“Spring is for planting, summer is for building, fall is for harvesting, and winter is for resting.” – Fouch Family Off Grid
One of my favorite homestead family, Fouch Family Off Grid, brilliantly summarized what the four seasons are like for their off-grid homestead. Although being city dwellers, we very much follow the same pattern. Except for us, the winter is for playing – in the snow.
This spring is our first in the ranch house. We planted, planted, and planted more. I had dirt under my finger nails for three months during which I presented at three conference meetings. Now summer rolls around, it is finally time to start building.
Edging project I: Honeybee’s heaven perennial bed
This past week was dedicated to garden edging. Garden edging is part of the hardscape and can be used to define an outdoor area or a flower bed. It is also a good way to keep the soil or mulch contained and the weeds out out of a flower bed. I initially went for soft edging, which means no physical boundary but mulching over the flower beds.
It did not work very well for us because all the weeds were climbing into the bed.
Not only the soft edging invited weeds, it also created problem for Slav who mows our lawn. The hedge trimmer hit the wood chips hard and and broke them into pieces. Some of them flew high in the air and even hit Slav’s face.
Here is an unspoken rule in our family: we try to make each other’s life easier. Slav takes out the recycle, so I make sure to flatten the cardbox boxes before putting them into the bins. I compost, so Slav chops kitchen scrapes fine so they break down faster. We are free to do whatever we want and however we want, but one’s action should not make the other’s household tasks more difficult. Although the consequence of my choice of soft edging was not immediately apparent, watching woodchips hitting Slav’s face was an implicit reminder that I needed to change things up.
Edging can be done in different ways and with different materials – plastic, metal, brick, concrete, etc. You can see both plastic and concrete pavers against the flower bed below. I recently installed the same plastic garden edging along the back fence and really liked the look of it. But I do not think it is a good choice for edging this perennial bed. First, they are soft and cannot hold a perfect line by its own. Installing them against a relative straight fence avoids the problem, but they may appear wavy around a free-standing flower bed. Second, their primary function is to prevent root crossing and are meant to be installed deep into the soil. But the mulch in our flower bed was a couple inches above the ground so I want the edging to also be raised. Third, the plastic edging may not stand well to the blades of lawn mowers. Last, the main goal here is to create a wide separation between the wood chips and the grass, so I decided to use the concrete pavers, or more specifically, the concrete edgers.
But first, look at how well everything is growing! This is the garden-in-a-box kit called “honeybee’s heaven” we planted early May. In just 6 weeks, everything has grown to 4x of their original size and all of the plants flowered. Thumbs up for native plants!
Such pretty garden deserves a good edging – an expensive one. These edgers are not cheap, about $2.58 a pop that only lines 0.8 linear feet (in contrast the plastic edging was $28 for 60 feet!) But the edger blocks are wide and tall, perfect for blocking the root from crossing underground while leaving enough height to keep the mulch in. Slav kindly picked up 50 of them for me – they are so heavy that I could only transfer 8 pieces a time using the wheelbarrow! But I am glad they are because it means that they can stand by themselves without additional reinforcement.
I started by laying them out to create a curve I like then started digging into the ground along the curve. A whole week of rain made digging a breeze.
Then I set the edgers in. I used native soil to bump up the concrete edgers a bit, until they sat a few inches above the soil and level. These edgers have curves on both ends, so it was easy to form a nice curve without much gap in between. I actually lay them on their sides because I like the height and the look much better.
To be clear, setting pavers are usually much more involved than the way I did it. Especially if you are creating a patio or a walk pass. This is a good article describing how garden edging using pavers should be done. I you are up for a permanent edging task or a surface that will be walked on, I high recommend that you follow these steps. It requires paver base, stone dust, sand, and a lot more leveling and compacting, but the end result will be permanent and perfectly level. For my flower bed I chose the sloppy way. Our perennial bed may not be permanent and its shape may change in upcoming years, so I do not want to anything permanent. Besides, our lawn mower is not going to ride on top of this edging but next to it, so it does not need to be perfectly level.
This is the finished product and I like it. It does a great job holding all the mulch in, and I like how polished it made the bed look. The grey color ties into our back patio so, so well. And the best thing is, Slav can now use the hedge trimmer right against the garden bed without worrying about flying woodchips!
Edging project II: Underplanting perennial garden
In this spirit I also installed the same edgers around the other perennial bed in our backyard, right under our crab apple tree. I used to have branches right against the bed as a natural edger and I absolutely adore it. But again it did not work well for mowing.
In the process I made the bed larger. The crab apple tree shades everything below so the poor flowers are not growing as well as I hoped. We need to plant something else next year and a bigger bed will allow me to have both shade and partial shade plants here.
Here is the bed when I finished:
I like the result a lot more than I thought. Maybe because of the messy edge of the pavers, the bed does not feel too serious. I also like how the same concrete edger ties the two beds together. They echo the color of our concrete patio which downplayed their existence. I do not find them intruding at all.
As you can see we have drip tubing runs in and out of this bed. We will bury them as some point so Slav can push the lawn mower through this area, probably next year after we set up all the veggie beds.
Edging project III: Frontyard mailbox underplanting
Next we moved onto edging the last perennial flower bed. This bed is in our front yard and directly under our mail box.
Our black metal mailbox is very boring and I think the underplanting complements it nicely – a boring rectangle with just a few plants in it. There is one lavender, two rosemary bushes, and a struggling rose:
This poor rose. We’ve got bunnies in this neighborhood and they love this rose bush, or more accurately, the taste of it. Every a few days I find the new growth on this rose leveled to the ground. Thankfully these bunnies are as dumb as their cotton tails are cute – they have not discovered my salad garden yet (knock on wood).
Although uninspiring, it is still a big upgrade compared to the weeds and broken bricks we inherited:
For this bed I decided to create a mowing strip. Mowing strips are usually done with brick pavers. I chose to build one that is composed of two lines of bricks, one line on their side and the other laying flat. The taller edge keeps the mulch in while the flat part is leveled with the turf for the lawnmower to ride on.
To build this mowing strip I more or less followed the instructions here. Again, I did not use paver base or stone dust or any form of underlayment, because I do not know how permanent this flower bed will be. I simply dug down, leveled the brick with native dirt, laid bricks in, and packed around them with soil. I brushed some play sand in between the bricks to fill the gap so grass will not find their way into the flower bed.
This brick paver is purposely different from the concrete grey ones I used in the backyard. I want to make the edging in the front yard more formal while keeping the backyard look more natural. This brick is super flat with sharp edges, making leveling them with the grass pretty easy.
The new border feels like the way it should have always been. I like the width and how it fills the void lawn a bit. As you may have noticed, we also made it bigger for more planting area. I want to add some winter interest plants here so from November to April our yard does not look super dead.
As the final step of polishing everything up, we proceeded to mulch. Mulch is great for weed control and in our area, it is also crucial for reducing surface evaporation and keeping soil cooler. We have really bad problem with weeds especially where we water often, such as around the veggie beds:
We could hardly see where the veggie beds end and where the weeds start. In preparation for mulching, I pulled most of weeds out, cut the grass super short, and covered all the path in between and around the veggie beds with heavy duty cardboard.
After weeding and mowing:
Slav brought in two full trailer loads of wood chips and we mulched in between and all around the veggie beds:
Doesn’t the mulch make everything look sharper? I could not be happier. Some of these wood chips are from fresh-chipped pine trees and they smell AMAZING. We continued the mulch along the back fence around the fruit trees and roses. This is another area I had been weeding by hand since this Spring, which took a few hours per week. With all the mulching we have replaced ~1000 sqft of the lawn that needs weeding and mowing constantly. Cutting down maintenance time while saving water sounds like a win-win to me.
Here you have it, all three flower beds edged, large area mulched, and my landscaper (Slav) is happy. And guess who else is happy? These roses.