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July 17, 2007

Edging a Flower Border with European Flair

Notes from the Edge

Taming the divide between lawn and garden

There’s a chipmunk running loose in the house. The cats lie moribund in the heat, too phlegmatic to bother chasing him. 

We try to figure out where the chipmunk is hiding but he’s lowered the Cone of Invisibility. We conclude that he’s on the lam from other chipmunks whose daughters he’s knocked up.

Most chipmunks live to yip and show off, but this one is shy, even reclusive. After a single sighting in the sunroom we do not see him again for days. We nickname him Son of Sasquatch.


I take a breather from chippie-hunting to go outside and mow the lawn. Dawdling in the brutal heat I tip the lawnmower on its side and try to look like I care that there’s four inches of grass-felt stuck to the underside of the lawnmower.  The cutting blade lies inert, its edge worn and pitted, a monument to neglect.

I try to shut out the knowledge that you’re supposed to sharpen your lawnmower blade after every 4 hours of use. My dad only sharpened his blade once every 40 years, so I figure I have 38 summers left before I have to pay attention to this blade, even though it’s as dull as an endomorph’s shin.

Why is my blade in such bad shape? The tyranny of flower beds.

If you’ve edged your border with a nice, tidy vertical cut, you’re going to wreck your lawnmower blade. No matter how carefully you steer a lawnmower along the edge of a flower garden - Blam! the wheel drops into the abyss, the blade grounds out on the turf and you’ve concussed your blade.

Edge of Insanity

There are hundreds of solutions to the edging problem and most of them are irritating.

 For example, you can arrange rocks along the edge of your border. But grass grows up between the rocks and it’s darn awkward to trim around them. And eventually the grass creeps into the border where it becomes a weeding nightmare.

 You can line a border with bricks but grass rises between the bricks and requires incessant trimming. Grass will also grow underneath the bricks and tip them into ramshackle misalignment.

You can install inexpensive black plastic trim to define flower bed edges. The plastic actually stops grass from migrating into the flower bed.  However, Tracy in my yoga class described her living nightmare when she installed that stuff one year and billions of earwigs bred in the hollow tubing that runs along the top of the edging material. So avoid plastic edging if you’re a squeamish non-entomologist.

 You can pound logs into the ground, dig in 2x4 lumber on-edge, install railroad ties, decorative wire or old tires. But in most cases, your lawn mower won’t be able to cut close enough to the edging so you’re still going to have to weed-whack separately.  Plus the grass always manages, with its freakish mutant intelligence, to penetrate any edging material and invade the garden.

 But wait.

 Although my dad didn’t sharpen his lawnmower blade often, he was a master of edging.  Let me share his world-class solution.

Ken Ruffman’s Edging Secrets

  1. Get an      ‘edging knife’, a spade with a half-moon shaped blade. This tool hails from Europe originally and you may have trouble finding it in Canada. Try www.whiteflowerfarms.com in Connecticut or www.amazon.com where you can find this tool for under $US50. The blade is utterly flat so it won’t give you scalloped edges. 
  2. Sharpen      the blade to a Samurai-worthy edge so it cuts through turf like butter.
  3. Place      the blade of the edging knife against the turf you want to trim away. Tilt the blade to a 45-degree angle to      create a gentle slope that your lawn mower wheel will ride on without the      blade scalping the grass.
  4. Push      your foot against the top of the blade and ride it downward at the 45-degree      angle. My dad liked a 6-inch deep angled      trench. It doesn’t fill up with      silt and it discourages grass roots from invading.
  5. Remove      the cut-off pieces of turf and compost them. 
  6. Exaggerate      the trench by mounding up excess soil into the flower bed.
  7. Fire up      the lawnmower. Notice how the      wheels ride beautifully along the top edge of the sloped trench without      hanging up the blade. Sweet. 

Note from alert readers Tom and Elizabeth:
You can actually get an edging tool online from the Canadian supplier Lee Valley Tools (http://www.leevalley.com) for a mere $21.50.  It's called a lawn edger, so that's why I hadn't been able to find it at Lee Valley by entering the search terms shovel, spade or edging tool.  D'oh!


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