In Which DeLawning Becomes a Total Border Do-over


by Susan
It all started with  really crappy-looking lawn, and you see it here in all its late summer blotchiness.  And as relatedBeforefromdeck375 in a story about my lawn replacement project, the original plan was to get rid of the entire lawn – suffocating it with newspaper and mulch.  Well, after hearing from our smart commenters, I downsized the project to removal of just half the lawn, at least for now.  And you told me the grass wouldn’t decompose in time for planting this fall and I’d end up having to dig it all up anyway, so I switched to good old manual sod removal, as described here in this update.  (To hell with the gym; get dirty and do some real work.)  So the lower, browner and bumpier part of the lawn is now history, and I’ve given the land underneath it a smoother, gentler grade.

Well no, that was the next surprise.  Look again in the before picture at the plants in the right-hand border hugging the lawn.  They mirror the hourglass-shaped lawn, so that a smaller lawn with a different shape makes the right border looked terrible, especially as seen from the deck.  And aerial views turn everyone into fussy design critics, let me tell ya.

That’s an exaggeration, but not by a lot.  In order to redesign the right border, everytAftercorner375hing but the back row of plants had to be dug up and parked in my holding garden.  To wit: 8 pieris japonica, 10 astilbes,

10 euphorbia amygdaloides,

2 large hydrangea macrophylla,

3 large carex,

3 Knockout roses in their first year,

2 medium-sized Miscanthus ‘Morning Light’,

1 Hollywood Juniper in the garden 2 years,

1 spirea ‘Anthony Waterer’,

1 Euonymous ‘Emerald Gaiety’,

about 4 flats worth of vinca minor,

and gobs and gobs of liriope spicata, about which I’ll be ranting soon in a separate post.

But without removing everything and starting with a clean slate I’d end up just tweaking what’s already there, not really creating something new.  And man, having a bunch of gorgeous, full-size plants to rearrange in a more beautiful way is awesome. 

1. So, this whole-border do-over gives me the chance to rant a bit about borders and what almost everyone does wrong in designing them, including me:  WE MAKE THEM TOO DAMN SMALL.  This "border" started out as rows of tall shrubs along the property line, with the lawn going right up to them.  And bit by bit I’ve enlarged it, pulling its line out into the lawn until FINALLY it’s the size it should be. 

2. Another mistake I’ve been making is USING PLANTS THAT ARE TOO SMALL FOR THE JOB.  So no more trying to fill the corner with various perennials – they just lacked impact in this large space that’s seen primarily from a distance.  Now it’s all shrubs and Miscanthus grasses, with a Hollywood Juniper as a focal point. 

3. And the other lesson I’ve learned (and now yack about to my defenseless clients) is to FILL UP THOSE CORNERS because they anchor the garden and give it a natural focal point.

Don’t be too surprised if you see more of this corner – my new favorite spot in the garden. 

Next – Where There Once Was Lawn.


  1. Ye gods. How many bottles of ibuprofen have you gone through now? The sod-busting alone is bad enough, but moving all those plants too — !

    I have a second-floor window that looks out over the garden, and I agree, the ‘aerial view’ has been invaluable. I planned some of the beds while staring at the yard from above, and I’m glad now that I did.

  2. I have yet to complete what I think will be a manageable small gardening task without running into at least two other things that will need modifying as a result. You have my sympathy.

    I now expect to spend at least twice as much time and energy as any mental estimate I have made for the original project. This is probably a good thing since I am in the process of replacing my front lawn with plants. My neighborhood is established and conservative so my hope is that since it is happening so slowly the neighbors won’t notice that every year I remove another 5′ of lawn and by the time it is all done they’ll be used to it.

  3. Me, too. I’m following this breathlessly.

    Susan’s design sense is so good that I’ve been taking clues from her garden since I first found her personal blog.

  4. Y’all are giving me a reality check about my obsession, I’m afraid. See, if I don’t have projects like these to do it’s frustrating. Fortunately since I adopted my next-door neighbor’s much larger garden, I’ll never run out. And my across-the-street neighbors and I are bartering gardening guidance for cooking – she takes pity on me, I think.
    M, thanks for the encouragement about my garden’s design – next up you’ll see me begging for ideas, though, for the lawn replacement area. I may even end up going back to lawn!

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