Monday, July 11, 2011

Another mini-makeover

I like straight lines. I'm not sure why - perhaps it's because I've spent quite a bit of my career doing newspaper page layout, which consists mainly of lines and rectangles.
In my garden, I like the idea of the ground being a kind of grid, like a blank page, on which one places rectangular shapes. The planting areas are like the pictures on the page, while the focal points are the headlines. In between, you have "text", in the form of lawn or paving.
If it was all text, it would look very boring. If it was all headlines, or pictures, it might look rather muddled - you wouldn't know what to look at first. As with newspaper layout, it's a question of balance.
No circles, you ask? Well, I think of the plants as circles. Indeed, some of the plants in my garden are circular - or rather globular, such as the box balls. And others - cordylines, for example, or clumps of grasses - inhabit a strongly circular shape. Pots are circular (well, they mostly are in my garden, anyway). When you think about it in that way, the garden is pretty well full of circles.
Until now, I have had two curving lines in my garden, where the lawn widens out into the middle section. They were there for all the wrong reasons - I couldn't think of a way to square the corners without chopping off lots of lawn, so a curve was the easy option.
However, about three weeks ago, on advice from my garden designer friend Pamela, I cut a new rectangle into the lawn to break up the long line on the righthand side of the garden. (You can read about that here.)
The minute I'd done it, I was thrilled with it. I loved the right-angles - every time I looked at them I felt myself smiling. I had to get rid of those curves!
My usual technique for making changes to the layout of the garden is not to draw it on paper (far too much like hard work. Far too much like real work). I use bamboo canes laid out on the ground so I can see what the changes will look like in situ.
This weekend, I pottered about arranging my canes, nudging one an inch to the left here and an inch to the right there. When I'd got it all straight, I stood back. Wow, that was quite a lot of lawn to come away. I decided to ring Pamela.
Luckily, she'd been working flat out on a lecture and was ready for a break and a cup of coffee, so she came over and had a look. She approved the idea of the square edges, but agreed that my design involved cutting away quite a lot of lawn.
Instead of cutting the right-angle inside the curve, she suggested creating it by building up the outside of the curve, using the bits of turf I'd cut from elsewhere. Genius!
So here we go - the non-professional's guide to cutting a new lawn edge.

I mark out where I want the new line to go with bamboo canes. Once I've decided on the layout, I use an old plank of wood, which you can just see at the top of the picture.

The plank is heavy, so it doesn't move around. I then pour sand along the plank, to mark a straight line on the grass. I got this tip from Alan Titchmarsh, who uses dry sand in a bottle to draw the line. I never seem to have nice dry sand, just damp sand, so I use a water glass.

Once you've drawn the line, you can cut. I use an old half-moon edger which is really sharp. You can just see it at the bottom of the picture.

Then I deturf using a spade. This spade actually has a picture of Alan Titchmarsh on it! It's from Bulldog, and I'm very fond of it - not because of the picture of Alan Titchmarsh (what kind of person do you think I am?) but because it's a nice light border spade that suits my height, and it has "shoulders" on it that save my Birkenstocks from getting chewed up.

This is the non-professional way of getting a right angle. Get an old crate (or a box of some kind) and create the angle around it using two (straight) pieces of wood.
At this point, I had to go to Evensong to hear my daughter singing with her school choir and by the time I got back and cooked supper, dusk was falling. It's very difficult to get on with energetic gardening when your stomach is full of salmon and new potatoes and your head is full of John Rutter.
So I'm afraid you'll have to wait to see how it looks once it's finished - the "reveal", as they call it in makeover shows.


Anne Wareham said...

I love straight lines too! (if not lawn edging...).

Someone once said to me that curves work when they are part of a circle - ie not wiggly. Might work for some people...

Looking forward to the reveal. Expect you to be hiding round the corner while someone whisks open a door...


Why I garden... said...

Your post reminds me that I need to do some edging work in the garden, makes a big difference!

Carol said...

What a great idea for making a corner square. Looking forward to seeing the reveal as well.

Ms B said...

It is always very satisfying when you realise what has to be done, even with outside assistance.

Although I love curves in a garden they really have to be sweeping. Next to a house & particularly in a small urban garden straight lines seem to be much more appropriate. I loved the previous mini-makeover & look forward to seeing this one in all its glory.

greggo said...

you must have some engineer blood in you.

Esther Montgomery said...

The idea sounds fantastic. I can imagine it giving coherence. I even began to imagine that if ever I have a new garden I will use these principles to guide my design. Then I realised it's the opposite of what I do. I make curves, cut corners, roundify bushes.

The I get trivial. 'I have the same border spade!' I think. And a black plastic crate which I turn upside down to make a little table when re-potting.

Then I get lost - why do you make sand lines when you could cut a line with a lawn edger and that would give you a head start on the cutting?


Zoë said...

We have been removing huge swathes of grass and creating angular and straight edge beds in the new middle garden. Tonight we dug in sack after sack of horse poo; it hums! Cant wait to get planting.

Look forward to seeing the next reveal - it is all looking rather lovely.

millefeuilles said...

I enjoyed your post. It reminded me of another equally beautiful piece of writing - have your read Katherine Swift's The Morville Hours? At the start of the book she explains how she planned her garden and described her love of black on white which she atributed to her job as a journalist; black words on white paper. She loved tracing black lines onto a blank page and even has a fondness for the bleak lines of a garden in winter.

Have a good evening,


Victoria said...

Anne: I think I would tentatively agree with that thesis. A curve that is part of a circle - even if the rest of the circle is only implied - seems a much stronger shape to me than an indeterminate wiggle.
I thought maybe I could play both roles in the reveal. I could hide down the side passage as the "Ground Force" makeover person, then rush round to front door and come in being the "unwitting client". I'll get my son to photograph me!

Why I garden: Edging is addictive. it is only through the application of extreme self-control that I have any lawn left at all.

Carol: Well, it's a good idea in theory - the trouble is, sometimes you don't want things to be completely square as they then make other things look completely squint... So good to use the eye as well.

Ms B: Haven't seen you for ages! That's an interesting theory about small urban gardens. For some weird reason, I find that straight lines make a garden look bigger. It must be a perspective thing that I'm not good enough at maths to understand.

Greggo: I'll take that as a compliment! But I am such a terrible bodger, and so impatient, that I wouldn't want to be at the mercy of anything I engineered...
On the other hand, I managed to put together a flat-pack barbecue single-handed at the weekend, so I can't be completely useless.

Esther: I wouldn't dare start cutting unless I had a line to follow, and unless I was satisfied in advance that the line looked right. Sand is perfect - it only takes two seconds to mark the line and it doesn't hurt the grass (quite good for it, in fact, if your lawn is compacted). It shows up well, yet you can brush it away if you make a mistake and do the line again.

Zoë: Thank you! That is the lawn edger you lent me the money to buy when we went to Loseley. It's a fantastic tool - I love it.
Can't wait to see the next instalment of your garden on your blog. I love the smell of horse manure - I must come and visit!

Millefeuilles: I read it a couple of years ago - I'd forgotten about that! I loved that book. I see Katherine Swift had a new book out this spring called The Morville Year. I must put it on my birthday present list.

Søren said...

I square corners the old-school Pythagorean way; with three pegs and three lengths of string at 3, 4 and 5 meters. (Or 1.5, 2 and 2.5 meters for smaller spaces...) Works like a charm, really, as it has for thousands of years.

And edging a lawn can really tidy up a garden. (And be a rather satisfactory pursuit...)

debsgarden said...

I like the low tech way of getting a right angle! I also don't like to draw stuff out on paper. to me it makes sense to do it similar to the way you have done. i look forward to seeing the finished product!

Arabella Sock said...

I love these mini-makeovers too.
I've marked your NGS opening date on my diary to ensure I get to see these in the flesh!