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A landscape is largely defined by its lines. You can change or soften them, but the edges between things, whether straight, curvy, or a mishmash, are characterful.
This popped up as I ruminated on the garden swing, where lately I seem to spend a lot of time when not garden pacing. I see why dogs tread packed paths around their fence and stare out front windows all day; they’re looking for anything to do.
What at first felt to me a little closed in has become an exploration of possibilities. Like a lot of my neighbors, some who I have never seen before, I have been walking a lot, and discovering how in-this-together-convivial our chats have become.
And I notice that as landscapes get tweaked or outright redone by bored gardeners, as new plantings appear and beds started or enlarged, lines are being drawn that says something subconscious about personality.
We know how the garden tapestry naturally changes. Sometimes it’s dramatic, like after a hard freeze or when a mow-what-grows meadow lawn is instantly converted by the mower, at least for a few days, from colorful little wildflowers to solid green. More often it’s just predictable overlapping color transitions from the come and go of flowering and foliage shrubs and perennials. And, to those who see, smell, and hear, there is are more subtle segues with migrant bird comings and goings, frog sounds, and fragrances of blossoms and newly-mowed lawns.
But underneath it all are the lines. It’s a given that we all start out with the straight curb along the street, and our home’s sharply angular roof, windows, and doors. But what we put between the house and street – the garden, with its lawn, shrub or flower beds, and walks and other hard features – are up to us.
Some of it, notably the contractor-mandated green moustache of shrubbery hugging the foundation, comes with the house. Sometimes we come into an older home and inherit the whims of the previous owners. For a lot of folks, those are enough.
But when we start making big changes in beds, walks, patios and the like, we subconsciously go with how we feel or what we think we ought to do to please someone else. The dominant approaches are straight, curved, or a combination of those. Okay, and none at all, just let stuff run together.
For a hint about yours, just look at how your walks are laid out, and whether you prune shrubs into boxes or balls or shape them into individuals. Where your lawn and shrub or flower beds meet, are the edges straight, curved, or wiggly, or do you have random plants out in the lawn to mow around? Are the edges sharply defined with a little “border ditch” or with bricks, stones, mulch, or other hard material, or do beds and lawns just fade from one to the other?
The only time it really matters is if your mower has to be backed out of tight corners. That’s why good designers form the lawn as the dominant element. This concept had to be pointed out to me, that just like making a deck or patio a certain shape, you can instead of forming a flower or shrub bed, define the lawn and let the flowers have what is left over.
There’s no right or wrong between formal and informal, curves or straight lines, throw-rug or wall-to-wall carpet lawn, classic control or feel-good feng shui. But when knocking around this weekend, look around. And consider whether you or your neighbors’ garden lines are by decision or default.
Felder Rushing is a Mississippi author, columnist, and host of the “Gestalt Gardener” on MPB Think Radio. Email gardening questions to email@example.com.
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