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Gardening on the edge

This season in Norwich, Norfolk we built a garden that relied on well defined edges to create strong shapes in both front and back gardens. By creating raised edges with brick pavers we made crisp borders between driveway and beds, lawn and planting. A lack of definition is a problem we see in many gardens; overgrown plants and lawn edges leaving their owners with no clear forms in their living spaces, making their gardens difficult to maintain because there is no clear framework to keep plants/lawns/paths within.

One of our favourite design techniques is to use strong shapes to create optical illusions, or to lead the eye in a certain direction. A strong curve or set of angles can create the impression of space or detract from surrounding views, but in order to do this, the shape needs to be well defined and easily maintainable. The wooden edging in this garden was a good example of a weak shape being poorly defined by decaying ‘log roll’ edging. The existing curving or ‘scalloped’ edge to the lawn was perhaps an effort to make rustic style cottage garden beds, at odds with the other fairly modern shapes in the garden. The tight curves of the lawn edge were also a real problem to get a mower around and weeds were growing through gaps in the log edging, especially where it had started to lean over and fall apart.

 As gardeners we are always keen to create lots of planting space and develop a rich planting composition; however our clients were keen to have more lawn and a feeling of greater open space in their garden. Our approach to this brief was dictated by the principle that human brains can quickly work out the size of an area if it is made up of straight lines and angles, but when confronted by curves it finds this task more difficult. We used one long flowing curve to form the edge of the lawn, repeated in the edging of the beds to reinforce the shape. Because other shapes bordering the lawn (patio and swimming pool) were angular we made the curve as simple as possible, forming one line that would ensure that the dominant shape in the garden – defined by the boundary between lawn and beds, was as simple and contemporary as possible. This was helped by our clients’ agreement of the materials we proposed to use – namely a black engineering brick on edge, with slate mulch on the beds behind it.

Simplicity can be hard to build into shapes where there are many demands on the layout of the garden, in this example the curve had to start and finish at certain points, it had to give enough room for some of the existing plants to remain in their positions in the beds, it had to pass close in front of a summer house at a certain angle, and do all this while flowing and never forming a straight run of bricks. The lawn which runs right up to the brick edging now has a strong shape which is emphasised and given a clean, sharp edge by the strong statement of black bricks on edge, each one laid at a slightly different angle to form the curve. We added other defining shapes to the garden by surrounding our client’s stylish existing summerhouse with sandstone paving, and planted 3 hardy ‘Chusan Palms’ (Trachycarpus fortunei) that have their own strong architectural shapes.

In the front garden we broke up the vast open gravel car parking space with a lawn and replaced some half hearted attempts at hedging around the borders with a new laurel hedge. Our design in this area was aimed at tidying up and introducing continuity right around the space. We also used the same materials as in the back garden to create our clean lines with defining edging. Around the lawn we used a ‘bull nosed’ edging brick (with one corner rounded off), so that cars driving past could not scuff tyres or wheel rims. We ensured that the new shapes of the whole garden would be visible at night by installing some contemporary lighting around the edge of the drive. In the back garden we used a mix of spot lights, ground lights sunk into our clients existing patio and contemporary post lights to cast low pools of soft illumination around the edge of the lawn.

To find out how your garden could benefit from sharpening up its shapes with simple border edging ideas like this contact The Real Garden Co now, for a free estimate.