September 4, 2012

The Zen of Edging

There are those who knit and those who paint.  When it comes time to put the world on hold and find an inner peace, you’ll find me edging.

Edging is an art.  There is a line or a contour either to be created or to be held.  On one side of the line is grass, on the other side may be soil or mulch or anything else that is not grass.  My goal is to establish and maintain the boundary between the grass and what lies beyond it.

For me, going out and
edging provides a Zen
experience - an hour
passes, 50 feet of border
is done, and I have
no idea where the
time went.
Our garden is a sinuous sweep of shrub and perennial beds that swirl and curve across the property.  Grass is simply what separates the various beds.  We have less than half the grass on our property than we did a decade ago and, each year, the grass shrinks further as the borders grow.

My tools are as old as the Stone Age and no more modern than the first decades of the last century.  I use a sturdy, flat shovel for most work.  I decide where the border should be and the shovel, pushed four inches into the earth, defines the boundary.  On my hands and knees I pull out the unwanted grass and separate it from the soil.  The grass (and weeds) go into a basket.  What is left behind is a cliff of grass-topped soil beyond which no stolon can push.  At the bottom of the cliff begins a rise that may be soil or may be mulch and, soon thereafter, the green of an annual, perennial, shrub or tree.
My driveway edging tool.  I first saw
this in use at Hidcote Manor. 
Queen Victoria likely approved.

I also edge our long driveway and, for this, I have a remarkable tool that I first saw in use at Hidcote Manor.  It is something of which Queen Victoria would have known and approved: a muscle-powered, six-inch-wide toothed wheel that, properly used, creates a perfect, inch-wide ravine between pavement and grass.  It is to the gas-powered string trimmer what a Vermeer is to painting by numbers.

The joy of edging is in the execution.  I will go out to edge, start at a point that needs obvious attention, and begin working.  An hour later, fifty feet of border will be completed and perfect yet, to me, no time will have passed.  I don’t listen to music or to baseball while I edge, I just think and concentrate on the task at hand.  When I am done, I can look back and see exactly what I have accomplished.  Seldom is life so completely satisfying.

There are few straight
borders, but only a few...
It is hardly a decision-free process.  To the contrary, borders continually change.  Pinus strobus ‘Hillside Creeper’, true to its name, demands a few extra inches of former lawn every time I edge the bed in which it resides.  Two viburnum have nearly doubled in size in the past two years and their berries feed the birds in winter.  The grass will give way to their growth and the only question is whether there will be a double curve in the grass or a single one.

There is an adage in the gardening world that goes something like this:  if company is coming in six months, replant.  If company is coming in six days, mulch.  If company is coming in six hours, edge.

There’s no company expected today, but nevertheless I will go out and edge.  In a world where happiness is achieved by meditation or drugs, buying or consuming, I find satisfaction in creating a clean line manages to complement nature.

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