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What shape should my lawn be?

Posted by lschibley Plymouth MA zone 6b (My Page) on
Sat, Feb 7, 09 at 22:15

Below is a picture of my house. It's tough to see the dimensions, but the lawn is a 30x50' rectangle with the longest side along the driveway. The beds near the house are about 12 feet deep.

From Garden070708

Here is a closer view of the path to the front door.

From Garden070708

I can't take away too much lawn, I have boys who need their ball space, but I'm trying to figure out how to do a few things. First, the rectangular yard is very boring. I was thinking of adding small curved beds near the street maybe reaching up along the driveway a bit, but I am not sure how to make them look like they are not just hanging out there.

Secondly I'd like to bring more attention to the front door. Part of that would be to make the front path more substantial, but I am not sure if it should be within the garden bed as it is now or the path should actually be the front edge of the garden bed. I like how the path passes through the garden, but if I make the path more important, will that make the bit of garden on the far side seem superfluous? Any other ideas on bringing attention to the front door?

Lastly, I was thinking of widening the front beds, but I'm afraid that would put too much distance between the house and the lawn, making the house seem too isolated. How do I know what depth beds are appropriate?

If anyone has thoughts on these issues, I would very much appreciate it.

Thanks in advance!

Lisa


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: What shape should my lawn be?

  • Posted by bboy z8 WA USA (My Page) on
    Sun, Feb 8, 09 at 15:50

Since the house has a geometrically symmetric formal facade the rectangular lawn goes with it and the curving path with informally planted bed does not. I would take the curving path out and reorganize the existing (and additional) plants into a new formal design that corresponded to the house facade. The goals you mentioned can be realized with a formal layout.

In addition to the disharmonious curving of the stones the spaces between them make it so that users may be inclined to look down at where they are placing their feet instead of taking in the garden as they pass through.


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RE: What shape should my lawn be?

Ooooh, then my question needs to be completely different. Ok now my question is how shape my beds and lawn and add landscape elements to de-emphisize the geometrically symmetric formal facade of my house. I'm an extremely informal person, and my gardens reflect that. Here is my garden on the opposite side of the driveway.

From Garden070708

I think there are some aspects of my house that are informal, i,e, the front porch, the dormers, the color. So maybe it's not a lost cause, or maybe I'm being optimistic. I'd still love hearing more opinions.

Lisa


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RE: What shape should my lawn be?

I agree with bboy that the spacing of the stones in that path would cause problems with people being able to walk comfortably along it.

The symmetry of the house is thrown off by the garage, which makes the right side look heavy and unbalances it all. I'm not sure where your property line is but it seems to me that you need something substantial on the left to balance things out. Other than that vague comment, I don't have anything specific to suggest. I do think, though, that people are unduly afraid of formal. I don't think it is incompatible at all with informal plantings and lifestyle. Formal aspects can keep the garden looking organized and under control while the informal plantings can project a lighthearted spirit of fun that says 'don't take this formal stuff too seriously' :-)


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RE: What shape should my lawn be?

Well, as always you have to balance aesthetics with practicality. If, for example, the aesthetically "best" path layout for the house is a straight path to the road, that's pointless if the route mostly travelled is from the driveway.

I think you're right that the design of the house is not stuffily formal; it is simply symmetrical. But there are enough things that offset that to give you full flexibility in terms of how you arrange your gardens. In fact your gardens can mitigate some of that LACK of symmetry; you need some substantial greenery on the right to balance that grove of trees on the left, and maybe some openness on the left to balance the driveway. I actually suspect the picture would look a lot more balanced (and yet less symmetrical) if you gave us a full-width photograph showing both sides of your driveway.

The imbalance that strikes me the most is the front-to-back, or top-to-bottom, one; of the substantial house with the almost non-existent path. It looks like it's not wearing shoes or something :-), and the impression is aggravated by the fact that you don't have much that's evergreen and what you have isn't very big yet.

What I would do first is imagine away everything you now have and draft out your ideal sidewalk; its route, width, landing pad, and starting point. Obviously think out your beds before you actually break ground, but they are a secondary decision. I'm not sure I would curve the path; somehow straight lines and rectangles suit this house even if your plantings aren't formal (and they don't have to be).

The other aesthetic/practical compromise you have to make is obviously that of your children's needs vs. having the perfectly landscaped house, and the perfect landscape can always wait. What might make it tolerable in the meantime is to change it from a boring, accidental rectangle to a dressy, purposeful one with a defined border of some sort. You could just indulge in a little obsessive-compulsive edging, or... I don't know how big your kids are and whether this is remotely do-able, but a hedge right around that edge, even just a small one, might frame the thing beautifully while taking away very little space, and stop escaped balls to boot.

KarinL


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RE: What shape should my lawn be?

Karin,

I really agree that the imbalance is front-to-back. The house is substantial and nothing that I have done yet has come close to giving is shoes, as you say. And as you say, nothing is big. The house was built in 2004 and most of what you see is two years old or so. Here is a winter picture to give you a better sense of the bones.

From Jan 2009 snow and birds

Woodyoak - I'm sorry I don't have a full picture, but the trees on the left of the house are matched by the same type of trees to the right of the garage. It's one of those classic New England colonials that screams, 'Here I am, I'm a garage, Come right in. Oh yeah, there is a house attached to me too.' Which is why I started to think about bringing attention to the front door.

Karin - I really like your idea of erasing everything and starting with the sidewalk. Before reading that, I would never have believed a straight line and angle would have worked better than a curve, but now I can almost see it.

I like the idea of making the rectangle purposeful. I'm not sure I'm sold on a mini-hedge, but it's something to think on.

Thank you very much for all the thoughts!

Lisa


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RE: What shape should my lawn be?

  • Posted by mactac 7 Long Island NY (My Page) on
    Sun, Feb 8, 09 at 21:34

The formal architecture of the house speaks to a time when guests would use a walk that went straight from the street to the door and the garage and driveway were not so prominent. Today guests are likely to park in the driveway, which is also routinely used as a walkway, lessening the utility of that center formal walk.

A couple of things that stuck from my design education are primary walks should be wide enough for two people to comfortably walk side by side (4.5'+) and generally should be straight unless there is a reason to curve, such as topography, architecture, or other. Another tenet I abide by is to design the hardscape, then the planting, not the other way around.

If I was designing your front just on an aesthetic basis (without considering the lawn as a play area), I would have a 5 or 6' wide walk as described above and have a secondary walk from the drive to the front door area. I would have them meet at a landing below the front steps. I would do the primary walk in brick or bluestone (squares/rectangles pattern). The secondary walk, I would consider irregular bluestone or brick, both of which work with curves.

I don't know your plans for the house when the boys outgrow the front lawn play area, but you may consider implementing that type of design for the future, incorporating a more substantial secondary walk now, where your existing walk is. I think you could work a curve in that walk to join with the steps that go up to where the house and garage meet, and also flaring down the driveway a bit. I don't see a problem with the current location of that walk but would recommend transplanting the Japanese Maple to the other side to allow for it's future growth.

I hope some of these thoughts are helpful, and good luck with your project...


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RE: What shape should my lawn be?

Maybe it's my architectural training coming into play but I think there is a unnecessary association with symmetry and formality. Just because a house presents a somewhat symmetrical facade does not automatically mean it is "formal" in its architectural style. Symmetry does not dictate formality - it only provides a suitable setting if formality is desired.

Lisa's home is a modified Cape Cod and this is not a formal architectural style. These started as not much more than seaside cottages with very humble and very non-formal origins. The symmetry of the plan spoke only to the ease and economy of construction as well as the ability of the home to be readily heated in winter.

And there is also the consideration of the neighborhood character. Formal architectural styles tend be most often found in very urban settings and more rural/suburban locations - as this appears to be - and especially in newer neighborhoods, generally offer a mix of architectural styles with more formalized approaches being a thing of the past. Current lifestyles also lean to a more casual, informal approach and there are many good reasons a landscape should reflect the owner's lifestyle in at least as equal a measure as they do the architecture.

If Lisa's style leans to the more casual or informal, then there is no need to adhere to the home's 'semi-symmetry' (the garage and drive, a totally modern day adjunct, throws any sense of symmetry to the winds, anyway) as a basis for a formal landscape. The two are not necessarily co-joined and in this case, they seem to be at definite odds.

A very regular, geometric shape to the lawn is therefore not necessary, nor is a central walkway bisecting the property. If the homeowners and visitors tend to enter from the drive rather than the road, then the primary access should be from that location. I do agree that the walkway is not substantial enough to provide the feeling of welcome and entry it should evoke. Nor is it wide/substantial enough to call attention to the entry and be obvious. A redesign with a larger, solid walk called out by plantings or even a lightpost or low pillars would address that. But there's no reason it can't offer a gentle curve - in fact, a curving pathway is much more appropriate to the style Lisa hopes to engender than one that is a straight arrow or with abrupt 90 degree turns. I would not be inclined to move the Japanese maple (unless you wish to do so) but I would rethink the placement of the walkway when you do get around to replacing it with a more generously sized and solid one by pulling it out further to provide free clearance when the tree matures. Whether the walkway remains inside of the planting bed or along the edge is up to you - either way would work, but you will reduce some of the edging maintenance the lawn requires if the walkway borders the bed.

I don't think widening the beds will serve to 'isolate' the house - the plantings will provide sufficient anchorage and tie it together - but you should have a good reason in mind to do so.

Finally, the shape of the lawn should be determined by what you do along the far side and along the street. If you choose to add plants, a long, rectangular bed with straight edges will offer a contrast to the loosely curved beds in front of the house. To my aesthetic, this contrast would be somewhat glaring and not in context and I'd likely go with loose curves on these areas as well. The lawn would then be a bit of a free-form shape but somewhat longer than wide (depending on how deep you make the beds) and still offer adequate play area and some needed negative space. And would better fit the character of the rest of the more informal landscape elements.


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RE: What shape should my lawn be?

I agree that a symetrical house doesn't necessarily need a formal garden. That large lawn is crying out for curves and circles. The path needs to go. Keep the curve, just widen it to between 3 & 4 ft and make it solid, stepping stones make people look where they are stepping, not what they are walking through. You could also make the edge of the path where it joins the drive fan out, like the end of a tuba. As for the lawn, think long term, the kids aren't going to be playing ball forever. Draw a rectangle on a piece of paper (your lawn) then draw a large oval or circle or a few circles. Play with it and see what happens.


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RE: What shape should my lawn be?

Thank you so much for the thoughts. It really does help to bounce ideas off of other points of view.

I defintely agree on the path being more substantial. 3-4 feet, solid, and a bit further out from where the path is now was just what I was thinking of but I keep going back and forth on whether it should define the front of the bed. For the lawn, there are a couple of lawns in the neighborhood that end in beds by the street, but the beds just seem to be floating there awkwardly. I've drawn shapes, but I just don't see how the beds and the lawn should relate. If anyone knows of pictures of something that works, I'd love to see it.

Lisa


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RE: What shape should my lawn be?

I really hate stepping stones, or flagstones with moss between them, or crushed rock etc. for a front walkway to the main entrance to a house. It's just a personal preference thing. The front walkway should be smooth and solid and unbroken like concrete, or closely set pavers or bricks in mortar, etc. Stepping stones are for paths to sheds, or back gates, or vegetable gardens.


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