The garden floor lawn, paving, paths, even areas of gravel or ground cover plants can make or mar your garden. These surfaces are likely to account for more area than the beds and borders. Although they recede in importance when the garden is in full bloom, for much of the year they probably hold center stage.
Removing existing paths and paved areas presents a practical problem. Provided these areas do not compromise your design too much, it is much easier to leave as many as you can in position. Consider paving over the top with a more sympathetic material. It should be relatively easy to extend the area if you want to.
Lawns are more easily modified than paths and paved areas. At worst you can dig them up and re-sow or relay them. If you simply want to change the shape, you can trim off surplus grass or lift and relay just part of the lawn. There are useful alternatives to grass for areas that are not used for recreation or are seldom trodden on. Ground cover plants not only suppress weeds in flower beds, but can replace a lawn where the surface does not have to take the wear and tear of trampling feet. Inset stepping stones also help to protect the plants. Where the garden is very small a low growing ground cover maybe much more practical than a lawn that is almost too tiny to cut with a mower. Other alternatives to grass are lawns of thyme, chamomile or clover, or graveled areas.
Timber decking is very popular in some countries, while seldom used in others. Much depends on the price of local timber, and to some extent the climate, but decking should always be on your list of options.
Ground cover with plants
If you want to cover an area of ground with a living carpet simply for texture, but you don’t expect to walk on the area, suitable ground cover plants are the answer. To use ground cover plants like this, rather than simply as a means to suppress weeds in a flower bed, they must be evergreen, compact, and grow to a low, even height. Some of the best plants for the job are Armeria maritima, Bergenias, Cotoneaster dammeri, Euonymus Fortunei varieties, Hypericumcalycinum, and Pachysandra Terminalis. If you want a pretty spread of flowers as the main feature, heathers are an excellent choice.
The lawn is often the center piece of a garden, the canvas against which the rest of the garden is painted. For many gardeners this makes it worth all the mowing, feeding and grooming that a good lawn demands. If your lawn has to serve as a play area too, be realistic and sow tough grasses, and setae for a hard wearing lawn rather than a showpiece. It can still look green and lush, the important consideration from a design view point. Instead of aiming for a howling green finish, the shape of the lawn or a striking edging could be its strong visual message.
Circular lawns must be edged properly, nothing looks worse than a circle that isn’t circular, and of course constant trimming back will eat into the lawn over the years. To avoid this, incorporate a firm edging, such as bricks placed on end and mortared into position, when you make the lawn.
Where the edges are straight use proprietary lawn edging strips.
Naturalizing bulbs in grass spring flowering bulbs in a lawn of any size gives you the justification for leaving the grass uncut until late spring or early summer, when the leaves have died down. Choose bulbs that will multiply and flower freely, such as crocuses, daffodils, snowdrops, small fritillaries, and winter aconites. There are many different kinds of crocuses and daffodils, so you’ll have plenty of choice even if you limit yourself to these particularly reliable bulbs and corms.