Marking the Edge

Paved paths and neatly-mown lawns provide ready-made and attractive edges to beds and borders in a herb garden. But in the Saint Montan Jardin du Curé we use gravel on the paths – it’s local, inexpensive, and part of the landscape. So the junction between cultivated ground and consolidated earth wanders somewhat each year depending upon the footprints of visitors and bouts of torrential rain that flatten my carefully sculpted edges to the paths.

Over the years, I’ve tried a variety of solutions: wooden planks, large flat stones, even terrace tiles and slates wedged vertically into the soil. Some of my ideas look appealing at the outset but then become a problem: families of slugs and colonies of ants – not to mention the scorpions – all appreciate the warm, dry homes that I provided under the flat stones and tiles. And wooden planks can disappear into local fences and gates!

I’ve always rejected the familiar solution of a well-clipped edging of dwarf box plants even though as a child I loved running around the narrow paths edged this way in my grandmother’s herb garden. Maintaining this immaculate look is both back-breaking work and time consuming. And now that in some regions of southern France, many box trees have fallen victim to the leaf-eating caterpillar, Cydalima perspectalis, I am relieved that I never adopted this Victorian idea.

Of course, you can buy attractive edging for borders and beds but I usually prefer to devise my own solutions using whatever materials are to hand.

For a few years, I made a woven lattice edging with the flexible prunings of garden shrubs. In a small space this can look charming: simple push short sticks, stripped of leaves and evenly spaced, into the ground and weave longer flexible stems between them. In a dry climate, this kind of lattice can last for several seasons.

A simpler form of this idea is to make low hoops of long slim prunings. Sometimes these overlapping hoops take root which can work well. And this led me to my favourite edging for herb beds which depends on cuttings from my more mature herbs.

When I prune my rosemary bushes, I select slightly woody stems about 10 cm long and strip the leaves from the bottom third of each cutting. Mark out the planting line of your future low herbal hedge and push a double row of prepared cuttings into the ground. Be generous because not every cutting may take, though in a good year they all do.

The secret of a dwarf hedge of pruned herbs is to keep the height limited so that plenty of new growth is close to the ground and the plants do not become leggy. That said, an annual trimming usually keeps the hedge well-behaved.

A ring of rosemary hedging is particularly attractive. I planted rosemary cuttings around a standard rose in a small circular bed. And repeated the idea with an evergreen oleander. For a taller, less formal herb hedge, I like to plant cuttings of lavender, sage, or myrtle – the small-leaved evergreen herb common to Sardinia and Corsica, where the purple-black berries are used to make a popular liqueur by marinating the fruit with honey and alcohol.  

All these herb hedges are delightfully aromatic and to me, so much more attractively scented than box.