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Edge of Tomorrow

One very common design element in the field of landscaping is garden edging. This is something my clients are always asking me to do for their yard. Though I do think edging can be useful both visually and practically, there are some aspects of it that not every landscape artist will tell you about. As always, I am here hoping to bridge that gap and give you my insider perspective. 

What is it and Why?

Garden edging is very popular because it is equally functional and fashionable. It can serve as a border between different sections of your garden, creating a sense of order, unity, and flow, while also preventing materials like dirt and mulch from escaping into places they shouldn’t be.

Simply put, it’s an easy way to achieve basic design goals and hold things in place at the same time. 

The other great thing about garden edging is its versatility. Whether it’s a flower bed, line of shrubs, a single tree, large patio, or pathway, these borders can define virtually any section of your garden no matter how big or small. They can also be constructed in a huge variety of materials including stone, plastic, brick, wood, metal, rubber, or even plant material itself like a hedge. However, this is where I have a word of caution. 

Materials: Plastic and Rubber

The least expensive materials you can use to create edging are rubber or plastic, and there’s a reason for that.Though these options can be flexible and easy to shape around the many twists, turns, and curves of your garden, they also tend to not stay in place. Depending on what you buy, they can even be tough and difficult to bend. Some types of rubber or plastic are even brittle and more likely to fall apart. 

Even more, rubber and plastic have the potential to become uneven faster. This type of edging often doesn’t require digging out a trench or pouring concrete. This means after the material is placed, unless the soil underneath is rockhard, it will sink wherever the ground gives, making the edging look rough and unsightly. Though these materials are nice for your wallet and overall easy to install, I wouldn’t recommend using them for long term use. Personally, on top of their lack of durability, I also think they often look cheap and out of place amongst the beautiful surrounding nature. 

Materials: Stone and Metal

The best edges involve stone or metal and are set into concrete. These will last a lot longer than other materials and are usually more attractive. Of course this means they are the most expensive but I suppose that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

We used metal strips in this garden to maintain the path and section off the unique shapes created by the flower beds. Metal was ideal for this scenario because we needed something short and narrow that could hold its form and go unseen along the pathway.

When creating an edge, I always recommend digging out a trench first, leveling and compacting the base of the trench, and then pouring concrete. Concrete is a great tool for edging because it is incredibly durable and can be customized to fit any shape, color, or pattern you desire. If you don’t decide to use concrete, compacting and leveling the soil is a must. This way, regardless of what material you go with, the edge is less likely to sink or become uneven.

Due to the organic arrangement of this stone edging, we decided to set them in concrete. The concrete ensures that the lively display of the stones stays intentional and doesn’t become TOO lively.
Here is another example of where we set stone into concrete. It is definitely necessary to set your edges into concrete in any case where you want to maintain a specific pattern.
Here are more edges we placed in concrete. Materials like gravel can be especially hard to contain, thus concrete and large stone were good options for this project.

Upkeep

I try to be realistic with my clients when it comes to installing edges.Garden edging done well looks neat and tidy and does its best to hold in the material, however, no edge is without upkeep. Even with the use of rocks, metal, and concrete, grass and weeds will always find a way to the other side of the edge at some point.

Many edges start off nice but overtime become wobbly and overgrown with grass and weeds. We didn’t do this one but I think it’s a good example of what not to do. It also shows you the importance of maintenance when it comes to edging.

These edges we did need freshening up just once or twice a year. Sometimes the maintenance depends on the material. Mulch or sod is usually a little easier to contain due to its thickness.

If you’ve ever seen Jurassic Park, you might be familiar with the line, “life finds a way.” Though in that movie they were referring to de-extinct dinosaurs finding a way to survive on an island run by evil self seeking businessmen, the quote is accurate to a lot of the phenomena we witness in nature everyday. No matter how hard humans try to force plants and wildlife into our ideals, we are never in complete control. This is why some of the best advice I can give you as a gardener is to go ahead and accept the fact that your role is more of a guide than anything else. We can learn from nature and do our best to make good decisions that are sustainable for everyone, but at the end of the day, we are always at the mercy of the natural world around us.

Sources: Better Homes & Gardens, The Spruce

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