I spent a morning last week driving neighborhoods, replenishing my photo files. You never know when you'll come across great new landscapes and gardens. Gardeners, after all, are very creative people.
As I sat down at the computer to see what little treasures I might have captured, I was surprised to see a common thread through many of the photos, and that was that many showed attractive and somewhat unusual bed edgings. So, what might otherwise have been a story on landscaping entryways, or shade trees and their placement, has shifted to the topic of choosing and using bed edgings.
Let's start with the traditional five "W" questions. "Who?" and "When?" are easily answered "You" and "Now," respectively.
"What?" We're talking about permanent and durable edging materials along the sides of shrub, flower, ground cover and even vegetable beds. It could be inconspicuous baked enamel, green metal edging. It could be stone, pavers or bricks.
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"Where?" Use a bed edging anywhere you need to strike a boundary between turf grass and something else. If fact, it could be a boundary between a ground cover and shrubs, or it could even be between two types of ground covers that you don't want invading each another.
"Why?" Sometimes bed edgings act as short retaining walls. Sometimes they slow or stop erosion out of freshly tilled soils. Most of the time, however, a good edging material will delineate -- it will become the point of no invasion for grass and ground covers, and you'll frequently use it as a hard surface against which you can run your line trimmer.
One of the questions that remains is "How?" How do you determine where the bed edging should be, and how best do you get it there? Sweeping curves look and work best, and the easiest way of putting that serpentine curve into practice is to use a supple garden hose on a hot summer day. Keep it in scale with the size of the house. Let it approach the house by as little as 5 or 6 feet, but let it swing out by 12 to 15 feet (or more) at the corners. Keep it simple -- avoid jumpy, wavy curves.
If you have existing vegetation inside the new bed layout, apply a glyphosate weedkiller (no other active ingredients) to kill all existing weeds and grass. Give it 10 days to complete its work, then prepare the bed.
We'll leave the soil preparation for another discussion, but once the existing unwanted growth is gone, you'll easily be able to see where your bed edging should be. Soak the area a day or two before you intend to install the edging. That will make it easier to drive the green metal edging to within a half inch of the soil surface. It will also make it easier to dig and remove soil where the stones or pavers will be. Then, you're ready for the installation. Consider hiring a pro if you're having the materials mortared in place. Amateur masons don't always do the best job the first time around.
If you're thinking about using stone for your border, remember that it can look heavy and overpowering. Sink the stone halfway or more into the soil, and let the grass and ground cover grow up into the recesses. It can make for a really pretty, natural-looking edge, especially if you're adept at keeping the grass trimmed regularly.
Graphic artists who work for businesses talk about creating a "brand" for their clients. They're referring to a common look of all the art, documents, signage and so forth -- so that you'll instantly recognize a store by its bright red bull's-eye or vivid orange lettering.
On a smaller scale, you need to develop your own landscaping "brand" in your gardens. The stone you use for your bed edges should be the same as is seen in your house -- or completely compatible. Bricks or pavers probably won't match the brick of the house, but they need to look visually comfortable. (For the record, most face brick used in home construction isn't able to withstand freezing and thawing when it's in contact with soil.)
The curves you develop are also a part of that branding. They need to flow with (or from) curves that already exist in the driveway, walk, patio or pool. They need to "belong" to the garden, not spring off at odd angles. They need to fulfill an obvious need.
One final benefit of bed borders is that they allow you to elevate the soil by a couple of inches, perhaps even more. That will let you taper the beds down toward their outsides, which will help ensure perfect drainage. If the bed has any height to it, there are two precautions of note. First, be sure you don't cover the weep holes in the brick veneer of your outside walls. Second, provide some means of the water's escaping, whether by built-in drains or via weep holes in the edging. Don't create a lagoon in the process.
Neil Sperry publishes Gardens magazine and hosts Texas Gardening noon-1 p.m. Saturdays and 9 a.m.-noon Sundays on WBAP AM/FM. Reach him during those hours at 800-288-9227 or 214-787-1820.