A Jolly Good Idea: Living Border

June 14, 2015 garden 055


After writing about the Bed For Salvias we built earlier this month, I was intrigued by a suggestion Sue and Alex offered in a comment.  They have a fresh take on gardening topics, probably because they live in Australia and have access to a whole different world of resources.

Sue and Alex sent a link describing a novel way to create a living ‘border’ for gardens, and suggested it might help with the erosion problems we have been experiencing on our slope.


Our new perennial bed this morning, before work on the new border began.

Our new perennial bed this morning, before work on the new border began.


It took me a little while to comprehend the article they offered from  Gardening Australia .  There’s a wee language barrier, and I was clueless what “Hessian” might be.  A little searching quickly translated the term as ‘burlap,’ which I know quite well!

The concept is elegantly simple:  One lays out a long strip of burlap where a border or barrier is needed.  The size of the finished border is limited only by one’s imagination, materials, and need.  I chose to cut my piece of burlap in half, which resulted in two long strips, each about 2′ wide.

Next, one lays the filling for the roll.  I used my favorite Leaf Grow bagged compost.


June 14, 2015 garden 042


This is a good mix I use for planting shrubs and building planting beds.  One could also use topsoil, potting soil, gravel, or sand depending on one’s purpose.

The burlap is then rolled up around the filling, secured, and rolled into place where needed.

I found the burlap at our JoAnn’s craft and sewing shop.  The burlap was marked down by 30%, and I had a 50% off one item coupon.  The fabric ended up costing a little less than $1.50 per yard, and I used only half the width of each yard.  For this project, then, the fabric cost around $0.75 per yard, and I used 10 yards.

I secured my roll with a combination of jute twine and floral wire, and used about 2 1/2 bags of compost.  Since this is a steep slope, and we have all sorts of animals through our garden, I decided to secure the finished roll in place; which wasn’t suggested in the original article.  We purchased 10″ aluminum roofing nails, driving them into the Earth every few feet around the finished border.


June 14, 2015 garden 037


It took about us about 10 days to gather all of the needed materials, including culinary sage to plant in the border.  They came as a great deal, also.  McDonald Garden Center had all of their herbs marked down last weekend, and a coupon for an additional 20% off of one’s entire purchase.  I suppose it pays to time these projects for late in the spring planting season. 

Our recent heat wave has forced me to procrastinate on this project until today.   It is such a brilliant idea, and our heavy rains lately threaten this new bed.  And of course, those Salvias needed to come out of their tiny pots.


I used six S. 'Berggarten,' a golden sage, and five S. 'Tri-color' for the border.

I used six S. ‘Berggarten,’ a golden sage, and five S. ‘Tri-color’ for the border.


We were slated to be a tiny bit cooler this morning, and so I committed to pull this project together…. finally.

My guess on fabric length was spot on.  The burlap, once spread on the ground, went the entire length of the bed with about 18″ left on each end to tuck up the sides.  I began at the shady end laying a line of compost in the center of the fabric.


June 14, 2015 garden 039


The ends are folded up and secured with floral wire, poked “through” the loose weave of the fabric like metal stitches and tied off.


June 14, 2015 garden 050


After laying the compost in the fabric, I lifted the outside edges to settle it all into the center before folding the lower edge up over the compost, and then rolling the top edge down and over it to create a double thickness of fabric on what became the underside of the roll.


June 14, 2015 garden 049


I stopped every 18″-24″ and tied up the roll with a length of jute.

I pre-cut these pieces of twine, and laid them out along the roll before starting the process of filling and tying.


June 14, 2015 garden 040~

Once the entire roll was filled and tied off; and the final end folded and wired shut, I rolled the entire piece over so the ties lay against the soil.

Working again from one end to the other, I rolled the border into place and then pushed/pounded a roofing nail into the soil just beyond the border, on the downhill side,  to prevent it from slipping out of place.


June 14, 2015 garden 052~

Once the Salvias’ roots penetrate the burlap and work their way into the ground, they will hold the border. The nails will keep everything stable until then.

Planting completes the process.  With the border stabilized, I planted from the two ends in towards the middle with three different varieties of culinary Sage.  Thyme or Germander would also work well in our climate.  I wanted a woody stemmed perennial herb to hold this border for years to come.

I cut an 8″ slit with a pair of scissors in the top of the border,  where each Salvia was to be planted.

First, I reached in and packed the compost more tightly in all directions, but especially side to side, lengthwise.  Then, I added two pots full of compost into the slit (using one of the Salvia’s empty pots) and packed the soil again.


June 14, 2015 garden 051


Removing each Salvia from its nursery pot, I gently broke up the root ball on the very bottom to encourage its roots to grow sideways into the surrounding soil.

I’ve learned (the hard way) that massaging a transplant’s roots may be the most important step in planting success.  The roots must be gently lifted away from the root ball, where they have been encircling the soil inside the pot, to encourage them to grow outwards into the planting hole.

Failure to loosen the roots may leave them growing in circles.

If the transplant’s potting mix isn’t thoroughly moistened, the plant can starve for water even though there is moist soil around the transplant.  This is a further reason why it is wise to allow transplants to soak up sufficient water into their mix before removing them from their nursery pots.


June 14, 2015 garden 054


With the root ball loosened and made a bit shorter and wider, I slipped it through the slit in the fabric and into the opening of the compost.  Then, I had to massage the entire border roll around the transplant to bring the compost snuggly up around the Sage’s roots.

In nearly all cases, I added a little more compost into the opening around the root ball to ‘top things off.’  It is important to plant each plant at the same depth so it is neither deeper nor shallower in its new ‘pot’ than it was in its nursery pot.

I spaced the new plants fairly widely, about 18″-24″ apart, because each plant can grow quite large.  Sage hate to be crowded.  Eventually, I hope they will all knit into one another.

I moved a golden Sage planted about two weeks ago in the new bed over into the border near the center.

I was about two plants short of enough, and will purchase an additional golden Sage and a final tri-color Sage to complete this design.


June 14, 2015 garden 053


This entire process took me a couple of hours, at least in part because it was so terribly hot today.  I was working in full sun, and the heat slowed me down.

My partner (who kept bringing me water) and I are both happy with this new border.  We look forward to seeing how it weathers over the summer and to seeing how the plants fill in.

I can see this as a useful strategy for planting knot gardens, for starting hedges, and even for starting seeds.

With seeds, it would be like taking the principle of  a ‘seed tape’ to a new level.   This works equally well on slopes as it would on level ground.

I especially like this for controlling erosion as water pours down this slope in heavy rain.  I’ve broken the slope with multiple tiers above this level already, each planted with well rooted woody plants.  This terracing has allowed us to use land which otherwise would not be useable, except as open space.


Cheery red Pentas, growing in another part of our garden, to say "Thank you!" to Sue and Alex.

Cheery red Pentas, growing in another part of our garden, to say “Thank you!” to Sue and Alex.


So I offer my appreciation to Sue and Alex for linking me up with this idea to improve our new perennial bed, and to solve our erosion problem.

One of the great joys of our blogging community is how we can all reach out to one another with information, collaboration, support, and jolly good ideas!


Our third mother turtle of the summer, laying her eggs in your garden on Thursday afternoon....

Our third mother turtle of the summer, laying her eggs in our garden on Thursday afternoon….


Woodland Gnome 2015


About woodlandgnome

Lifelong teacher and gardener.

16 responses to “A Jolly Good Idea: Living Border

  1. This is a fascinating idea – thanks so much for sharing! I also share your steep slope problem. Fortunately my soil is such heavy clay that it seems to stay put fairly well, but I use this idea myself.

    • Thank you, Cathy. Once Sue and Alex sent the link, my imagination kicked in and I had to see it in action. I am going to give this a few weeks to settle, and then increase the depth of compost around the plants in the new bed. I think this is a useful way to build raised beds from scratch- assuming the entire new bed is bordered with this rolled up border….

  2. Pretty neat idea. I’ve seen hay bales used to anchor soil around construction sites, but this is easier to customize and is smaller. And the fabric could be mulched over if need be.
    I love the idea of your yard as a turtle nursery. They probably have been coming there for generations, very cool!

  3. I’ve seen this technique used along roadsides between our place and town. They lost their raw look within a year and seem to be thriving. Nice to get this tutorial on how to go about it. Thanks.

  4. An intriguing idea. I have seen someone poke a hole in a bag of topsoil and plunk in a tomato plant. Yours is a similar concept. Is it working in slowing down the water?

    • John, I wouldn’t do this in the front yard, but I”m willing to give it a try on this back slope. I hope it helps this new garden hold its moisture a little better, too. We had torrential rain yesterday afternoon and nothing moved. So far so good….. My imagination is crackling with other applications for this technique. I’m wondering about using this as a way to establish rooted cuttings of Buxus to create low hedges around raised beds… and I believe it would simplify the construction of knot gardens. The areas between the planted rolls could be covered with landscape fabric and mulched with pea gravel…. No tomatoes growing out of topsoil bags around here, I’m afraid. Seems like it would be too shallow for the plant to establish proper roots… ?

  5. WG~Terrific idea for the garden, juts Love how you’ve shown how you put it in place ❤ have to share that I got a jolly good chuckle at the word Hessian, for my knowledge of the word is as the shining tall Hessian boots worn by dashing soldiers in Georgette Heyer and Barbara Cartland romance novels I'd read as a teenager!! Still smiling, thank you 🙂

    • Yes, M, I thought of that, too. Around here “Hessian” refers to the mercenary soldiers Britain sent to fight in the Revolution. I’ve never heard of that term referring to fabric until this. Endlessly fascinating, isn’t it? Is everyone well again? Best wishes, ❤ ❤

  6. What a great idea! I look forward to seeing how it all comes along throughout the summer. The turtle is beautiful. 🙂

    • Thank you, Robin 😉 It doesn’t look like much yet, but we expect it to fill in as the summer progresses 😉 Isn’t the turtle sweet? I walked away after this photo, and when I turned around she had her neck craned at full length watching me! They are such intelligent and sensitive creatures. 😉

  7. I’m really pleased to see your border and am sure it will grow to be a beautiful bed.

  8. Fantastic idea. Thank you for translating! That’s awesome you have turtles near you! Are they wild or your own?

    • My pleasure Koko. The turtles are wild. One of them showed up again today at the street . We had a beautiful golden box turtle in the garden last week . They have chosen our garden as a safe place it seems . Thank you for visiting 😊

We always appreciate your comments. Thank you for adding your insight to the conversation.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Our Forest Garden- The Journey Continues

Please visit and follow Our Forest Garden- The Journey Continues to see all new posts since January 8, 2021.

A new site allows me to continue posting new content since after more than 1700 posts there is no more room on this site.  -WG

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 783 other subscribers
Follow Forest Garden on WordPress.com

Topics of Interest

%d bloggers like this: