Garden Planning III – Mixed Borders and Rock Gardens

  • Post published:01/26/2014
  • Post comments:7 Comments


A corner of my mixed border

        Garden Planning takes a new direction after you have decided how much time you have, what activities you want to enjoy in the garden, and what the garden needs in terms of soil improvement. You will also have decided whether you want a strictly ornamental garden, or if you want to include edibles.

            In urban and suburban settings the first consideration is the front yard. Most front yards begin with a lawn, and perhaps some shrubby foundation plantings. This is fine as far as they go, but often those foundation plantings are placed in a narrow bed, with little other interest.

            The lawn requires regular mowing, and while I never fertilize or use herbicides on my flowery mead, many people over-apply these chemicals which can pollute our waterways every time rains wash those chemicals off the lawn. What are the alternatives?

            The first might be to enlarge and broaden the beds around the house that would allow room for a small tree or two, possibly a witch hazel that would bring the earliest spring bloom, as well as the shrubs, and some flowers. You could create a long season of bloom by including spring blooming bulbs, perennials, and some annuals that will bloom all summer. This arrangement is called a mixed border, and it is an arrangement that can be used to mark lot boundaries, or to separate spaces in the garden. I have two gently curving mixed borders in my front lawn. They separate lawn areas, cut down on lawn (their original purpose) and have become greatly admired by visitors to the garden.

            My mixed borders were begun in 1999. That is an easy date to remember because of the ages of our five grandsons. We had a big family visit during which the five boys between ages three and one each planted a gingko tree. They needed (a lot) of help, of course. We chose the ginkgos in honor of the time we spent living and working in Beijing. The gingkos were planted at the edges of the prepared beds. The North Bed is about 25 feet long, and the South Bed is about 15 feet long. Both are about 10 feet at their widest.

            The three gingkos in the North Bed survived, but only one in the South Bed. Therefore we later planted a weeping birch in the South Bed. In the middle-ish section we planted low junipers – too many as it turned out. When you are beginning with such a large space it is hard to remember how big plants will grow.

            At the beginning the beds didn’t look like much. The plants were small and annuals can only do so much. There was a lot of mulch.

            Over time other shrubs were added, two hollies, male and female, a weeping cherry, a tree peony, two cotoneasters (different varieties), two The Fairy roses, a Mothlight hydrangea which has grown very large, and an array of perennials like astilbe, garden phlox, Echinacea, Northern sea oats, salvia, delphinium, aconite, Shasta daisy and a few annuals along the edges. Herbs like parsley, sage, and chives can also be a pretty and useful addition.

            All these years later I have well filled in borders with trees that are gaining in height and throwing some welcome shade, lush shrubs, and an array of perennials that will need dividing again this spring. I actually wish I had made the beds wider, and will probably do a little tweaking to make that happen in the spring.

            This is a planting scheme that can work at the edges of a yard. I love the idea of a shady woodland with spring bulbs and a native groundcover like tiarella separating two houses on an urban street. I might be harking back to the narrow shady woodland in front of my parents’ first house, providing a veil of shelter from the road.        


Lawn reduction – rock gardens

 One stunning garden I visited last year turned the front yard into a beautiful low maintenance garden by using stone, a lot of stone, a graceful tree, native groundcovers, and a few shrubs and flowers. The owner said she had been on a mission to eradicate lawn for 40 years. Her front lawn was reduced to a path that meandered between the foundation plantings and the rock garden, leading from the driveway, around the house to a welcoming screened room. This garden gives pleasure to all the neighbors, as well as the gardener.

Another view

            Another important way to reduce lawn is to increase social space. I love screened porches and summer houses of all forms because I like to be sheltered from the sun – and the bugs. Decks and patios are common ways of providing social space, and also take a multitude of forms. One important consideration when creating a patio is to make it out of pervious paving. Rain run off is a municipal problem. We can help our town and our own landscape by keeping rain where it falls.

            Lawn reduction and mixed borders are ideas to consider whether you are a new gardener or an experienced gardener who needs to cut back.

            Next week, to conclude this series, I’ll talk about periodic re-visioning, and since we do not weed all winter, the view from the window.

           Beetween the Rows  January 18, 2014


This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. Lisa at Greenbow

    Great ideas!

  2. Masha

    I agree getting rid of a lawn is a good thing, but here it is done because lawns demand too much water. As for maintenance, compared to eternally growing weeds (we have no snow) and ever blooming roses, lawn is actually pretty easy 🙂

  3. PlantPostings

    I love the idea of reducing lawn and adding some stone and rock gardens. It’s definitely on the to-do list. Now I just need a little bigger budget to make it happen. 🙂 Lovely plans and landscapes!

  4. Pat

    Masha – A lawn is easy, and if you have a lawn like mine it is sustainable because we do not water it, use herbicides for pesticides – hence its name as a flowery mead, and which an Extension display at the Fair called a ‘typical weedy patch.’
    PlantPostings – That ‘rock’ garden definitely needs some capital spending, but I really loved it. Food for thought.

  5. This is exactly what I will be doing…reducing more lawn. love the ideas and I am planning on making changes this year. I love the last photo too as it makes perfect sense and is such easy maintenance.

  6. Casa Mariposa

    I keep chipping away at our lawn every year as I expand the garden but with 4 dogs, I’ll never get rid of it completely. I like having it as a cool spot to rest my eyes in the summer. Plus, I always need somewhere to stick the hammock. I really love the garden with the rocks. Beautiful rocks can really add a lot of interest and texture to a garden.

  7. Pat

    Donna – That front garden is really fabulous and practical on so many levels.
    Casa – If you saw my landscape you would know I am not totally opposed to lawns, really just poor environmental care of lawns. My husband objects to all the mowing! However, I don’t think acres of manicured lawn have much value.

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