There are a lot of elements that make up a garden and give it a unique look and feel. Proportion, scale, color, texture, contrast and the setting are all major contributors. In my world, the functional needs of the landscape come first but the next thing I immediately find myself thinking about is the line.
This is not something most people think about, or explicitly notice when first viewing a landscape, but I believe it has a profound impact on the way the landscape feels, conscious or not. At the very least, a landscape with many straight lines and 90 degree angles feels more formal. Throw in some symmetry to that configuration and one might say it can begin to feel “staid,” while another says “elegant.” Guess it depends on your personal perspective. Yet, design using curvilinear lines will surely evoke a more informal and “free-flowing” organic feel.
Graceful, lilting lines are my strong preference for the rural settings of our Catskill region. Yes, there are some village homes and more formal structures where straight lines are preferable, and a combination of both can often be excellent. However, regardless of the nature of the line, it is an important element in the landscape year round. Even when buried under a couple of feet of snow, you discover that some lines persist. Lines are created by driveways, fences, hedges, walls, path, beds and mowing. These elements provide many opportunities to use lines that create beautiful architecture on a property.
Keep your lawn mower top of mind! A great deal can be done with this humble machine to enhance a property’s “line-appeal.” For years, I have been mowing a spiral into a grassy area on the side of my house, where the septic and leach field are. It adds a lot of pizzaz to the area with little effort. The spiral design provides interest throughout the year, even in the winter until the snow gets quite deep. Check out this image of Versailles in the winter; not quite as nice as my garden, but it is OK.
I have seen numerous properties in the Catskills where paths have been mown into a meadow to create graceful lines and an elegant appearance. And keep in mind that the edges of the lawn can be shaped into an attractive shape using the mower rather than just letting the hard obstacles dictate the shape.
Long, simple elegant lines without acute angles are most appealing to me, but there are times when a repeated line can have a dramatic impact, as in the following example. The repeated curves of the retaining walls against the hills make a very striking pattern.
Paths and beds borders offer easy opportunities to create beautiful lines. Long simple curves not only add a grace and natural flow to the garden, they make it easy to mow, even with a lawn tractor. The curves in our Catskill roads have provided inspiration to me. By necessity the roads follow a beautiful design that flows around and over the hills in a way that avoids sharp turns and makes for a safe and smooth ride. The same principle applies to the way the eye follows contours in the landscape. Think of the way a path, or road, looks as it gently curves out of view, enticing you to want to know what is just around the bend. When the edges are defined, it changes the feeling and brings a freshness and clarity to any situation. Remember, lines don’t need to have hard edges; they can be implied. However, a line with crisp edges can turn a patch of weeds into a garden (well, almost).
The most important thing that you can do to spiff up your garden for a party, after mowing the lawn, is to edge the beds and paths. Just like your coloring books as a kid, when you color outside of the edges, things begin to look sloppy. My favorite edge in a garden bed is defined with a nice shovel-cut trench. I make it about 4-6” deep and at a slight angle. This has to be done only once or twice a year, and the rest of the time I maintain the edge with a weed-whacker that I turn on the side and just cut off the grass that is trying to run into the bed. Trust me on this one—putting small rocks (meaning not a wall) along a bed to separate from the lawn is a HUGE mistake. The grass will just quickly sneak in between the rocks and leave an unkempt appearance. The only way to remove it is on hands and knees and oftentimes involves moving those same rocks you so painstakingly placed.
Your landscape will look much better if you commit to the edges rather than leaving them to chance or nature’s whim. You can even hit those “tough areas” on your property. When your lawn or some other area of your garden meets a wooded area, you can mow the edges to create a nice line or put up a fence to define the separation, and it will create a much nicer feel. I have reached the edge of my time and words for this garden therapy session. Don’t cross the line or go too close to the edges, so therefore do as I say and not as I do!~
Mel Bellar is the owner of Zone4 Landscapes and a passionate Andes gardener