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Monthly musings: Formal dwarf edgings (March)


Feeling a bit bored with your garden, and don’t really know why? Or do you perhaps fancy a radical change but can’t face the cost – and effort - of a major make-over? Try adding a few dwarf edgings. They make a huge difference.

A low evergreen outline along paths and round beds and borders picks out the shape of the garden, underlines displays of flowers and creates a tidy lawn edge. It ‘lifts’ any garden up to the next level, giving it a designer finish that tells you straight away this is a display worth taking seriously.

‘But’ you’ll probably be thinking, ‘dwarf edgings are only for formal gardens’. Wrong. Oh, they’re essential for really formal features, teaming dramatically well with gravel paths, York-stone paving and highly trimmed topiary, and they’re a vital component of a historical-style parterre or knot garden. But they’re equally at home in a cottage-style garden, providing soothing contrasts to potentially garish flowerbeds, and providing much-needed natural support for over-ebullient plants that would otherwise flop all over the grass or onto paths. And in a family garden, a low surrounding of pliable interwoven plants gives a first line of defence from footballs, dogs and kids, which protects other plants from damage. Even in a tiny town plot, a low dwarf edging acts as a space-saving partition that segregates salad beds or seating areas without casting shade or creating a hemmed-in feeling. And some of the most avant-garde garden designs I’ve seen featured low evergreen edgings enclosing carpets of groundcover plants that acted as combined alternatives for borders and lawns - very stylish. So the formal tag is a myth; evergreen edgings really are go-anywhere features.

The other great misconception is cost. Oh, you could spend a fortune buying ready-trimmed and clipped baby box plants by the metre, ready to plant for immediate effect. But in these do-it-yourself days, the answer is to start from scratch by taking cuttings – it won’t take half as long as you think. If you don’t have a suitable mother-plant, go to a nursery or garden centre and invest in just one nice bushy ‘parent’ plant bearing lots of potential cuttings. Alternatively, buy cheaper ready-rooted youngsters and grow them on.

The favourite plant for compact evergreen edgings is dwarf box (Buxus sempervirens ‘Suffruticosa’) which can happily be kept as short as four to six inches high – ideal. (Don’t use normal hedging box, which doesn’t take kindly to being cut so short). But for a slightly different effect (and where 'box blight' - a disfiguring disease - is a problem) neat, compact varieties of lavender, such as ‘Hidcote’, make great flowering dwarf edgings and just need clipping to shape once a year, shortly after their flowers are over. (Avoid big sprawling varieties). Rosemary makes a good edging for a veg or herb garden, or for something smaller use upright varieties of thyme. Again, clip to shape just after flowering, to keep them tidy and tight.

If you don’t mind a bit more regular attention you can create charming ‘ropes’ by planting a row of ivies and twisting them together regularly to create a leafy border – small-leaved varieties such as ‘Glacier’ or ‘Goldchild’ suit this technique best. Or for something completely different, opt for a row of step-over apple trees. They’ll look novel (a bit like foot-rest rails in front of the bar stools in a traditional London pub) and generate a useful crop of fruit, besides holding back a wayward border of flowers. Just prune them like normal cordon apple trees, which just happen to be horizontal instead of vertical. But whatever you use, give edging a go – it’s the best way to underline your garden and add emphasis in all the right places. See what I mean?