Sunday, July 10, 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.


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