Dec 30, 2006

Going Straight

You're a romantic at heart, and you want your garden to feel soft and flowy, so you're absolutely positive you want curved beds, an undulating margin of lawn, and a gently meandering pathway. Nope, no straight lines or hard edges for you, right?!


Actually, straight edges may be the best way to make your garden complement your home. After all, isn't the biggest, most significant element on your property… your house? And no matter what style it is—rancher, Tudor, Eichler, Codder—it's got straight edges. So when your garden reflects and extends those lines out into the landscape, you visually anchor your house to its site.

Furthermore, straight lines are the essence of practicality in the garden. If you're working with small spaces, you can arrange elements far more efficiently using straight edges rather than curves (think of the contents of your refrigerator: do cylindrical bottles or rectangular items nest together better)? Even rectilinear furniture is more efficient: a 4' x 4' square table, for instance, allows 16 square feet of dining space, while a 4' diameter round table only offers 12-1/2 square feet of surface area within the same envelope. And when it comes to lawn, it's just plain easier to mow in straight lines than follow irregular curves.

All this isn't to say that your yard has to look like a checkerboard or feel like a prison cell. Even if you used nothing but straight lines, you still can install plants that drape and billow over the edges, and use irregular planting patterns and varying shapes. And if you're fortunate enough to have property that "goes wild" at the edges—whether adjoining a natural open space or a neighbor's naturalistic garden—it actually makes sense to loosen up your bed edges on that side, for a smooth transition that takes full advantage of borrowed views. And if your yard is asymmetrical or unbalanced, or has a particular trouble spot, curves can actually be used to advantage, to distract the eye past the offending area.

Don't get me wrong: I've designed plenty of gardens based on curved lines, including one that was almost nothing but curves. Even in a starkly modernist garden, arcs provide necessary counterpoints to all that rectilinearity. But even if your style is as far from straight as can be, don't make yourself a prisoner to curves. Often, going straight is the best way to go.

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