Love it or leave it: front yard steel dividers

In the wake of California’s epic drought, more and more homeowners are replacing their thirsty front lawns with less wasteful alternatives. Most projects entail the removal of all turf. But just because that’s common sense doesn’t mean everybody has to subscribe it.

My wife recently spotted a front lawn project in an adjacent neighborhood that is very different from what we typically see in Davis. On Saturday I finally had a chance to check it out myself.

What do you think?


Love it or leave it?


Instead of removing all the lawn, this design keeps about 1/2 of it and confines it to two triangular areas bordered by foot-high sections of steel. The central section is filled with blue-gray gravel and features two redbud (Cercis occidentalis) trained as standards.


The area closest to the sidewalk is now a wide planting strip featuring more redbud as well as groundcover manzanita (Arctostaphylos sp.). The top dressing is standard gold-colored decomposed granite (DG).


Presumably in an effort to add an ornamental touch, the steel dividers are engraved with a squiggly line that might represent the Sierra Nevada mountains or ocean waves—or maybe just a squiggly line.

Clearly this front yard isn’t just a random creation. It’s the result of intentional design and careful planning. Somebody thought this was a good solution for this space. And somebody else gave the green light.

What do I think of it? I’m so confused, I don’t even know. It find the overall design bizarre in a strangely intriguing way. While the dividers look to be made of regular soft steel instead of the much more expensive CORTEN, they’re still a pricey element. They’re arranged in a pattern that resembles stylized sunrays, but they look tortured. Why are they there?

What purpose does the remaining grass serve? Were the sprinklers moved to accommodate these idiosyncratic shapes? Coincidentally, how do you mow the grass, especially in the corners where the dividers converge?

And what are those squiggly lines?

I’m baffled by it all. Maybe instead of “Love it leave it?,” I should ask: “What were they thinking?”


Laura Balaoro said…
very interesting. I personally don't like it but others may.
Anna K said…
Not sure I like it, but you're right - they were very intentionally put there, and they are intriguing. I imagine that it will look a lot better from the upstairs windows - things like these often look better in plan than they do in experience. Wonder what the orientation of the steel walls are? Perhaps at the hottest time, they serve to shade the grass? And, give the trees a few years, and they too will be adding much needed shade. Maybe "wait and see" is the best approach to this one?
Sheila said…
I like the steel panels with the squiggle design and the boldly shaped beds. It would be fun to see massed plantings of contrasting grasses, sedges or other ground covers within those rays rather than regular lawn grass. This would work at my modern house. I don't care for it with this more traditional home. I agree that it will be interesting to see where they take this.
ks said…
While I applaud their efforts , this design seems very unsuitable relative to the architectural style of their home.I thought about the lawn mowing issue as well, but maybe they have no plans to mow and the intent is to let the grass grow up to the top of the steel dividers ? They've also planted an awful lot of redbuds, and quite close together too. I would have liked to see them mix it up abit.
Garden design is very much like art. There's no right or wrong. Everybody has their own taste.
I agree with you 100% about some designs looking better on paper than in reality.

At the hottest time of day, the panels would provide some shade for the grass, but not completely. I think the orientation of the panels was chosen purely for esthetic reasons, radiating out like the sun from the far corner where the front yard meets the driveway and sidewalk.
YES!!!! Sedges or other no-mow grasses would have been so much more interesting. In contrast, unmowed turf grass looks messy to my eyes.

I'm curious to see how this design will evolve. I'll post an update in the spring.
To me, unmoved turf grass looks terrible. As Sheila suggested, sedges or things like buffalograss would have been much better if that's what they were going for.

I think the planting strip adjacent to the sidewalk needs a lot more plants in it. That groundcover manzanita will be quite slow to fill in.
Hoover Boo said…
Yeah, major what were they thinking. Are they maybe going to drain their bathtub out the front door on a regular basis, and they want the water to flow in a certain direction after every bath, so they put up some little walls?

danger garden said…
WWTT? I like the idea, if not the actual installation.
Kris Peterson said…
Do you think the the idea behind the tall steel dividers is to limit irrigation to the grass sections? I like the contrast of the bright green of the grass and the gray of the steel and rocks but, if the idea is to conserve water, there are other green groundcovers (thyme, myoporum, some ornamental grasses) that would deliver the same impact without the water standard sod requires. Assuming that's regular sod, I wonder how they're going to mow it - the space between the dividers looks pretty narrow in some areas.
Luisa said…
Beats me. I don't hate it or anything -- neat, clean as a whistle, wouldn't mind living next door, etc. -- but it's a head-scratcher for sure. Some good guesses in the comments above...
I can't imagine the dividers are for irrigation control. However, having said that, I have no idea what they are for, other than to serve as a decorative element.
I pretty much feel the same way. I still keep scratching my head.
Alan said…
I like the division into sections, but the dividers don't need to be so tall -- although they'd be perfect with taller plants in front of them so you get a glimpse of metal here and there. Also, they need to have posts or something on each end -- they look unstable and dangerous even if they're not.