It’s a new year and with it comes the oh-so-familiar new year’s resolutions. And while I rarely keep the ones I make, this is a resolution that’s long overdue and one that I’m thrilled to undertake: getting rid of my unused front lawn.
With California’s lowest recorded rainfall in its history (that’s over 160 years!), the timing is perfect to practice what I preach.
Even though I remove lawns for many of my clients, I just haven’t been able to find the time to take care of my own front garden – until now.
Enough is enough!
My goal with this blog post is to show how I’ll remove my lawn as well as how I’ll tie in my new garden with the existing garden beds that surround it.
To do this, I’ll break this post into three sections, with this being Part 1.
Using my book Refresh Your Garden Design with Color, Texture and Form as a guide, I’ll show how to pull out key plants in an existing garden to use as a jumping off point.
And then, how to create harmonious combinations around them.
When undertaking a large project like this, my first step is to take a few photos of the area from different angles in the garden.
One was from the roof (above, thanks to my sure-footed husband,) and the other was from the walkway.
The next step is to print out the photos and study them while inside the house, away from any distractions (mailman, chatty neighbors, etc.)
After studying the photos, I’ll then begin sketching a few different options directly on the photos, and pick my favorite!
Next, I’ll begin transferring my sketch onto the lawn to see how it looks in real life.
Rope (or sometimes, a hose) is helpful when laying out the initial shapes of garden beds or pathways. However, rope doesn’t give you crisp, clean lines, but instead gives wiggly, squiggly lines. See the third photo from the top for proof!
Here’s a useful tip: A trick I learned from my installation crew is to use long PVC pipes, held into place with short pieces of rebar pounded in the ground.
The flexibility of the pipes creates smooth and subtle curves, resulting in clear and accurate lines.
My front garden is fairly small, so I need to make sure the design and plant choices don’t make the space seem smaller than it is.
If I were to replace the lawn with a giant sea of plants, for example, the result would not only be chaotic, but would appear claustrophobic.
Therefore, the concept of negative space is critical to prevent the garden from appearing small and overwhelming. Negative space is especially important in small gardens, as it helps to make a small space appear larger than it is.
Lawns are effective for creating this negative (and calming) space. However, since I’ll be removing my lawn, I need to come up with another form of negative space.
In this instance, I’ve decided to install wide pathways that will lead to different areas of my garden.
It’s important to make paths fairly wide, as narrow paths would only emphasize the smallness of the space.
Next, comes the decision on what type of gravel to use for the pathways.
I don’t want the stones to be sharp, as the little boys who live across the street love to come over and wander barefoot through my garden.
I also need the colors to blend with two different hardscaping materials that border the area – gray pavers on my driveway, and the bricks along my home.
Pebbles with dark gray colors would blend with both.
When going to look at stones or gravel at a landscape supply yard, I recommend taking along a few small plastic snack bags to take samples home with you.
Once home, lay the samples out side by side so you can see how they’ll actually look in your garden.
Better yet, lay them out on a tray or if possible, a sample of nearby flagstone to get the perfect match.
Yet, another tip!
Besides the snack bags, also take a bottle of water with you – not for you but for the rocks!
It’s dusty out there so use the water to rinse off a section of stone to get accurately view the color.
You’d be surprised at what the stone looks like once it’s cleaned up.
Now onto my favorite part – planting design!
Since it’s currently in the middle of winter (with pretty slim pickings at the nurseries,) I’m just gathering ideas right now.
One thing I want to do, however, is incorporate more natives (like this vibrant penstemon ‘Blue Springs’) and edibles among my other plants.
While edibles typically require a lot of water, there are some that don’t, such as rosemary and sage.
When creating a new garden bed next to existing beds, it can be tricky to harmoniously blend them together.
Often times the new garden beds look drastically different and can stick out like a sore thumb.
To avoid this, I’m choosing a few key existing plants to build around, focusing on their color, texture or form.
1. Color and Form
One of the main stars of my front garden is this towering phormium.
I love the rich dark chocolate color, the smooth, strappy foliage, and the upright form.
To echo these elements, I’ll surround it with ‘Cheryl’s Shadow’ cranesbill geranium and ‘Copper Spoons’ kalanchoe.
These plants will provide a nice contrast in shape and form, while repeating the phormium’s colors.
The upright shape of Tuscan kale would be a really nice form echo, too.
Hmmm…so many choices!
2. Texture and Form
On the other side of my garden is this beautiful and highly structural contorted hazel (Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick.)
Once its yellow fall foliage falls off, the twisting and curling branches are the star of my winter garden.
To repeat this texture and form, I’ll surround it with equally exciting plants.
I’m considering the low growing, sponge-like artemesia canescens and the Blue Grama grass ‘Blonde Ambition’, with its eyelash-like tassels.
3. Year-Round Color Echoes
The largest garden bed in my front yard contains my favorite combination of fall colors.
I owe it all to the glowing foliage of the viburnum ‘Roseum’, the year-round flowers of the grevillea ‘Superb,’ and the creeping plumbago’s crimson colors.
I plan to include similar pink and red tones to last throughout the year, such as Bloody Sorrel with its deep red veins and a grevillea ‘Mt. Tamboritha’ with its year-round flowers.
Well, there you have it! Take a look at Part 2 of this series for more details about the construction of the pathways.
I’ve got a few more really great tips to share, too!
Oh, and one more thing – I highly recommend Pam Penick’s latest book,Lawn Gone! Low-Maintenance, Sustainable, Attractive Alternatives for Your Yard for more information about removing lawns (ie: pros and cons for various ways of removing lawn, lawn alternatives, and inspirational photos (spoiler: one of my gardens, left, is featured in this book!)