How do you like your edges? by Thomas Stone

October 22, 2015

in Articles, General Interest

I have a permanent argument with at least one good friend about edging. I like to see plants creating their own edge, merging happily with the grass and no bare soil in sight. She likes that carefully edged edge.

As does Thomas.

And you?

Anne Wareham, editor

Anne Wareham Portrait, copyright John Kingdon

Anne Wareham, editor






Straight edge at Plas Brondanw Mid May North Wales cpyright Anne Wareham 170s

The perfect half mooned edging at Plas Brondanw, North Wales

Thomas Stone:

It’s such a simple thing, just a little gully separating the lawn from the flower bed.

Over the years gardeners and garden designers have tried many ways and materials to separate the two. Gertrude Jekyll’s answer was that when mowing one should be able to employ a second gardener to hold the plants up while the first gardener is cutting the grass.

Others edge the gap with a full length paving stone (being York or Purbeck of course.)

Stone edging at Scatterford Copyright Anne Wareham for thinkingardens 20140527_164652S

Posh stone edging at Scatterford, Gloucestershire

Brick has been used both as a plain pattern on edge or in more elaborate patterns arranged on a slant.

Brick edging Copyright Thomas Stone

Brick edging.

Clay rope edging also has had its day, either pushed into the soil or fixed in with concrete – and let’s not forget wooden edging both in its cut form as in gravel boards or sleepers but also in its natural form just as branches cut from a tree.

As time moves on more modern materials have been used: stainless steel, coated steel, plain old let it go rusty steel and the lighter metal form of aluminium.

Our favourite Everedge

Thinkingarden’s favourite Everedge

You might wish for something different for a symmetrical garden where every twist needs to work to a crisp or every line look as if it has been drawn yesterday with a giant ruler, or indeed for a woodland garden where the edges can be merged into woodland beds as simple and as delightful as their setting.

Woodland at Plas Brondanw Copyright Anne Wareham

Woodland at Plas Brondanw

And there are many more different types of edging like glass bottles, old china plates and roofing tiles.

But for me you just can’t beat the simple, easy quick way of just making a simple trench formed using a half moon tool (or spade if you want to avoid the werewolves). There is something that I love just seeing a simple line that has been carefully edged up into the grass. Yes, they are a pain – needing to be redone once or twice a year. And yes, slowly over time they extend further and further into the lawn. This results either in more space for plants to grow (that’s never a bad thing) or the need to lift up a section and rebuild the edge once more in the right place (and that’s just a pain in the backside to do).

Edging Copyright Thomas Stone

For me it’s the pure ease with which you can put an edge into the garden, or move one without the hassle of digging up the metal, breaking up the concrete, digging up the lawn even more to get the concrete and the footings of the previous edge up before you can even start to dig foundations for the new line. You just pick up the half moon (or edging iron if you wish to call it by its more boring name) and edge. If you want to see what it will look like beforehand, a hose, bit of rope or builders line can give you a good idea. Otherwise you just keep going with the half moon until you have the border you like and then feet up, tea bag in cup and telly switched on (to Gardeners World of course).

Wiggly edging at Kiftsgate Copyright Anne Wareham 24th June 2013 197S

Kiftsgate – a hosepipe, maybe?

Infinitely easier than trying to make the slit bigger so the metal edging can be banged in. Or cutting groves into the length of gravel board so it WILL get round that awkward spot. And then using posts, metal bars, very large weights or bags of compost or sand to hold it in place while you try and hammer the peg in,- pushing it around the shape with your knees, then working out where the last place you left the hammer was…all this with a mouth full of nails and trying to mind the bags and metal bars that are now all over the place.

A year later you come out and decide you totally hate that edge like that and you want to move it. With a simple cut edge, you just redo the edge in the right spot, no cost, no waste, no hassle. With all the other edges you spend ages trying to straighten the metal edging, get the nails out of the wood or to knock the cement off your all your carefully laid bricks.

Alternative edging - alchemilla at Veddw Copyright Anne Wareham

Alternative edging – alchemilla

At the end of the day all we want is a clean crisp edge denoting the point from which the lawn finishes and the border starts. It’s also nice to have the soft natural colour of the soil marking this line. Yes the line seldom stays the same shape as it was after you had edged it last but in a small rambling cottage garden with plants softening up the edges, does it matter? It’s ideal for the lovely client who is always wanting her bed shape changed and redone. There maybe a little more work to do afterwards when trimming up, but that’s not a lot of time.

Edging in Yew Walk, Veddw, copyright Anne Wareham

Not so clean or crisp…(but I like it…)

I suppose the bigger question could be whether we need an edge at all? What would happen if we started to mix our lawns with our borders? There’s a thought for another day.

Thomas Stone. MCI Hort



Thomas IMG_1232






You might also be interested in the edging here

or a small diversionary horticultural conflict

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Victoria Summerley July 7, 2016 at 3:50 pm

Anne, I think this is the best piece you have ever commissioned for Thinkingardens!

annewareham July 7, 2016 at 4:01 pm

“Falls over laughing”…. Xxxx

Rowan October 26, 2015 at 4:44 pm

Oh, and I forgot to say I’d never never never never never use glass bottles as an edging. I may loathe plastic, because it’s not biodegradable, but using something that can easily break into horribly sharp and dangerous fragments, that’s crazy.

Rowan October 26, 2015 at 4:41 pm

A clear edge, yes, but not a ‘clean’ one.
Bare soil so me isn’t ‘clean’ but an environmentally unfriendly thing to do to soil!

I’m also with the people who point out that a clear line needn’t be a straight one. As long as it’s clear that the ‘line’ is where it’s meant to be, from a design point of view, that’s fine. Too wibbly wobbly and it can look an indecisive mess.

I prefer Anne’s choice of ground-cover plants like Alchemilla mollis that hold their own against the lawn, and such strong ground-cover can work as edging anywhere.

But if I had a large garden with enough space and where the layout had been settled long ago, I’d probably choose a wide paved edge that doubles as a path.

And either way I like plants softening the clear edge.

Steve October 25, 2015 at 1:49 pm

Ah, the tyranny of the edge. While there are certainly many circumstances under which clean edges are desirable and appropriate, there are just many where the rigidity of a sharp edge justs looks odd.

I particularly dislike when clean edges are accompanied by barren soil/compost/mulch. It makes an otherwise exquisite garden look like an uninspired office park (that may be a bit harsh, but you get my point).

I must admit that I have wished for hard edging while mowing the lawn in the past, especially brick or stone.

John October 25, 2015 at 10:55 am

I’m firmly in the hard edging camp, having spent a small fortune on Everedge (which really is as good as it looks and is very easy to install and, if needs be, to move a bit). Though I cut the edges with a half-moon in one year, maybe play around a bit and then install the edging in the following year. As I’m lucky to have Everedge-coloured soil, the edging isn’t that visible. It contains both the gravel paths (I hate hard surfaces) and the grass; indeed, if installed at the right height – slightly above soil level, it means you don’t need a strimmer as running the mower over it gives a lovely clean edge.

This doesn’t mean that all my edges appear so clean – heucheras, hostas, alchemilla grow over the edging to soften it a bit so I get the best of both worlds.

Helen Gray October 24, 2015 at 5:36 pm

Ooh, good post – it clearly resonates with lots of us.

Depends on the garden, the context, the owner. I have given this some thought – having spent five days frantically wielding a half moon tool, edging and primping in preparation for a photographer (who has subsequently, I understand, spent so long with photo editing software that I might as well not have bothered).

I can’t claim edging is anything more than garden housework, but a crisp edge does make anything on either side of it look intentional, and is therefore a valuable quick and dirty trick in the slattern’s arsenal.

Spurred on by this post I finished my own about edging:

Patrick Regnault October 24, 2015 at 6:24 am

Edging or not, I have used both. A neat clean edge can work wonderfully to define a straight or meandering border. How to do it is always the big question. If like me the climate is such that the grass is ever-growing and ever-encroaching a more substantial edging may be necessary. But then, sometimes, letting the boundary blur is more fun and suit the more rebellious minds.

Joff Elphick October 23, 2015 at 8:45 pm

Perhaps worth noting that Everedge is not Neveredge. The grass continues to grow and will need clipping just as regularly as a half mooned edge. In my experience where one of my clients has it installed I need to do it on a weekly basis. I think it’s the ‘drawing-board’ straight edges it gives that are almost more unforgiving of excess growth than a hand cut edge.

Katherine Crouch October 23, 2015 at 6:54 pm

Nothing suburbanizes a country garden more than ill thought out hard landscaping edges, except an excess of blobby yellow conifers.
A nicely clipped lawn edge please, but with edge plants that don’t overhang too much – heuchera and campanula portenschlagiana I use a lot, and in wilder gardens, as few edges as possible.

The punch-ups between my Mum and Dad when Mum’s nepeta Six Hills and Alchemilla mollis overhung the lawns were splendid. Sometimes Mum won and patches of dead lawn were revealed in autumn, to Dad’s fury. Sometimes the nepeta was mown over – bad language rent the air.

In a garden under construction now we are using a lot of Everedge as the clients don’t fancy much trimming, round 4 areas of lawn. So lawn to gravel – must have brick or stone boundary, mower friendly. Lawn to border, Everedge, although in my own tatty garden I am happy to trim or ignore, according my variable gardening habits. Border to gravel (selfbinding) lots of overhanging plant opportunities. Lawn to paving, trim occasionally.

David Reeks October 23, 2015 at 2:30 pm

I have to say that I really dislike the cliff-edge between lawn and border. I think the photo of Plas Brondanw, encapsulates beautifully what I most dislike. What’s with all the bare soil to the right too?
In high summer I don’t want to see bare soil (OK I don’t always quite live up to that), but I could live with a paved edge with plants spreading over that.
Rachel the Gardener is right in that allowing borders and lawns to met means that invasive grasses can creep into the border from the lawn, but one can deal with that in winter. Or try to.

mary james October 23, 2015 at 2:29 pm

I like edges mostly done with the half moon and regularly clipped, with a little bit of leeway in the height of summer. Particularly when working in other people’s gardens as it leaves things tidy and mostly that is what they are payi g you for. In a formal situation, a formal edge is a must however you choose to do it. Generally agree with article!

John Schucker October 23, 2015 at 2:13 pm

Hello, Anne. I am an amateur home gardener from New Jersey and a friend of James Golden who will be familiar to some of your readers through his wonderful blog ( which is how I have come to follow yours. I vicariously enjoyed James’s visit to England this summer through his many photos which, of course, included your amazing, distinctive garden.

Of course, the idea of whether to edge and how to edge is not only a practical consideration but aesthetic as well and so the options will depend on the style of the garden and the overall desired effect. Hard, sharp edges made of some sort of durable material will be most at home with formal designs which usually do not move me, though I understand their place. One advantage to creating a clearly defined edge from time to time with a half-moon tool is that you do not, and in fact, will not always have that same look unless you keep at it regularly and if all of your plants remain completely static. I have been working on my own landscape garden surrounded by woodland for about 15 years and I find I am always changing things. Being a person that is easily distracted, I go through spurts of grooming the garden and then letting it go. A good portion of my 2 acres includes a rather steep, terraced slope down towards the house which nestles into the hillside. The planted areas, filled primarily with trees, shrubs and ground covers are in large curving sweeps which follow and, I hope, compliment the natural topography. Using a half-moon edger works well for me, not only because the outlines can be altered when desired, but also because I can let it go for a couple of seasons if I simply do not feel like bothering with it. I vacillate between wanting things looking neat and orderly and wanting things looking less fastidious and more natural. And there are areas I occasionally edge, closer to buildings, and more natural areas I where I would never do so. When I do finally get around to doing the edges, the perfectionist side of me is pleased by the sharp lines clearly delineating the sinuous shapes of the planted areas. This season started out all crisp and orderly, but now late in the year, things are looking wonderfully lax and ripe and the autumnal colors flow into each other as the plantings blend more into the lawn. I have learned the hard way that not edging around my lovely pink ajuga reptans (‘Pink Surprise’?) means lots of tedious time spent pulling weeds and grass from it. But on the other hand, the trenches created from the edging which follows some of the sloping areas can create gullies for heavy rains to create havoc, if not planned carefully. All this is to say, I am in Mr. Stone’s camp but he would probably want me using the edger more frequently than I actually do.

Paul Gooding October 23, 2015 at 11:09 am

Lines do not have to be straight

Julieanne Porter (@GwenfarsGarden) October 23, 2015 at 10:51 am

I generally like some kind of edging as it makes it easier to maintain the borders, grass and paths. After much reflection and looking at options, I went for Everedge in my current garden and I’m really pleased with it. I like the plants to fall over the edge in a relaxed manner, so that you don’t really see it. But this kind of edging needs no maintenance (a big plus) and it makes mowing fairly easy. Thomas is right that if you have to move it, it would be a pain. But as a permaculture designer, the idea (ideally – ha) is to only do something once.

Of course, context is everything, and in a different garden or space, I might well try the idea of mixing lawns and borders. Maybe.

Norma October 23, 2015 at 10:19 am

I like both clean lines but with plants growing over them. Straight clean lines with a gap at the edge of the bed are exacly what I don’t want in my garden but I feel happy when the twice a year reclamation of bed from grass path has been done. The picture of the brick edging above shows exactly what to beware of in gardens: a mismatch of materials in a small space, since grey paving, red brick and grey chips have been put down probably at different times and without thought to the overall effect. By which, to be clear, I do NOT mean matchy- matchy.

But most telling of all is that the brick edge and square lawn are a nonsense as clearly people use the left hand side (of the picture) as a path and the overall effect is worn and always will be until the arrangement is changed. This reminds me that I once read of a new university where a large area had been laid to grass. Cleverly, although the authorities knew that paths had to be laid across the grass, they waited for a year before laying those paths since in that time they could see how people where people wanted to walk and they laid the paths along the tracks that had been made.

The bottom line for me is that edging is fine so long as it doesn’t jar (or if it does there’s a good design reason) and under no circumstances is plastic in any form (especially mock Victorian twisted clay piping) to be used to do anything.

Helen Gray October 24, 2015 at 5:24 pm

What a great story about the new university – how thoroughly forward thinking. Our tutor at Horticultural college taught us that these spontaneous well used paths are called desire lines, and their existence showed exactly where the designer or landscaper had got it wrong.

Linda Casper October 22, 2015 at 8:25 pm

I prefer my edges to be merged. A crisp edge revealing soil is for public parks.

Paul Steer October 22, 2015 at 8:09 pm

I quite like the photo of the crisp straight edge of Plas Brodanw. I think that straight crisp boundaries work to draw the eye – much in the same way as crisp hedges, and provide structure especially in small spaces where hedges could crowd. BUT I am also learning to enjoy a more natural look and have left the grass blend into the border as an experiment this year – yes some weeds and grass invade, but did not detract from the wilder look, and now in autumn the border is easy to clear of any unwanted grass. I am between both camps – I do like a good crisp edge if it enhances the structure of the garden.

Andrew O'Brien October 22, 2015 at 6:46 pm

I like a nice neat edge, Thomas! Though I can also go a wafty one – in fact my natural gardening style favours the latter, though with my work hat(s) on I’ll adopt a neater approach. Why? I’ve discovered that the neat edge is a fantastic tool (Anne would appreciate this) in the gardener’s Smoke & Mirrors kit – by which I mean you can get away with everything else being a little unkempt providing the edges are crisp. It’s a matter of degree, of course; push it too far, and you won’t kid anyone. But it does help when you’re pushed for time. And, let’s face it, which of us isn’t?
I also entirely agree with your choice of simply carving borders out of the lawn, though, living in an area of heavy clay, I do sometimes cast an envious glance at more permanent means of holding back the turf, which otherwise has a tendency to wander into the bed (not least under the pressure exerted by the feet and knees of a sturdily-built gardener).

annewareham October 22, 2015 at 7:09 pm

Whatever happened to a more ‘natural’ look? #notinyourbackyard

Andrew O'Brien October 22, 2015 at 7:26 pm

Who said anything about a more ‘natural’ look? Was it me? Had I been drinking?

annewareham October 22, 2015 at 11:47 pm

No, not you, Andrew, your memory is still functioning.

Tristan Gregory October 22, 2015 at 6:19 pm

If its edges you want, and I often do, then they need to be done properly and not done with a strimmer as I have seen professional groundsmen do.

There is also great potential for some herbaceous plants, things like Marjoram, Phlomis russeliana, Sedum etc to complement the Lavender when the Box has all gone.

Rachel the Gardener October 22, 2015 at 3:51 pm

Thomas, I am with you 100% on this one: I love a neat, crisp edge.

Speaking as the one who has to weed the beds, a good edging can go a long way towards keeping the couch grass out of the bed (which sounded all right in my head but looks weird written down – couch is too close to sofa-type-couch, perhaps?), and it gives a garden an instant lift to clip the edges, even if you don’t have time to cut the grass.

I would even go so far as to say that a slightly wobbly hand-cut cliff edge is better to look at than the rigid regimentation of a “hard” edging… and as you rightly point out, it’s so easy to change!

Personally, I don’t agree that borders necessarily get wider over time – when you clip the edges, you are/should be only clipping off the loose bits of grass, not the roots: like when you cut your fingernails, your fingers don’t get shorter, do they? Plus, I find that the action of pushing a mower up and down, and the footfall of owners tends to flatten the cliff edges and push the edges in, so if anything, the borders get narrower!

I’d be interested to hear if anyone else agrees with that: or is it just me?

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