Whether you are a neatnik or not, edging in the garden can make your life easier and your garden more attractive. Edging is about creating...

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Whether you are a neatnik or not, edging in the garden can make your life easier and your garden more attractive.

Edging is about creating distinctions between two different surfaces. Maintaining a sharp line between them can give a cared-for look. Edging is most often used to separate lawn from a garden bed. This can be accomplished by the traditional method of using a hand or power edger. However, grass never stays put, so a strong edge not only gives a neat look, but it also controls the lawn. The edging can serve as a mowing strip, providing a place for the mower wheel to run.

Edging materials

A variety of materials will create that edge. Natural stone has a classic look. Choose cobblestones to create a regular pattern or flagstone for a more informal one.

Brick gives a traditional look, and if the house is brick, it ties the garden and house together. A collection of used bricks from different sources suits the casualness of a cottage garden. Brick is usually laid in what is called a soldier course, with the long ends against each other to create a border as wide as the longest part of the brick.

Concrete pavers can be used instead of brick and will have a similar look if brick-shaped pavers are chosen. Concrete pavers come in a range of sizes and colors and can add a contemporary touch.

To lay stones or bricks as an edging, use a gravel base so they stay firm over time. Dig out the soil in the bed next to the lawn equal to the depth of the stone or brick, plus 4 inches. Place 4 inches of crushed rock into the trench. Use regular driveway gravel, called 5/8-inch minus. This type of gravel has sizes of crushed rock from 5/8-inch down to sand-size pieces and packs down well.

Place the stones or bricks on this compacted base, and use sand or additional crushed rock to make them level to the top of the lawn as you go.

If you like a full garden look, make the edging wide enough so the plants can flop over and not get cut off by the lawn mower.

Wood can also serve as an edging, but even treated wood lasts only 10 years or so in the garden when in contact with wet soil. Plastic lumber, made from recycled materials, is a more durable product. It comes in many shapes, including one thin enough to go around curves.

Another choice is concrete, made by building a form and pouring concrete into it or by hiring a professional concrete-edging company with machinery to pour continuous concrete edging without forms. These companies can work with the concrete to make it resemble stone or brick.

Before choosing concrete edging, consider whether a continuous ribbon of concrete around the lawn may call too much attention to the edge and overwhelm the garden’s design.

For an unobtrusive edge, use thin and flexible products made from steel, aluminum or plastic. These show only a thin line at the top and, if a dark finish is chosen, are almost invisible.

Paths and patios

Edging is also important in stone paths that run through a lawn or a stone patio that adjoins one. Paths and patios made from concrete, or brick or stone on concrete, will edge themselves, but dry-laid stone has open joints that grass can invade. Use a thin metal or plastic edging to keep grass at bay.

Gravel paths that travel through a garden bed may need edging to keep the gravel from kicking into the bed. Use a thin edging, or add a decorative band of brick or stone.

In some cases, you may want to create an informal look and have no edging on the gravel path. Make the path a little wider, leave the edging off and let plants soften the line between path and garden. An informal path through the woods, surfaced in bark or natural forest duff, also needs no edging.

Paying attention to details makes good gardens, and keeping the edge in mind will reinforce the design decisions you have made all along the way.

Phil Wood has a degree in landscape architecture and designs and builds gardens. Write to him at thegardendesigner@seattletimes.com. Sorry, no personal replies.