Edging For Gardens

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Want to declare independence from garden chores this summer? A good way to start might be to shave the time it takes to mow your lawn or trim your flower beds, by adding a hardscape border between the two.
A flat, paved edging four to six inches wide will accommodate the wheel of your lawnmower so you can cut a fast, clean edge — no more messing around after the fact with clippers and string trimmers.

Setting a six-inch border around an 50 x 50 foot lawn reduces your mowing surface by 100 square feet, but the real time saver is that you won’t have to go back later to trim. If you have a small, mostly decorative lawn, adding a “mow band” makes it easier to navigate your mower in tight corners, without crushing flowers or grass. Decorative edging such as brick (perfect for a city garden) will emphasize and set off your emerald oblong of turf like the jewel it is.

A brick border can be installed in a weekend and is especially easy if your lawn edges have straight lines. Simply remove the turf and excavate to four inches. Lay down a strip of weedblocking fabric and a bed of sand to set the bricks in, and wedge them in tightly, as if you were making a narrow little path.

For a more casual edging, use narrow, flat flagstones or set 12-inch square quarry tiles as the transition between your grass and a raised patio or raised flower beds. You won’t have to excavate as deeply — but you should use the weedblocking fabric and sand to settle the tiles or flags firmly.

For curved lawn edges, professional landscape contractors can pour you a sinuous ribbon of concrete — nothing else looks so crisp. As a visual effect this can make your lawn look like a deep green pool, cool and inviting in the hot summertime. Ornamental grasses, iris, and lacy, hardy papyrus Cyperus papyrus planted so they will arch across the mow-band heightens the pool effect.

If your garden was professionally installed, you’ve probably got header boards (also called bender boards) between your turf and flower beds. These are thin, pliable sheets of wood, squeezed three or four sheets wide, usually set in to a depth of a few inches to prevent grass from spreading into your shrubs and perennial border. These do a good a job of keeping your line of turf neat — though the wood eventually rots and will crumble under the weight of your mower wheel.

The latest wrinkle in header boards are those made of not wood but recycled plastic, and just wide enough to accommodate a lawn mower. Wood-colored and gently textured, these edgers are strong, durable, and far better looking than the yucky black-plastic-tube lawn edging sold in garden centers.

Two products favored by professional landscapers are Trex, a recycled plastic lumber substitute also made into deck planking (call 1-800-BUYTREX for distributors) and Bend-a-Board, which is manufactured locally at a Richmond recycling plant.

If you wince at the mere idea of plastic in your garden, consider this fact: the recycled plastic in these composites could very well be that empty shampoo bottle you threw out last week.

“It’s a very green product, really” says Bend-a-Board sales manager Susan Anderelli. “Bend-a-Board is made out of all the polyethylene you recycle at the curb, like plastic gallon milk containers. It’s 90 percent post-consumer waste, melted down at 400 degrees and then extruded into different shapes and colors.”

Bend-a-Board made its debut last year, and the company is still experimenting with colors (such as black and gray) and sizes. Anderelli says the 1 x 4 is popular as a divider for concrete slab patios and driveways, an ecological substitute for redwood strips.

Larry Riches of Los Altos Garden Supply sells “thousands of feet” of Trex and Bend-a-Board each week, to homeowners and to garden pros. He’s tried other brands, but finds many have a cheap look. “What’s nice about Trex is it so durable,” he says. “It also has a more finished look.”

The difference between the two is color (Trex is dark brown, Bend-a-Board is reddish brown) and price: Bend-a-Board is less expensive, about a dollar per linear foot, depending on the width. Both are sold in 20-foot lengths.

For use as a mow band, a 2 x 4 or 1 x 6 plastic edging can be set on its side, he points out. Bend-a-board is easier for tight spaces: “It’s very flexible, you could make a complete circle out of a 20-foot piece if you wanted to,” says Riches. And it’s rounded on both edges, so it looks very nice.”

Riches also sells what he considers the ultimate mow-band, made of imitation stone.

“It looks just like San Francisco cobblestones, except it’s made out of concrete,” he explains. At $5.50 per foot, this makes an elegant edging for lawn or flower beds, lighter to lift than a real cobblestone (about 8 pounds). The real advantage is an L-shaped ledge at the base, which can be set flush with turf and used as a mow-band.

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