Tag Archives: garden edgings

Epiphytes and ponga logs

It took Lloyd 10 days of determined work to clear up after the fallen tawa tree. It was a big job. He has hauled out many trailer loads of firewood and dispersed most of the vegetation. What is left now will stay in situ and we will work around it. The trunk will outlive us.

One path is still blocked unless you are of small stature and willing to crouch to pass beneath the trunk. It is likely that it will be left like that. Mark and I will continue to use the path but others will take the easier route. You can see the epiphytes still clinging on to the fallen trunk.

When I wrote about the weight of the tree coming down, Canadian gardener, Pat Webster, commented: “To think that the weight of epiphytes could contribute to its demise makes my head reel… this is not something I experience in Canada.” It hadn’t really occurred to me that this is a distinguishing feature of mature trees in this country but of course it is. The collospermums are not referred to as widow-makers for nothing. You would not want to be beneath a falling cluster but apparently a number of the early pioneers and bushmen were.

In New Zealand, we usually refer to our remnants of original vegetation as ‘native bush’. Sometimes ‘native forest’ but commonly ‘the bush’. Even forest may be misleading. It is more like cool climate jungle in reality – near impenetrable at times, almost entirely evergreen and layer upon layer of vegetation. Perfect conditions for epiphytes to get established and a frightening experience for those early settlers who arrived expecting something more resembling England’s rolling fields and rather sparse woodland.

I was thinking of Pat’s comment when I came upon another clump of collospermum that is waiting to be dismantled and removed from a path. This fell off the stem of a tree fern – the very one in this photo which still has several remaining. The abundance of epiphytes is presumably an indication of our high humidity, regular rainfall, absence of both extreme cold and extended dry periods and the predominance of evergreens giving shelter.

The demise of the tawa tree brought down several self-sown tree ferns (known here as pongas). One or two it uprooted and launched into the air as spears – or maybe javelins. They embedded themselves into the soft ground and stream bed by their crowns. Lloyd asked me if I had plans for the ponga stems, which can last for many years in some situations. Well yes, I did.

Very smart edging in an English garden

The new lily border needs an edging to keep the mulch on the bed despite the birds and rabbits scratching. I had wondered using the rusted steel edging, often referred to as Corten steel. I really like the look and it weathers gracefully, while, I understand, being flexible enough to bend around curves. I did a quick calculation of how many hundred metres I needed to edge the new Court Garden and to highlight the curves of the lily border and the caterpillar garden and looked on line. Yes, I really like the unobtrusive crispness of Corten steel edging but I don’t love it several thousand dollars’ worth.  That is a lot of money that I could spend on an overseas trip that will inspire me and bring me memories. Garden edging may please me but it is never going to inspire me.

When the compromise is tree fern or punga lengths

The ponga lengths will have to do and are arguably more suitable for our relaxed style. They come already furnished with an abundance of softening epiphytes and they are free. I will get over my passing disappointment at taking the easy option over expensive aesthetics.

Pong lengths softened with existing epipyhtes for added interest

About gardening at the edges – edging options

Paver edgings in Wisley’s herbaceous borders – both practical and a design feature in this situation

The thing about garden edgings is that you shouldn’t notice them. Speaking, you understand, in general terms. They are handy things to separate garden and path or lawn, to keep mulch on the garden and to give a sharp edge if mowing beside it, if a sharp edge is what is wanted. But most are infrastructure, not design feature, so should be playing an unobtrusive, support role.

The horror. The horror.

Often, the first choice for a garden edging is the concrete mowing strip. It is very permanent. This one was not long poured when I photographed it. What worried me was the lack of attention to keeping the lines smooth and pleasing on the curves. I have photos that look way worse than this  but I can’t crop them enough to disguise the identity of this place. Added to that, the owners like to keep the concrete white – as in very W H I T E – which makes the mowing strip even more obvious. I am told they get out with the bleach and scrub the edgings. Each to their own. It is just not to my taste.

Corten steel edging at Bury Court – understated quality

I am similarly dismissive about using thinly cut tanalised timber, including tanalised ply, anywhere where it is visible, really, and as a retaining edging, it is visible. If you are going to use tanalised timber, I really do think that taking the time to stain it in a dark charcoal colour is worth the extra effort. The problem is that the tanalising means that it never weathers as untreated timbers do. It is preferable by far, to my eyes, to use metal strip edging, sometimes referred to as corten edging but I think that is just a brand name. It gently rusts and ages and has an unobtrusive air of quality, especially compared to tanalised plywood edging.

Subtle detail in the edging at Hatfield House

We have a few mowing strips that we have just left to mellow and age (as in, we let the moss and lichen grow). Most of them have a brick added for additional height with the concrete strip on the outside of the brick. What has happened here over time is that the concrete and brick have remained in position but both the garden level and lawn have risen. I think this is a sign of a healthy garden environment (building up the top soil layer) but it has also rendered some of the mowing strips pointless. Were I starting again, I would probably opt for the wide pavers that I have seen used, particularly in English gardens. At least they can be lifted and repositioned if need be. The problem with excessive use of hard, visible concrete definition is that it can make any garden look very suburban. Which is fine if you want the hard-edged, tidy, suburban look but we aim for something altogether more natural in appearance.

I photographed this casual arrangement of river rocks defining a woodland path because it struck me at the time that the rocks were wrong. Unless you have a rocky stream flowing through your woodland, then the rocks are out of context. Some form of wood off-cuts or branches would seem more logical because they belong in that scene. But others may not be as picky as I am.

We tend to use what is at hand in the woodland areas – which in one garden means chunks of  pine bark. I like the little pine bark walls that serve as an unobtrusive retaining structure while still allowing some soft definition. Pine bark has good longevity and is a natural alternative for us to use, given our pine trees. Sometimes we will use lengths of wood that have fallen from the trees above and that is a softer, more environmentally friendly option than hard edged concrete or similar. A bit like a horizontal bug hotel, if you like (bug hotels being super trendy these days).

Blurring the lines between paths and garden in at Beth Chatto’s

Beth Chatto’s famous dry garden eliminated all edgings and further blurred the lines between walking path and garden by using the same honey coloured gravel as both path surface and mulch. It is a very different effect and one we admired a great deal in that context.

We have chosen just to use the cut edge on two of the four straight stretches in our Avenue Garden.

Sometimes, a straight cut line is all that is required. Would this view be better for railway tracks of hard edging in concrete or weathered steel? It just seems unnecessary.

It comes back to why you feel you need edgings and then what material and style is appropriate in the setting. Not every garden benefits from tidy edgings constraining the vegetation.

Rope hawsers, seen in somebody’s garden