Planning the shape of your lawn

By Andy McIndoe

Having said a little bit about lawn care in my last blog post I thought it would be useful to share my thoughts on the shape of the lawn and its design in relation to the garden. So often I see gardeners struggling with odd corners and difficult bed shapes which their mower just can’t cope with.  How many of us just live with something because that’s the way it’s always been.  Now is a great time to start thinking about the shape of lawn, beds and the overall design of your garden. I’m not talking about a major upheaval and reconstruction: perhaps just a little cosmetic surgery!


As a rule, a pleasing garden design should consist of two-thirds space and one third planting. This space can be made up of gravel, paving, water, ground cover plants and of course grass.  In most gardens the proportion of space is greater: more paving and more lawn with insufficient planting.  This puts undue emphasis on the lawn, especially its shape and design.  By reducing the size of the lawn and adding depth to the planting this makes the lawn a more integral part of the garden design.

[caption id="attachment_9381" align="alignleft" width="550"]Autumn garden Autumn garden[/caption]


The shape of the lawn is obvious at all times of the year, especially in winter when it becomes the dominant patch of green in the garden.  Often the shape of the lawn is determined by the shape of the plot: rectangular garden, rectangular lawn.  This results in borders of even width and long straight lines that do nothing for the interest and perspective of the garden.

Just by taking out the corners of a rectangular lawn, and making the lawn more elliptical, the beds become deeper in the corners of the garden allowing more substantial planting, creating a more interesting picture.  Looking from the house a lawn of this shape opens up towards the centre of the garden and tapers in the distance, this increases the perspective making the plot look longer.

A similar effect can be created by using a round lawn in a square garden. This is a simple formula that works and is pleasing to the eye.

[caption id="attachment_9382" align="alignleft" width="550"]Oval lawn Oval lawn[/caption]

Avoid complicated edges

In an attempt to make a lawn more interesting wavy edged borders are often created. These look contrived and fussy and become even more complicated when plants grow in the borders. Curves should be soft and sweeping and lead the eye; they need to be there for a reason.  Lawns with too many curves and difficult corners are difficult to cut and will gradually look untidy as the season progresses, unless an undue amount of time is invested in maintenance.

[caption id="attachment_9383" align="alignleft" width="550"]Wavy lawn edge Wavy lawn edge[/caption]


Formal lawns

Formal lawns, especially square and rectangular ones, need to be near perfect to look good; remember this when planning.  Regular and accurate mowing, careful lawn husbandry, time and effort are all needed to maintain the effect. If you do not have the time or dedication for this type of lawn a more informal design is more appropriate.  The lawn can still be beautiful but it does not need to be quite so immaculate.

[caption id="attachment_9384" align="alignleft" width="550"]Paths and pond Paths and pond[/caption]


In designing the shape of your lawn keep practicality in mind.  Entrances into the garden from paths, patios and gateways that lead directly onto the lawn may cause undue wear and tear to the grass and become impractical in wet weather. Transitional areas of paving or coarse gravel may be desirable.

Beds and borders need to be large enough to accommodate the planting.  Plants spilling onto the grass may appear attractive but if you have to hold them back every time you mow they will soon become a nuisance.

[caption id="attachment_9386" align="alignleft" width="550"]Bench on grass Bench on grass[/caption]

You need to be able to manoeuvre and turn the mower easily, awkward corners are difficult to maintain. If turning the mower entails walking over the flowerbeds, think again. Grass paths between flowerbeds or between beds and paved areas, walls or fences need to be wide enough to allow efficient and easy mowing.  The same applies to distances between trees and shrubs planted in grass.  If designing a new garden it is worth planning any spaces like this to mower widths: a path just wider than twice the width of the mower needs half as much mowing again as a path that is slightly less than twice the width. Narrow paths, not wide enough to accommodate the mower become a real maintenance problem.

Ornaments, pots and heavy furniture should be avoided as features positioned directly on the lawn.  If they are in the right position incorporate a hard surface to accommodate them, if they are not then move them.  A birdbath that has to be moved off the grass every time the mower is used is an obstacle. In time you will leave it in position and mow around it. This leaves untidy grass to develop around the ornament which then needs shears or a strimmer to cut it: very labour intensive.

Any ornament rarely looks right marooned in the middle of a sea of grass, it becomes a feature when used as a focal point in appropriate planting.

[caption id="attachment_9387" align="alignleft" width="550"]Curved path Curved path[/caption]


Mowing edges

Mowing edges make cutting the grass easier.  These are transitional areas between other areas of the garden and the lawn.  A 10cm gap alongside a path or patio filled with gravel to a lower level than both lawn and paving surface makes mowing up to the edge easier and edging the lawn sharper and more accurate.  A brick or gravel edge around planted areas makes mowing up to the edge simpler and avoids damage to the plants.  If the level of the mowing strip is slightly below the surface of the grass mowing over it may remove the need to use edging shears.

If designing from scratch it is worth considering a path as a mowing strip down one side of the lawn at least.  This can form the boundary between the planting and the grass, as well as allowing access to the bed for maintenance.

[caption id="attachment_9388" align="alignleft" width="550"]Moody chair Moody chair[/caption]


Andy McIndoe

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