Monday, December 18

Walking the Edging

UKBob has a fascinating blog... whenever I think about how idyllic it must be to garden at a manor in England, I visit Gardener to the Big House to read his daily tasklists and come back down to earth. (And then I read about the fun he has ordering things like fan-trained cherry trees and I'm back to drooling.) That Bob chronicles his interesting side trips and hikes, and is always good about putting on a pot of tea in the potting shed when you want to chat, is even more reason to visit.

A comment he made on my recent winter interest post got me thinking about the issue of edging. That my front bed should have been better edged (and shaped) is not at all in dispute. That Bob does a wonderful job of edging, and that his edging looks great along this stone wall is not in question, either.

What I wonder is about the issue of edging in general.

I tend to not be so neat as Bob. I purposely plant sages, thymes, dianthus and even hellebores near edges where they can cover the nearby hardscape. At the sharp corner where my retaining wall meets the driveway in the back, I sprinkled 'Chubby Fingers' sedums throughout the cracks to soften the edges.

Red sedums 'Fuldaglut' and 'Voodoo' mingle with chives and silver sages, but even they don't spread quite quickly enough for me. I want them to threaten the cement, not just wave to it from next door! I love the idea that the plants are taking over, exhuberantly escaping their boundaries.

Are gardeners born in just two categories: Neat Edgers or Natural Spillers? It could be genetically hardwired, like the preference for a tidy desk vs. the ability to thrive in organized office chaos. But then if that were the case, my Natural Spiller self would probably not appreciate crisp edging like the one near Bob's manor wall quite as much as I do.

Maybe, then, your take on edging is a reaction to your natural environment. Maybe gardeners who have large gardens to tend, like Bob, want to neaten the plants while city gardeners like me want to obliterate the squared-off lines and ubiquitous hardscape that surrounds us. That makes a little bit of sense to me, as I love the way Bob's wall looks but find it hard to even imagine such crisp edging in my own garden. In his, it looks amazing against all of the organic forms of plants and stone. In mine, it would be just one more line.

I know, I should be doing something more constructive right now, like wrapping my Christmas presents. But seriously, I wonder about these things! Any thoughts from fellow gardeners? Any of you want to talk about why you prefer one type of edging over another, and whether your thoughts on the matter have changed over the years?

Is this just a phase I'm going through, and one day I'll wake up and realize I need to clean up all of my edges? Hmm... something to think about over a bottle of Christmas Ale...


Colleen Vanderlinden said...

My edges are definitely not neat. In fact, I'd call them a little haphazard. I don't use any edging material--I just chop down into the soil with a spade to define the edge of a bed, dig the grass from where I want the bed to be, and leave it at that. My only nod to neatness is in early spring, when I redefine the edge again with the spade to remove any lawn that has snuck its way back into the bed. And, I love spillage. Spillage is necessary :-)

At the same time, I admire the way Bob's edges look, and the way Martha Stewart's edges look. I just have never really desired that look in my own garden. Lots of free-form, gentle curves, with perennials and annuals spilling over the edges. Then again, I am also one of those people who can't keep my desk neat to save my life, and you don't even want to look in my kitchen cabinets. I wonder if the neatly-edged gardeners are more organized in the rest of their lives? Maybe I could take some lessons from them :-)

Great post, Kim. always make us stop and consider these things...and, yes, you've distracted me from baking and wrapping :-)

meresy_g said...

I am a spiller as well. I think neatly edged beds look fabulous, but I simply don't have the time to keep them looking that way all season. I would be fussing with them all summer. I edge a little in the spring like the previous poster, to get the grass out of the beds and creat a little divot between bed and lawn, but spillage looks fine and is much more forgiving if you don't have the time to maintain every other day. If I lived in a grand manor house, it would probably be different.

Bob said...

Ha ha - well if you want an answer to the desk question as far as I'm concerned go to my blog ( and read the entry for Thursday, November 30, 2006. As for neat or tidy edging, I prefer fluffy edging over hard paving. Its just the grass edges I like neat and I definately don't like the plants coming on to the grass as they make for hard work mowing. It doesn't take me long to edge the grass with the clippers once I have a neat edge to the turf and here's a little tip for you if you are lucky enough to have a leaf blower. If you edge your grass before you cut it then just nip round with the blower you can make the clipping disappear without having to bother going round to pick them all up. It is all a matter of personal preferance and thankfully everyone at the hall likes the way the gardens look with neat edges. Best wishes, Bob.

Bob said...

By the way Kim, thanks for the mention in your post.

Unknown said...

Colleen, I'm kind of like a 2-year-old sometimes, aren't I? "Why, why, why?" lol. I'm like you with the messy desk, so maybe there is something to that after all.

meresy_g, good point. I don't think that I could handle all of the maintenance that keeping edges crisp would involve.

ukbob, thanks for sharing some of your trade secrets! Funny that even the neater edges seem to sometimes prefer either grass/dirt edges or grass/hardscape edges. And I definitely agree with your comments on it being tough to mow around plants that flop into the grass--I need to widen that front bed in part so that I have room for the doublefile viburnum, because it's a pain to mow around now that it's growing larger!

Annie in Austin said...

If money were no object, lots of brick laid deep in double rows [so you could put the mower wheel on it] would be my probable choice. But what I have is the ugly black rubber stuff.

It's not there to keep the plants in ... I like them to flop out and soften up the edges! It's there to give me a line to follow and hopefully to slow down the St Augustine grass. I have to laugh when advised to make a trench around the beds, and neaten it a few times each year. SA grass can take over a flowerbed in just a couple of weeks, sending out long runners that would leap over a foot-wide trench. But that's also an advantage, since it crowds out weeds in the turf, too.

Annie at the Tranpslantable Rose

growingagardenindavis said...

I'm definitely a spiller...I do have brick edges to my beds...from an old patio enclosure wall that we took down years ago...and I can't stand to see it not softened by alyssum, catmint and candytuft. But the grass side stays trimmed...I guess it is another manifestation of my low regard for lawn. My desk gets beaten into submission periodically but it fights back. My cupboards are lined-up neat...not sure what that means!

Nickie said...

Chaos is my middle name....

Kathy said...

I am still trying to find a low maintenance way to edge that's not too expensive. That means a way for the lawn mower to do it without mowing the plants. Paving would be nice, but not affordable at the moment. What usually happens right now is the lawn mower cuts a wide berth around any floppy plants, which means he misses some grass, which then grows long and looks horrible. I always remember what Elsa Bakalar said, that when she was expecting a garden tour she gave priority to edging the beds nicely over getting them weeded, because the crisp edge gave a greater impression of order and the eyes miss the weeds that didn't get pulled.

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