I’m always surprised here, at the Berkshire Botanical Garden, how often I hear visitors say thing like, “why doesn’t my garden look like this” or “I could never do that in my yard.” Any time you visit a botanic garden, historic home or any other venue where the grounds are a feature, it’s important to remember that behind those weed-less flower beds, perfectly pruned tress and manicured lawns, there is usually a team of gardeners, horticulturalists, maintenance staff and interns whose full-time job it is to maintain the grounds. Having a garden that looks like “this” involves countless man-hours, planning, money and attention that a lot of us just don’t have.
However, there are little things that you can do here and there to make your garden look polished and professional. There’s weeding, mulching, planting in groups and—my chore over this past weekend—edging.
Edging gives your garden borders a very defined line, making them look contained and separate from other parts of the yard (your lawn, for example). Aside from giving your garden a really polished look, edging also serves a purpose. It keeps grass from encroaching into your flowerbeds and prevents materials like mulch and gravel (as in a walkway) from spilling into your lawn.
There are several ways that you can accomplish this look. The first is by using a physical barrier made out of a material such as metal, wood, stone or plastic. If I lived in a world where money were no option, I would probably choose to use steel landscape edging [shown, right]. It’s incredibly durable, looks great and is somewhat simple to install if you have some help. However, as I just mentioned, it’s pricey and if you have a large border this is going to cost you. Alternatives such as plastic and wood will deteriorate over time, are prone to heaving, are easily damaged by lawn mowers and need to be replaced every so often. I stay away from them.
Instead, I prefer to use no physical material at all, opting for “cut” edges [top photo]. This is a fairly easy method of garden edging that I do every spring. You can use either a half moon edging tool, or if you don’t have that, a simple shovel (flat edge if you have it). Here’s what to do:
1. With your shovel or edging tool, make a cut straight down into the soil, about four inches, on the sod side of the edge you wish to create. Continue to do this for the length of your border.
2. Make a similar cut on the bed side of your border. However, make this cut at a 45-degree angle so that it meets your previous cut.
3. The two cuts will create a wedge of sod that you will now remove, shaking off any loose topsoil. Rake that topsoil back into the bed as opposed to letting it fill your newly created trench.
4. Toss the sod you removed, grass-side-down, on your compost pile so the grass dies and won’t take root.
If you are using mulch, now would be a good time to apply it, being careful not to fill the trench you just created. That straight cut you made is what will stop the grass from growing into your garden and you don’t want to lose that, even with mulch.
This is a very simple, very effective way to really give your garden a “wow” factor. It doesn’t cost anything except your time, and it will make your mowing and weeding chores a lot easier for the rest of the summer.