Good gardeners draw the fine line between flower beds and the rest of the garden in the most ingenious ways.
Rocks, conch shells, glazed or terra-cotta tiles, low boxwood hedges, stout planks and soldierly bricks do more than enforce the decisions you've made about shape and location of flower beds. They decorate the garden, adding form, color and texture to the composition.
Well-defined edges may stop a few weeds from sneaking into the flower beds, but that is not their main role.
Edges are the strokes that outline our ideas and give the garden its identity. Whatever they are made of, they should complement the house and reflect the garden's style and the gardener's taste.
Green borders of boxwood or yew, or neatly clipped ribbons of germander or rosemary around an herb garden create a formal look. Torenias, violets, strawberries and other plants that tend to sprawl are more informal and will look better around flower beds in a lush cottage garden than in a formal garden that demands laser-straight lines.
"Hard" edges of stone or brick suit gardens of any style. Wherever bricks are commonly used in building, they naturally migrate into gardens. Terra-cotta roofing tiles, buried partway, give the garden a pretty, scalloped finishing touch; old slates look very distinguished.
Seashells are often used to make graceful borders around flower beds near the coast. Willow wands, or any other flexible branches, can be woven into low fences to support flowers and keep them in their place.
Ideas for edging material may come from anywhere. The great English garden designer Rosemary Verey laid out a garden with edges of old, worn-out trowels, buried to the hilt. In Charleston, S.C., antique edging tiles emerged from the earth one day in Penny Bouvette's garden.
"I was renovating my house, and I saw this little tip of something sticking out of the ground," she says. She dug up a number of old garden tiles right by the back stairs. They were so striking that she made a mold and started casting more of them. When word got around, the tiles became her livelihood.
Bouvette's first big order, for 245 tiles, was from the Historic Savannah Foundation in Savannah, Ga. She cast them all in her dining room. Now Bouvette makes reproductions of five different 19th-century garden tiles.
Hope and Hugh Davis of Leverett, Mass., design their own historical garden edging.
"We have terrible soil here, and we needed raised beds in order to garden," Hugh says. Their house was built in 1723, and "we wanted something that looked Colonial."
The Davises' mortise-and-tenon frames for raised beds are made of white cedar, which resists rot and weathers to a rustic, silvery gray. He also makes 12-inch-high fence sections, which are part of a design borrowed from a "big sophisticated cottage garden" the couple saw in England, Hope says. The originals were made to throw together as lambing pens.
Expense not required
You don't have to buy anything to edge flower beds. Old-time gardeners sometimes edged beds with rows of upturned bottles. A line of upside-down clay flower pots would have a similar
effect. Perhaps the simplest border of all, a sharp edge between lawn and rose bed cut with a spade, is very good-looking and not hard to maintain.
John Parkinson, a 17th-century horticulturist, described a garden edged with sheep shanks, buried knuckle up.
In the 19th century, a novelist wrote of a "contemplative" gardener who collected "short ham bones and made of them a border round my wife's flower bed. The bones stuck up straight a few inches above the ground, all along the edge of the bed, and the marrow cavity of each one was filled with earth, in which she had planted seeds."
Borders of bones might raise eyebrows in certain gardening circles today, but good-looking and ingenious edging is part of the game of gardening. Black plastic edging just doesn't seem very sporting.
Penny Bouvette's historic garden-tile reproductions are available through Walt Nicke's Garden Talk, P.O. Box 433, Topsfield, Mass. 01983; (508) 887-3388. The tiles are about 8 inches wide by 8 inches tall, and weigh 4 to 5 pounds each. Five tiles cost $60.
Mortise and tenon frames for raised beds are available through Hugh Davis at the Farmstead, Broad Hill Road, Leverett, Mass. 01054; (413) 548-9255. Prices available on request.
Pub Date: 8/25/96