It has been two years since I made a number of significant changes to our Kigali, Rwanda, garden, and I thought this would be a good time to look back with a series of “before and after” pictures.
Today, I’ll focus on the “lower lawn” — the largest part of the garden, which is parallel to and just below the “upper lawn.”
(You can read about the upper lawn’s “before and after” in my July 25 post here).
Photos above and below: late 2011.
Then and now, looking down on the lower lawn from the front of the house, you see grass and a clipped bougainvillea hedge along the front of the property — and then the view above.
This is to the right of the previous photo; that’s Mt. Kigali over the front hedge — seen from the center steps that align with the middle of the house and terrace.
When you go down the center steps and stand on the lower lawn, the views of the city and hills are hidden and the flower/shrub borders are all you see.
Back in 2011, I thought it was all too straight, too wide (the grass), too dull. And the bright white Victorian lampposts lined up out in the grass drove me crazy.
There is a slight slope to the lawn, toward the front hedge. Along that hedge (shown above, right) was a very narrow planting strip, into which a variety of nice shrubs were wedged. I always had a feeling that they and the lawn could just slide down under the hedge.
The practical purpose of the lower lawn area is holding large events. And from that standpoint, it was already working well. The occasional need to put up tents meant that we could not remove a lot of the grass, but, as you can see in the picture just above, there was enough room to create a wider, much more interesting planting bed along the front hedge.
Above is the same area of the previous photo in the summer of 2012, soon after we started making changes. At this point, we had already painted the lampposts dark brown.
All the borders in the garden on the north side of the house (next post) and along the upper and lower lawns were re-cut in irregular curves — echoing the forms of the surrounding hills. The curves also provide a counterpoint to the long straight lines of the parallel lawns, borders, walls, and front hedge.
Above: the same section in late June 2014.
While I couldn’t remove a lot of grass in the center section of the lawn, the curvy borders can swing out a bit at the north and south ends.
Above: the full lower lawn, looking from the north.
Above: standing on the upper lawn, looking across to the front border in April 2014.
Above: standing at the center steps, looking across.
Above: the full lower lawn, looking from the south.
Above: on the house side of the lawn, the old 9′ heliconias in the border between the two retaining walls loomed down. . .
. . . and were pretty tattered; I think we had had a hail storm not long before I took the photo above.
Above: the same section, in late June 2014.
Above: the grass-level planting bed was extended out to contain the lampposts.
Above: from the center of the lawn, looking at the south side of the retaining walls.
Above: looking north in April 2014.
The first garden renovation task we did in May 2012 was to remove sod on the west side of the lower lawn (left, above). We took this grass up to the area in front of the house’s terrace to create a larger “upper lawn” there.
Then, we began to remove bushes and perennials from along the terrace and re-plant them in the new border; the above photo was taken about June 2012.
Above: AFTER, in late June 2014.
In this new front planting bed, we’ve both left in place and added a lot of shrubs and even some small trees. They now have room to grow into large natural shapes that emerge out of and contrast with the flat-clipped bougainvillea hedge behind them. I think this makes the still rather narrow planting strip seem more substantial, relative to the lawn and the opposite borders.*
Above and below: AFTER, looking north, June 2014.
I think I would describe the planting style of the lower lawn as “grandmother’s garden meets the wilderness.” The perennials and bushes are mostly rather common old-fashioned flowering plants — although, some of them more “common,” perhaps, if you live in Florida or South Africa.
The planting arrangement, however, is very close and mixed, and allowed to get little shaggy. I let “wild” vines come up onto the hedge and the crowns of small self-seeded “junk” trees push through it. When the trees get too big, I just chop them off at the place where I want the next crown to grow (I did that today, actually).
Birds and insects seem to love it; the borders are full of them.
I am not yet satisfied with the front border on the west side of the lawn. I’m still trying to get the curves of the beds right at the two ends. And there are some shrubs and other big plants that will need a year or two more of growth for the planting plan to achieve its full impact.
Above: AFTER, standing at the north end of the lawn, looking south, June 2014.
Above: AFTER, the north end of the lower lawn.
Above: AFTER, looking south from the north end of the lawn.
Above: AFTER, looking down to the north end of the lower lawn from the driveway.
Above: in the summer of 2012, we enlarged the planting beds on the east side of the lawn and cleared out the tall heliconia between the retaining walls.
Then, we replanted the shrubs and perennials saved during the upper lawn renovations.
Above: AFTER, in late June 2014.
Above and below: AFTER, the south side of the retaining walls.
Above and below: the north end of the retaining walls in June 2014.
Above: a closeup of the red and cream Russelia equisetiformis in the same area, April 2014.
Above: AFTER, the south end of the lower lawn, June 2014.
Above: we relocated the tall heliconia that used to be next to the center steps to each end of the retaining walls border.
All the plants and shrubs that are in our garden now were here in 2011 — with the exception of a few palm trees and a few perennials that I grew from seed. Of course, we have divided and moved around almost everything once or twice — or at least it feels that way.
Above: BEFORE, at the far south end of the lawn are a row of pine trees.
I haven’t wanted to dig around their roots, so we just mulched them with fallen pine needles and placed two tall pots among them.
Above: AFTER, looking to the south end of the lawn in June 2014.
To scroll through larger versions of these photos, click on ‘Continue reading’ below, and then on any thumbnail in the gallery.
*The bougainvillea is left to grow naturally on the street side of the hedge. Occasionally, we do give it a trim; otherwise, it would fall into the road.