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How To Make Lawn Pictures

( Originally Published 1906 )

The artistic qualities of the lawn—Grouping trees and shrubs—Two main styles of treatment—Making the most of small areas—Colour values—Grass walks—Locating flower beds—Staking the outlines Shaping the beds—Making an ellipse—Tracing curves and contra curves—Art in design—Walks—Isolated clumps of shrubbery.

CLOSELY associated with the making of the lawn is the planting around it. So close indeed is this association that the term "lawn" has become significant of the general outlook of the grass and shrubbery effect. The greensward is as the canvas on which the artist paints, with living trees and shrubs as his pigments. After all the grass itself is not the picture but only the setting.


There are two broad general principles into which all treatments of the marginal planting and surrounding grounds may be grouped. On the one hand is what may be called the open treatment, and on the other the close or belt treatment.

The open treatment is best adapted to large areas where park-like effect is sought. It adds enormously to the apparent distance, and in the hands of a skilful landscape gardener will result in the creation of the most charming compositions and realisations of distant effects. All the beauties of the surrounding landscape may thus be drawn into and made part of the home grounds. The distant lake, the far off hillside, and the rolling masses of upland and dale, should not be lost by excessive belt planting. Judicious treatment in this style leads the observer's eye, in successive steps from point to point, until he unconsciously connects the whole of the distant landscape with the immediate foreground, and actually deceives himself into a belief of a wide expanse of the property. This is the highest type of landscape composition, one which is all too little thought of by the majority of owners, who fail to draw into their home pictures the salient features of the natural surroundings.

If there is a naturally dense planting or wood-land which cuts off the distant scene it should by all means be opened up. "Vistas" should be made. Everything in the outlying country that is beautiful should be brought into sight of the home lawn; and all mass plantings should be designed with the object of either helping the general composition toward these outlying points, or for the purpose of obliterating whatsoever is ugly and objectionable. This open treatment is not impossible, sometimes, on even very small lawns. It is worth while giving long and earnest thought to the possibilities of the surroundings, and making the plantations of the home garden in direct relation to these other features.


In crowded suburban districts, where the distant landscape is merely an accumulation of more or less unpicturesque habitations of man in the conventional form, the hap-pier result is usually had by so massing the plantings around the lawn as to cut off what-ever abuts, and so to actually emphasise the seclusion of the home. Primarily the garden is, or should be, a private outdoor room, and the immediate adjoinment of the house ought to be designed in reference to, and in relation with the main lines of the building it supports, rather than with the far distance.

These two essentially different yet not in-harmonious points of view are too often con-fused. The results are incongruous or ludicrous. Fancy putting a "cut-off" plantation at the far end of a stretch of a five-acre lawn which comes to look like a mere hedge in the distance, clearly marking a boundary and a separation from the distant view, and having no apparent reason—that is no artistic reason—for its existence. As in structural art, in architecture, etc., every line and every curve should be a part of the structural scheme, and have its existence justified, so also it is with the landscape. Every mass or group of trees should justify itself, or form part of the general whole.


Open treatment of a small lawn, such as is met with in a city or suburban lot, usually is unsatisfactory because it brings into the lines of sight the more undesirable and obtrusive features of the surrounding lots. But even with the close border planting it is not by any means impossible to increase the apparent distances by means of judicious curves and graceful lines.

Very much may be accomplished in this respect by the use of proper plants which by means of their colour values help in the composition of the picture. Thus, for in-stance, the white birch planted nearly at the end of a long and narrow stretch of lawn running between shrubbery borders, will, by immediately fixing the eye, create the impression of a much greater depth than actually exists, and especially if beyond this again some few feet away is a mass of planting in which the blue tone is dominant. Yellow colours should be placed only in fore-grounds because of the fore-shortening effect that they give us. Masses of yellow foliage or flowers placed at the distant point of the lawn, no matter how skilfully the general plan may have been made, will inevitably result in destroying all sense of perspective.


The grass walk, or turf walk as it is more commonly called, is an all too rarely seen feature of our gardens. In many places where there are parallel borders, separated by only a few feet, the greatest artistic effect, the more reposeful feeling, and, certainly the most natural setting and environment for the plants of the border will be made by filling in the intervening space with grass rather than with gravel. These grass walks are something more than extensions of the lawn idea. They unite the different masses of plantings and bring them in as integral parts of the garden itself. Abrupt changes from one style of garden to another should be avoided if possible.


Where flower beds are to be placed on the lawn it is far better to treat the whole surface in the first place as one unbroken grass area, cutting in the beds later, when the grass has become thoroughly established. The final result is better because the cut edges will be more sharply defined, and it is far easier, in the first place, to make an unbroken stretch of lawn than it is to work in and out between and around more or less complicated bed outlines.

It is a very easy matter to cut these beds, and, moreover, their form and proportions can be determined in exact relation to each other and to the surroundings.

In starting to make beds on an already established lawn they should be outlined by stout wooden stakes, driven into the ground. These can be adjusted and moved until the area to be converted suits the eye. Use stout wooden stakes about twelve inches long, sharpened at one end, and preferably unpainted. When the stakes have been driven into position a cord can be drawn all around them, which will mark the outline of the future bed. Another advantage from working in this way is that the grass can be taken up in the form of turf and used to patch up any irregularities that have occurred in other parts of the lawn.

The form and outline having been deter-mined, the line can be cut around by plunging a sharp spade into it and working it forward toward the inside of the bed at each thrust. Digging should then commence at the centre of the bed; the work gradually extending out-ward in a series of circles until the whole of the surface has been turned under. If this is properly done the contour of the bed will be almost perfect and can be easily finished off by means of the garden rake. Of course it would be well to spread manure over the grass before it is dug under.

The edges of the bed should be protected by flat boards which will take the tread of the workmen, and also keep the grass clean. The grass that is turned under should be buried, if possible a foot below the surface, where it will soon rot and add to the humus of the soil. There need be no fear that the grass will grow and make a weedy bed.


Beds of regular form can easily be marked out by means of a stake and line. Thus, to make a circular bed, drive a stake in the centre, and with a noosed cord—the noose being slipped over the stake, and the cord of a length equal to half the diameter of the de-sired bed—the outline can be scratched on the grass. Use another sharply pointed stake or an iron rod for scratching this out-line, and cut the outline deeper by means of an edging iron or spade.

The staking of a square bed is simplicity itself. All that is necessary being four stakes and two true edged boards with which right angles can be marked. In this case begin from one corner driving the stake until it is standing squarely in the ground, then lay one of the boards alongside it, and, measuring off the required distance for the side of the bed, drive another stake. Without removing the first board lay the other one against it at right angles, outside of the stake, and proceed in the same manner until the four sides are marked.

Except in public places in close proximity to buildings, and even often in such situations also, the ellipse will give a much more satisfactory bed than the true circle, and it can be made just as easily. Here is the method : If only the major axis be known, mark that on the ground by two stakes and divide it into three equal parts. With the length of one of those parts as the radius, and with the two inner stakes as centres, trace two circles which will cut each other at two points equal distance from the main axis and which will mark the shorter axis on the figure. Place a stake at each of these points, and from each one of these as a centre, and with twice the radius formerly used, describe the arc of a circle which will connect with the circumferences of the smaller circles. The outline of the figure is now complete.

A rougher method and one much more generally used, is to first mark the major axis. At a distance slightly less than one third of that axis, and from one end of it, drive another stake. From the other end of the line measure off' the same distance and drive another stake. Now take a cord fastened loosely to each of the inner stakes and of such a length that it will just slip over one of the end stakes, then removing this end stake to use as a marker, and holding the line perfectly tight, move around the foci, firmly marking the outline of the figure desired.


As a matter of fact precision in tracing curves for outlines of borders along the lawn is not necessary. This is true even when carrying out an exactly drawn plan on paper. It must always be borne in mind that these curves are not to be taken in a bird's eye view. They will not be looked at from above but from the front. Therefore after the general scheme has been staked out on the ground the final positions should not be accepted without considerable experiment in varying the position of the stakes to see that the most happy arrangement has been made. Long sweeping curves can generally be marked by eye better than by any mechanical means. The director of the work should stand at some fixed point and have an assistant carrying a supply of pointed stakes which he places in the ground as instructed. By shifting them backward and forward, and from side to side, most pleasing effects can easily be produced.

In very few cases are regular curves really necessary. Occasionally, however, as in making turns for carriage drives, it is desirable that true results be obtained. In tracing contra curves it is very desirable that they be very nearly true, and especially if these are parallel as might be the case in extending a turf walk from the lawn proper to the other parts of the garden. In these cases one curve should be traced first by the eye and, the stakes having been finally driven, the opposite curve is then laid by a reproduction of the first.

We will suppose a straight line. The garden line may be used to mark this. The two ends of the line should mark the extreme ends of the contra curve which will cross the line exactly at its centre. Measuring from the beginning of one curve to the point of intersection between the curve and garden line, find the centre, and from that measure the distance to the outline of the curve. Lay it off similarly on the opposite side of the line to mark the other half of the contra curve. From the point of intersection with the perpendicular and the original curve draw a line to the starting point, and another to the point where the curve intersects the straight line. From these bases measurements may be taken as necessary for reproduction of the other half of the curve. This is the simplest form of laying a curve but the method can be adapted to more complicated figures by merely increasing the number of base lines. The essential point to be guarded, and the one which it is most easy to trip over, is in making the curve continuous where it changes direction at the point of crossing the guide or straight line.


Every change of curve made in a walk or a border or a driveway should have, must have indeed, its real or apparent reason. Merely winding walks are a nuisance and tiresome. They will not even be used. A "short cut" will inevitably be made, resulting in a complete cutting up of the lawn into irregularly formed patches. A curve, though of itself beautiful, becomes irksome when laid on the ground without any support or reason. At the same time straight lines should generally be avoided. Therefore masses of shrubbery, a flower bed, an old tree retained from the original clearing, or a rock abutting from the ground, should be worked into the scheme. These "obstacles" may not be merely natural features. They can be imported or artificially made. The number and variety of the curves must be in pro-portion to the surface and contour of the ground. The more hilly or undulating it is the more numerous may be the curves. The entrance from the public road is made at right angles so as to give the greatest ease of approach from all directions. But if there is room the curve should begin immediately inside the ground, a reason for its doing so being established by a judicious planting or flower bed.

A convenient width for a walk is eight feet, with half that width for side paths over which there is not traffic.


In planting small isolated groups of trees or shrubs the triangle should form the basis in every case. The equilateral triangle, however, should be avoided, as should the very commonly seen method of planting five trees in a rough circular form with a sixth in the centre. A far better effect would be obtained by planting only five, for instance, in a four-sided figure, no two sides of which were of the same length the odd specimen being placed in the centre. Before planting, stakes should be driven in and moved about until a satisfactory composition is reached. Neither should the group be regarded from one point of view only. Naturally there will be one main aspect for every group, and sometimes it will be so compelling as to preclude the possibility of adjustment from other points of view. The situation will then be met by secondary or subsidiary groupings of low growing shrubs in the de-sired direction. When groups or masses consist of more than half a dozen specimens they should be considered, structurally, as consisting of several groups, and the individual plants should be regarded as forming points of various triangles.

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