps to consider the side of the house and the edge of the property as lines defining the space. A wall or fence in the style, color, and material of the house can create a unified took and a sense of proportion and long perspective. A path running between wall and house provides the visual cue that the side yard is indeed a garden to be explored.
The best place to begin designing or redesigning your back garden is the area adjacent to (he back wall o! your home. Once you sec the back sitting area as an anchor, as the core of your garden, everything beyond it begins to fall into place. Stand at your back door and look straight down what will become a main axis of your garden, one that starts at that door. Terminate this axis well out into your lawn with an arbor or a group of small trees on line with your back door. Then set a bench facing back toward the house, so its full width can be seen from the door.
Set thus, the bench will confirm that strong straight line from your back door, and draw people out into your garden. Reinforce the line with beds or pairs of trees that you would walk between on your way from the back door to the bench. Gaps in those beds and the spaces between those trees can then lead off into other areas of your garden. The visible bench, the clear main path, and the beds and trees breaking the expanse of lawn–all organized around the straight line leading from your back door–marry house to garden.
THE SIDE GARDEN
Simply put, gardens along the sides of the house are different. They are typically long, narrow places, dominated on one side by your house, on the other side by your boundary line arid perhaps a neighbor’s house, with the full length of the space receding into the distance. The area here will remain ill-defined and rarely used if there is no garden created there, especially if it lacks a clear destination.
When designing a side garden, measure the height of the side of your house and flop that dimension down onto the ground to mark the bed edge. (Thai may feel lot) narrow, in which case you should double or even triple that dimension.) You can then establish a straight-edged garden by placing a fence or hedge along this straight line. Plant a woodland or informal garden within the bookends of your house and the hedge or fence, and develop a curvy path through it, to add a visual sense of destination. H