By Kate Wall
A freshly mown and neatly edged lawn is a joy to behold. Even more so if it is set amongst a beautiful garden. Gardens and lawns complement each other beautifully. The green uniformity of the lawn gives the eye a resting space in a busy garden, and a lush garden provides depth, contrast and interest against the green carpet of the lawn.
When it comes to which plants define the edge zone – that space in which garden meets lawn, there are definitely winners and losers.
A plant that is successful in the border zone will have a few key attributes. It will not be too tall, so it does not restrict the view of other plants deeper within the garden; it will not overhang the lawn enough to restrict mowing to the edge; it will not spread into the lawn and become a weed there; it will be sufficiently dense as to prevent mulch being washed from the garden onto the lawn; and of course, it must look good.
Strappy leafed plants tend to work very well in this situation. Strappy leafed plants almost always look good against lawn as they repeat the vertical lines of the grass blades, albeit on a larger scale which creates repetition and variation on a theme in a garden. The upright leaf blades of strappy leafed plants also tend to make a lawn look bigger so can be particularly effective for small gardens. In a small garden it will be best to keep the height of the strap leafed (or any edging) plants shorter – 30cm or less, but a larger garden can easily handle taller plants in the border zone.
Be aware that grass-like plants that spread by underground rhizome, such as mondo grass, do not make good lawn borders unless you also have a significant physical barrier, such as a paved edge, to stop the mondo grass spreading into the lawn and vice versa.
Strappy leaf plants that make good lawn borders include tulbaghia, zephranthes and new agapanthus varieties such as Queen Mum™ Agapanthus orientalis ‘PMN06’ PBR and Agapanthus orientalis ‘Cloudy Days’ PBR that produce less viable seed head than the common form and therefore are less likely to spread via seed. Many of the new varieties of compact lomandras and dianellas make exceptional lawn borders, plants such as Shara™ Lomandra fluviatilis ‘ABU7’ PBR, Tasred® Dianella tasmanica ‘TR20’ PBR, Revelation® Dianella revoluta ‘DRG04’ PBR and Little Rev™ Dianella revoluta ‘DR5000’ PBR.
In contrast, dense short hedges (parterre hedges) can make a small lawn look very boxed in, but can work very well to define garden borders in a garden with large areas of lawn. Parterre hedges can also give a distinct formality to a garden, which is quite opposite to the soft relaxed look of strappy leafed plants as a border. While English Box and Japanese Box work well as a low hedge, there are a lot of other choices and also native alternatives. Westringias such as Grey Box™ Westringia fruticosa ‘WES04’ PBR and Ozbreed Aussie Box® Westringia ‘WES02’ PBR are excellent native alternatives for a small hedge, and can even be left in their natural ball shape. Dwarf forms of lily pilly, such as Hobbit™ Syzygium francisii ‘DBK01’ PBR, Murraya and even Raphiolepis, such as Cosmic Pink™ Rhaphiolepis indica ‘RAPH02’ PBR are also great choices. These are all plants that can be pruned into short (less than 50cm) hedges for use as parterre hedges or lawn borders.
Between these two extremes there are many plant choices, including ground covers and coloured foliage plants.
Ground covers or low growing plants can work well when the desired look is to keep the space as open as possible. They can work very well in mid to large sized gardens to create flow through and a sense of space in the garden, while still offering a variety of shapes, textures and colours to break up a lawn area. In small gardens they should be used carefully so as not to leave a space feeling too empty. Low growing plants to approximately 30cm high can be used very successfully to add shape and texture around a flat lawn area, or to accent a slope without closing a view. By choosing compact forms of low growing plants the effect of mounds can easily be created even on flat ground. Good plant choices for this style of landscaping include many natives such as Mundi™ Westringia fruticosa ‘WES05’ PBR, Low Horizon™ Westringia ‘WES06’ PBR, Purple Fusion™ Scaevola humilis ‘PFS100’ PBR, Meema™ Hardenbergia violacea ‘HB1’ PBR, and plants such as Gold Cluster™ Grevillea juniperina ‘H22’ PBR can add a lot of texture to ground cover plantings. There are also many non-native plants that work exceptionally well in this style of planting. For masses of eye catching yellow flowers try Double Gold™ Gazania hybrid ‘GT20’ PBR, and for perfume and white flowers, O So Fine™ Gardenia augusta ‘KEN04’ PBR is unbeatable.
Another category of plants to consider as a border plant between lawn and garden are plants with coloured foliage. Coloured foliage can add brightness in shady areas by using whites and yellows, or add depth to bright areas using reds and bronzes. They can also offer year round interest and colour where flowers may be intermittent. Coloured foliage often adds a sense of vibrancy and evokes the tropics, even when planted in cool locations. Coloured bromeliads can be used to add a textural as well as colourful lawn border and suit tropical styles very well.
A border of Little Ruby™ Alternanthera dentata ‘LRU30’ PBR can give a lot of depth to a large garden with a lot of green spaces, while using Blush™ Nandina domestica ‘AKA’ PBR can work very well to create an autumnal feel, even in areas that do not usually experience autumn leaf colour changes.
The choice of plant for lawn border should be made with consideration to the size and shape of your garden in mind, as well as the desired effect. The role of the border planting is not only as a barrier between garden and lawn but also as a transition zone leading the eye from the open area of the lawn into the detail of the garden. The wrong plant choice can make a small garden smaller or a large garden too open and uninviting. When the right plant choice is made, the lawn and garden fuse into one beautiful and inviting landscape, where each enhances the other.
Plants growing to less than 15cm high can be lost against a lawn unless the soil level is built up to create a mound or if working on a slope.
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