This section is from the book "Beautiful Gardens - How To Make Them And Maintain Them", by Walter P. Wright. Also available from Amazon: Beautiful Gardens: How To Make And Maintain Them.
An edging may be described as the embroidery of a garden. It is not the thing itself, but it is that which imparts "finish."
A garden without edgings is apt to look crude and incomplete; provide edgings of an appropriate character, and the "rawness" melts insensibly away.
Tile edgings are much too common in gardens. It cannot be denied that they serve a practical purpose, and, mechanically considered, serve it well. But there their merits end. They are not at all cheap, they are liable to be chipped and to split, and they always have a harsh, metallic appearance.
Grass verges for walks, and plant edgings for beds and borders, are a thousand times more in keeping with the spirit of an artistic flower garden than tiles. Granted that they involve a little more trouble, the work they create nevertheless falls within the legitimate routine of a garden. It is not considerable, and it is well repaid.
Fig. A clump of Edelweiss beside a stone-lined walk.
The objection is frequently raised to "live" edgings that they harbour plant enemies. Box edgings offering shelter to slugs is a familiar quotation. The author has not observed that complaints about the depredations of slugs are less bitter in tile-edged than in Box-edged gardens. His experience of the slug is that he is a pest of far too varied parts to be disconcerted by the absence of Box or any other form of edging. The wise gardener accepts the slug as one of the trials which horticultural flesh is heir to, and instead of flying helplessly to tiles, thins the ranks of his enemy, and reduces him to impotence, by traps of brewers' grains, and liberal nocturnal applications of lime water.
As a matter of fact, there will not be any greater demand for Box than there will be for tiles if the principle is accepted that the best edging for walks, beds, and borders alike is fresh, green turf. This is not objectionable either on the ground of looking mechanical or of harbouring slugs. It is not without its drawbacks, admittedly, and it needs regular attention to keep it in perfect condition; but it has an eminently fresh and natural appearance at all periods of the year, and that, from a garden point of view, is a supreme recommendation.
It may, however, be urged that in many gardens there are walks which are not, and cannot be, turf lined, and that a mechanical edging of some kind is essential. Accepting this under protest, the author would say briefly that the rope-twist is one of the most economical forms of tile edgings, and if firmly and truly set will give all the satisfaction that can be reasonably expected of its kind. If badly set it will be a perpetual nuisance and eyesore. A straight line, and a firm, level base, are essential.
In districts where hard stone can be procured at a moderate cost a durable and at the same time appropriate edging can be provided by associating it with dwarf plants. In effect, a sort of border rockery is made. Mention is made in another part of this work of the charming effects secured by Lord Battersea in his lovely garden near Cromer by the adoption of this system. A straight line of stone is not put in, with a straight line of plants behind it, but the borders have the waved line - the promontory and bay - of the ordinary rockery. This is not a cheap form of edging, in fact, it becomes expensive when the stone has to be brought from a distance, but it is a very beautiful one.
If a cheap, easily managed foliage edging is wanted there is no overlooking the claims of Box. It is amenable to clipping, and with two operations of this nature per year, one in spring and the other in early summer, will be neat and compact. Plant against a straight, firm trench edge early in March, and be sure to ram the soil close. Another good leaf edging is the golden Yew.
Fig. The Large Sandwort, Arenaria Grandiflora, in a stone border.
On the ground of delicacy of appearance, combined with a really charming inflorescence, Armeria maritima is superior to either of the foregoing. Its evergreen, grassy foliage, borne in a dense, neat mass, is very pleasing. It flowers in June, the colour being rose. There are two desirable varieties of it, one - alba - having white flowers, and another - Laucheana - crimson ones. The Thrifts or Sea Pinks do better in a rather light, sandy soil than in a heavy, clayey one, but the same remark applies to Box.
Floral edgings to beds and borders are not difficult to provide. Pinks may be named first. Their foliage is always pleasing, and while they are in bloom hundreds of pretty, perfumed flowers are at the grower's service. Mrs. Sinkins, Her Majesty, and Ernest Ladhams are three splendid varieties.
Fig. The Alpine Flax, Linium Alpinum, In A Stone Border.
Violas in broad bands make beautiful edgings. Given a cool soil, enriched occasionally with decayed cow manure, and with the flowers regularly picked down, they last in beauty for several months. Should they show signs of wear and tear about midsummer, clip them hard in, mulch the soil with manure, and they will be rejuvenated. Some good varieties of Violas are named in a special chapter.
Fig. Beautiful borders of thrift and pinks.
The familiar white Arabis is a popular edging flower, and special mention should be made of the double, which is a much more valuable plant, as the flowers are suitable for cutting. Aubrietias are equally as well known as Arabises, and their purple, violet, lilac, or red flowers are very cheerful in spring. Both plants are as easily raised from seed as Wallflowers.
Double Daisies are also suitable, and several splendid doubles now exist, huge in size, and very lasting. Of these, Alice, blush coloured, is one of the most beautiful.
Lastly, Saxifraga umbrosa, or London Pride, may be named as a cheap, easily grown, but not very distinctive edging plant.