Balance order and chaos

An important part of the ‘look’ of this garden is the use of shaped ‘negative’ space and the use of edging materials.  Both contribute to providing definition to the spaces and a feeling of control to balance the exuberance of the plantings.  Ones’ mind craves variety but it also craves order.  The clean, somewhat formal, elements of the rectangular lawn in the backyard, and the brick edging and grass path in the front garden are important providers of order to balance the ‘chaos’ of the informal mingling of the plants.  Interestingly, both the brick edging and the rectangular lawn came about initially to reduce the maintenance requirements of ‘trench edging to prevent grass from spreading into the garden beds.  By putting a path on the outside of the beds in the backyard, the lawn grass was separated from the garden beds.  A quick and easy touch up in spring (described in the rectangular lawn section of the backyard detail below…) is much less work than the previous two or three times a season refreshing of trench edges for the garden beds.  Similarly, the brick edge (described further in the related section of the front garden description below…) eliminated the need to trench edge the front garden, a chore that had become decidedly onerous.

Once the decision to eliminate trench edging was made, it became clear that it was important to give careful thought to the shape of the beds and space.  The brick edge, in particular is a fair bit of work to change because it is necessary to lift and move the metal grass barrier that lies between the bricks and grass.  The concept of shaping ‘negative’ space became the driving force.  The ‘negative’ space in this context is the space left over after the garden beds are made.  Usually one focuses on shaping the beds; switching the focus to shaping the ‘left over’ space produces striking results.

In making the rectangular lawn in the backyard, we shaped the lawn and adjusted the beds to fit around it.  Similarly, the grass path in the front was shaped by measuring a distance from the edge of the main front bed.  The ‘moat’ bed then became the space that was left between the grass path and the top of the ditch.  The shape of the ‘teardrop’ bed was also adjusted by the shape of the grass path.  The path at the back (driveway side) of the ‘teardrop’ was converted from grass to bark mulch.  The change in surface material clearly defined the back path as secondary, and kept the focus on the clean sweep of green of the grass path.

These are old pictures now, but the overall layout hasn’t changed much.  In this view from mid-April before plants are in active growth, the layout of the front garden is clearly seen.

A month later, the plants have filled in substantially, but the sweep of the grass path is still clearly visible in this ‘bird’s eye’ view:

and even more dramatically in this view looking south from the north edge of the front garden:wisteria bed May 16 2010-1

The rectangular lawn in the backyard is the most striking feature of the backyard garden at any tine. These pictures are a few years old now – we have since removed the log edge on the south side, adding a path to complete the circuit around the lawn and shorten the long side of the lawn to improve the proportions.





(All those fallen ash leaves are added to the garden beds.)

The result of the shaping of the ‘negative’ space is that the lawn in the backyard and the grass path in the front yard became ornamental features on their own, and not just the relatively unimportant residual background space.  The greater prominence of the negative space and its somewhat formal geometry imposes an important sense of order to counterbalance the exuberant riot of plants.  It was a relatively simple change that had a dramatic effect on the sense of the garden as a coherent and distinctive space.


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