Do it yourself flower bed borders

Three ways to design your own flower bed borders. Why pay for short-lived materials when you can create them yourself, courtesy of Mother Nature?

Tired of the same-old-same-old border designs for your ever-changing flower beds?

Longing for something new that is uniquely you?

The year, why not redirect that time and effort you usually spend shopping -- futilely -- for the right edging in the garden center?

Instead, put it to work where it really matters to you -- in your garden itself. Try one or all or these three easy -- and inexpensive -- do-it-yourself flower bed borders!

1. Tangy terra cotta and marble mix

Many long-time gardeners have lots of old, cracked and discolored terra cotta pots, trays and planters. If you don't have your own orange stash, you can always find several dozen in just one week-end's worth of garage sales.

Never discard your terra cotta! Break your old pots and pieces up into all different sizes. (Wear your leather garden gloves to protect your hands from sharp shards.)

Once you've weeded and mulched your flower garden, build a border of bright orange by laying the terra cotta pieces along the front edge of the flower bed. If annoying weedlings or creeping lawn are problems for you, go ahead and lay down a strip of black plastic before adding the terra cotta.

You can start with a single garden section at a time, maybe three to four feet long, and extend its length all season, as more of the bright porous pottery comes your way.

And for a whimsical touch of color, nestle some inexpensive glass marbles or polished stones in among the terra cotta pieces. You can change the garden accessory each season, or even color-complement or contrast with each new crop of blooms!

Another unique border material that mixes well with terra cotta pieces, and will show off your garden bed to its full advantage, is the lowly, oft-ignored sea shell.

Most shells scavenged from beaches and lakeshores have a pale creamy foundation flecked or splashed with oranges or tans -- the perfect contrast and complement to a terra cotta border!

We still have buckets of shells that my children and I scavenged from several trips to the Atlantic shoreline. The best time to look for shells is just at dawn, as the tide pulls back and leaves the wet sand littered with thousands of shells, ready for the picking. If you're fortunate, you may even find a shark tooth nestled among the treasures!

You can also scavenge shells -- albeit smaller than the ocean variety but just as beautiful in their miniatures -- from almost any Great Lakes shore (especially the eastern Lake Michigan coast) and even inland lakes. We've collected hundreds at low tide on the sandy shores outside the lovely and historic Lakeside Inn, on White Lake, a feeder system to its neighbor, Lake Michigan, in northern lower Michigan.

If there is nary a beach for miles around, you can easily recreate the "natural shell" look by buying bags of inexpensive simulated plastic or polymer shells, available at many arts and crafts stores.

2. A river of small rocks and stones

This isn't the fairly common large-boulder border that came of age in the 1950s and never quite retreated.

To achieve a river-like visual effect, use small-sized stones, of any shape and type, but no larger than your own clenched fist.

Most homeowners are so intent on keeping stray stones and rocks out of their lawns and yards that they don't recognize what an ample supply of free garden design equipment is literally right in their midst!

And don't overlook the waterfront as a stony source! Our wintertime beach erosion can be so severe that we often truck in and pack down tons of rock-imbedded sand early each winter to protect the natural coastline. In spring, what remains of the protective barrier yields hundreds of rocks as the waves pound the shore relentlessly, finally freeing the small stones from their icy prison.

For those of us lucky enough to have beaches, gravel roads, field paths and neighboring farms that till up the stony stuff each new season, this type of do-it-yourself flower-bed border comes naturally!

But even if you're suburban-bound and miles from the nearest farm, you can still build this border by rock-hunting in the countryside every chance you get. Take a sturdy plastic pail and an ordinary garden hand-rake. When you stroll the dirt roads and creek-side trails, look down, instead of up! Begin in early spring, and you'll have a huge supply of handpicked stone-ware by the time your summer bulbs are in bloom!

3. Branch out into logs and limbs

In the days of the earliest pioneer settlements, frontier women usually used whatever they had at hand to provide visual interest in their busy, productive gardens.

In the thick forest wildernesses of the upper Midwest, that often meant twigs and limbs, too green for kindling and too small for furniture.

It's easy to build this log and twig flower bed border. Use as many different kinds of wood pieces as you'd like, as long as they are not from a diseased tree. The best times to scout out good pieces are after a heavy rainstorm, and after a sustained "wind event."

To build this border, dig a shallow, narrow trench at the front of your garden.

Trim a sheet of black plastic (a piece cut from a trash bag works fine) and line the trench, then fill it about half-way to the dirt-line with mulch, crushed tree bark or even small pebbles.

Working in sections no longer than five or six feet at a time, lay your logs, branches and twigs in a border of randomly varying sizes that reflect the height of the garden section being bordered. For instance, for a portion of flower bed that's home to medium to tall flowers, you can comfortably build your border five to six inches high.

If the next section sports a natural floral border that's a ground hugger, such as thyme or sweet alyssum, or that's short or dwarfed, such as English daisies or petunias, then keep your border materials short, thin and narrow -- more twigs and sticks than limbs and branches!

The asymmetrical flow will give your garden space a genuinely rustic look!

Designing and creating your own flower-bed borders are acts of the ultimate, nature-based recycling! So why pay top dollar for pricey, short-lived border materials for your gardens, when you can easily do it yourself ... from materials provided by Mother Nature ... and have a wonderful time in the process?

© High Speed Ventures 2011