Wednesday, May 9, 2012


May 5th's "supermoon"
            Speaking of edgy, try translating Sky-Guy’s sentence about May 5th's “supermoon” into words of two or fewer syllables: “This particular Full Moon occurs one minute after lunar perigee, and since perigee coincides with a Sun/Earth/Moon syzygy, it is the closest perigee for the year.” Here’s a hint: astronomically speaking, a syzygy (SIZ-ih-gee) is either of two opposing points in the orbit of a celestial body—specifically the moon—at which it is in conjunction with or in opposition to the sun.

            Did that help?

If There Is Something to Desire cover
            Syzygy, a word that looks Hungarian or Polish to me, actually derives from the Greek for “yoke.” It is also a term poetry scholars use for “a measure of two feet, as a dipody.” Because they don’t just say dipody (DIP-oh-dee, reminiscent of dippidydoodah), whose meaning is easier to ferret out (di=two, pod=foot), explains why nobody reads poetry. And nobody and his brother read poetic criticism. Who else but jargon-loving elitists would call the spaces between lines or stanzas “lacunae”? The wonderful Russian poet Vera Pavlova (whose first collection in English—If There Is Something to Desire—was published by Knopf in 2010) once wrote that postmodern poetry is merely “vulgarity trying to pass for irony.”

            Seems I’m a tad edgy myself today. Blame it on syzygy.


Nothing makes a garden look more garden-ish than crisp edges. My favorite material for edging is the eight-inch-high, heavy-duty steel stuff botanical gardens use—five inches underground, three above, hunter green or chocolate brown, understated yet effective. The only place I’ve ever found it for sale is by mail-order. Each twelve-foot long section weighs in excess of a hundred pounds: prohibitive shipping costs as well as respect for UPS drivers make it entirely unaffordable unless you are, in fact, a botanical garden with a healthy endowment.

Over the years, Tim and I have tried a variety of less expensive products offered by home improvement stores and gardening catalogs. Most (excuse my French) suck. Pound-in plastic panels balk at obstructions in the soil and shatter should you pound too vigorously. The plastic coils (with the rolled edge to differentiate the top edge from the bottom, reminding me of how some old ladies at the Baptist Home used to wear their stockings) are a pain in the butt to straighten for installation. They also develop irremediable kinks, and heave out of the ground in places, making it look like you hired Mayberry’s Otis to do the job. (Our sympathy to Goober’s family, by the way.) Plastic also invariably deteriorates in the presence of ultraviolet rays, of which we have lots and lots here in southeastern North Carolina.

See what I mean?
 Moving on from plastic, those foot-long sections of cast concrete with the scalloped tops look doofy. I’m sorry, but it’s true. Because they sit on the surface of the ground, they tend to lean or fall over. Because they’re cast, the sides never join tightly. Even though curved sections are available, your ability to deviate from the rectangular is severely curtailed.

Next up—the wood blocks/pickets/faux stones stapled to rubber-like strips and the flimsy folding metal pretend-fence sections. These you might consider for a quick cosmetic fix when your more critical relatives descend on your homestead, but won’t last in the long run.

Okay, then, what’s more substantial? When Tim and I started in the business, we stacked a lot of landscape timbers. Pressure-treated to resist damp-rot and termites, when they lay flush against one another (once the rebar made it through the slightly misaligned pre-drilled holes and we’d wrestled the worst of the torques into temporary submission), the result didn’t look too bad. At least for the first two or three years. That is, if you don’t mind straight-ish eight-foot sections, curves remaining problematic.

(Some years ago, the Perfectly Safe lobby successfully applied pressure to prohibit the pressure-treating industry from using arsenic chromate as termite-icide. "What if our children chew on the playground equipment?" they cried. Like there aren't any other issues at work there. So now your timber edging only lasts five years instead of ten.)

For keeping poisonous substances from leaching into the ground—assuming you don’t consider lime toxic—and for preventing stoloniferous warm-season grasses from creeping into places they are not wanted, I like the extruded concrete that resembles curbing. Designed so lawn mowers can do their thing right up to the, um, edge, it is not exactly a subtle touch in the landscape. At upwards of eight dollars a linear foot, you also pay a premium for permanence. Back when we had a lawn, Tim and I defined the beds fronting the house and our big island this way. It saved me hours of pulling centipedegrass out of those areas, but it is awfully white.

Extruded concrete, fancy
Extruded concrete, plain

            Natural stone edging materials include granite rip-rap irregulars, smooth river rock (we used evocatively named turtle-backs at Gen and Ed’s house—see March 17th's "The End of Deer Is Near.") and Belgian block. I covered low formed-concrete-block walls as edging on April 21, in “The Great Wall.” Dry-laid veneer stone walls are another option, but only if you have a great deal of time and patience or the wherewithal to hire a mason.

Granite rip-rap
Turtle-back river rock

Dry-laid veneer stone wall

Neat, unobtrusive standing bricks
               Lately Tim and I have become enamored of standing-brick edgings, a relatively simple, unobtrusive and not-too-expensive technique. You dig a six-inch-deep trench, stand the bricks in it vertically, and backfill. For this dry-lay method, it helps to have: 1) a climate where the ground doesn’t freeze and heave; 2) sandy soil, which is marvelous for compacting itself around stationary intruders, such as fence posts, pergola legs and bricks; and/or 3) a hard edge to work against. If you lack any approximation of these conditions, consider mortar.

Client projects always result in leftovers, which, as reigning Recycling Queen of North Carolina, I bring home for domestic use. Tim used to call the messy pile of bricks and blocks my “snake house,” but he can’t say that anymore because I’m using them to make an eclectic edge around the New Bed.

I never claimed to be an artist, y'all
Everywhere else in our yard,  the Fitzes edge beds with English trenches, a labor-intensive-because-oft-repeated method with the signal advantage of costing only time. (English trenching means shoveling straight down around the outer edge your border, then making an angled cut from inside the bed toward the bottom of the straight cut, resulting in a V with a starboard list. See dinky illustration.) 

Eclectic recycled edging materials

With so many options to inspire us, gardeners needn’t allow their ornamental borders to wallow over into the lawn and vice-versa. Edging decreases weeding time, increases definition of that which you’d like defined, and imparts an air of caring and elegance to a landscape. If you’ll excuse me, I want to add a few more pieces from the snake house to crisp up the New Bed.

Thanks for dropping by.