We have been looking at English summer gardens for the last few weeks. In my quest to offer alternatives to edging plants and tidy little hedges delineating garden beds, I collected some examples.
1) Beth Chatto’s dry garden in Essex was groundbreaking in its day and is still a remarkable place to visit. Here the same honey-coloured gravel has been used both for paths and as garden mulch, blurring the transition between garden bed and access ways. There are no straight lines anywhere and the effect is relaxed, soft and inviting.
2) The grass garden at Bury Court in Hampshire was hard-edged, contemporary design. We did not expect to like it but were won over by the movement and texture. The contrast between geometric design and the wayward growth and sway of the tall grasses and perennials gives dynamic tension. The hard edged, rectilinear constraints have been achieved using rusted metal, coarse stone chip and fine gravel, put together with considerable precision.
3) Also at Bury Court, the flower gardens were defined simply with a sharply cut edge where garden beds met lawns. You can do this with a spade if you lack the requisite edging tool but you need to make sure you are not shaving a little more off the lawn every time. I speak from experience on this. One day you may look and realise the lawn has shrunk.
4) Gresgarth Hall in Lancashire had purpose-built miniature hurdles to restrain wayward plants. These are only about 25 to 30cm high, as you may realise looking at the catmint (nepeta) behind. We saw variations on this theme but the rule of thumb is that if you craft them a little, rather than using tanalised timber offcuts, they will look more discreet and natural. Their purpose here is to stop the plant from flopping outwards onto the lawn, leaving a hole in the border while smothering the grass.
5) Also at Gresgarth, we saw stack of woven screens of a similar size to be used as plant restrainers. Rather than following the oft-repeated advice to spend cold winter days cleaning and sharpening your garden tools, you may like to try your hand at weaving little screens for summer use. Hazel is the most common UK material but you can use any flexible prunings including grapevines, michelia, willow or birch.
6) Froth! If you have a voluptuous planting, paving up to the garden allows the plant to cascade over the edging. This softens hard lines, gives room to the plants and is altogether more relaxed and romantic than straitjacketing the garden borders into rigid lines. This is at Wisley, the flagship garden of the Royal Horticultural Society. Their main twin herbaceous borders have wide pavers laid either side with a wide grass lawn down the centre. It gives a softer effect than paved right across as shown here.
For earlier thoughts on this topic, check Begone edging plants!
First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.