A Border for Squash

Up until now, border work has involved either restoring borders, such as the side border, or expanding and revamping existing borders, such as that front border. The other day, I embarked on the first stage of a border in the main lawn of the back garden. This is technically another border expansion project but whereas before, where the expansion has been just a few feet outwards, this border is being expanded to many times its original size, does that count as a new border?

What’s particularly notable is that this is the first time I will have “broken ground” in the rear garden. Previous work has focussed on the side and front. I’ve been keeping away from the back because once I start, there’s no going back. The back garden is a very large and daunting place.

What forced my hand to get started was a number of small squash plants I had been given as seed and had germinated. I don’t know why I did this, I am not known for eating vegetables let alone growing them, but give me seeds and I simply can’t resist germinating them. Squashes are heavy feeders and need lots of room to grow. They can’t be contained well in pots and have to be planted out as soon as they get to large seedling stage. I sowed a load of squash seeds that I had been given and now have twelve three-inch pots of squash plants desperate to be planted out. The only trouble is there are no borders in the garden where they can be planted out. If they stay in pots, they will most likely die because they will need to be fed and watered so often. I can’t throw the lot out because I am simply unable to throw plants out, even if they are vegetables (though I make an exception for weeds).

Caught between veg and a grassy garden the only option left was to start on a new border in the back garden to plant these squashes in. I already had ideas for the general shapes and layout of the borders I wanted in the back and this would be the time to put that plan into action.

By laying out short sticks (the remains of deposed rhododendrons) I could draw out dotted lines for the border shapes in the area of the garden I was going to work in.

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The border incorporates the small shrubbery to the side and generously curves out across the lawn and rounds to the patio, hence a border expansion. Look! Isn’t that wheelbarrow smart and incredibly useful!

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Generous, sensuous curves are the name of the game, with no straight sections or tight corners. I have a set of rules when it comes to creating curves for borders:

  1. No sudden change of direction halfway along the line
  2. No right angles or tight corners
  3. No feeling as though the curve as had to be force-fitted into the space
  4. If in doubt, make it curve more
  5. Go for “gut feeling” every time, if it doesn’t feel right, don’t go with it.

There will be a set of mathematical functions that describe these features (apart from the last one), but I don’t know what they are. Instead I try and go for the shape a meandering river say may take, weaving in relaxed curves across the landscape. Or the shape waggling a hosepipe might make.

I have also marked out the near end of the long island bed I have planned as well as the border opposite that will contain fragrant shrubs and plants for winter interest.

Where the grass meets the patio, there will be a bench strategically placed that will look between these two borders and down the length of the island border.

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Using my favourite gardening implement – the lawn edger – I started cutting into the grass and lifting the turf, using the placed sticks as a guide it was exactly like cutting “along the dotted line”. This was the first broken ground in the back garden.

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I continued to cut the turf, following the marked out line round and rolling the turf back to get a good idea of the edge. The soil was very wet and sticky. There was virtually no air in it at all. This looks like classic heavy clay, but also heavily compacted, luckily there are lots of answers to dealing with this kind of soil and I have some experience of it from working in the previous garden.

WP_20140617_16_24_08_ProThere, I finally finished going all the way round and I also took up the grass that edges onto the patio, revealing a much more frayed edge to the concrete than I hoped for. The existing shrubby border desperately needs weeding, there are several sycamore trees growing out of it that I don’t want and the poor camellia in the middle is getting swamped. Hopefully my attention will focus on that soon and I will blitz it.

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With the border outline “drawn” I will let the weather and some landscape fabric do the hard work for me. Instead of manually digging over the turf, by laying down the fabric over the top and pegging it down so that it doesn’t blow away, the grass and weeds underneath should die off quickly.

The black fabric will do two things, first it cuts off the light to the plants underneath and secondly, in sunny weather the temperature underneath will soar and literally cook the grass, killing it off. The rain will permeate through, as the fabric is porous.

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With the border covered over it’s a matter of waiting for the turf to die off, at which point it can be uncovered and dug over, incorporating lots of compost, rotted manure, air and fertiliser to restore it to a healthy, fertile, living soil rather than the heavy, waterlogged sod it currently is.

I planned for this border to be for roses, but for this season it will have to be squash. While the border is currently under construction, I have potted the squash on to buy a bit more time but it is a race to get this border prepared and ready for planting before the squash become too large. They were already germinated late so it might be touch and go at harvest time. I’m not sure I even like squash. The fact that the very first large border in the garden was created out of a need to deal with vegetables – of all plants – somehow feels insulting.

This to-be border was hard work but very satisfying because it feels as though an important piece in a large garden jigsaw puzzle has just been put in place. Though I don’t need to just yet, I may continue marking out further borders and covering them with fabric so I can get a feel for how the garden will look, even though there are no plants to go in them yet. As I’ve discovered, it’s always handy to have a border available as you never know when you’ll be given free plants and seeds that need dealing with quickly, even if they’re perhaps not your favourite.

16 Comments


  1. Oh Sunil! Send me down some squash!! Got any butternut? Squash is a great vegetable for many reasons, but for me, it’s the “no preparation” thing. Cut the squash in half, scoop out seeds (and in your case throw them away, or you are going to have the same problems next year…) turn the two peices flesh side down on a baking sheet, spinkle with olive oil and bake (not very long, if you can push a skewer through quickly, they should be done).

    Now ring the Macs and invite them to supper (!), or add to plate and eat. And of course, its a good base for soup. And veggies are so good for you. Good luck with the bed. And another question. Would planting potatoes help with that soil? As it is given over to veg anyway this year, does it matter what else goes in?

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    1. Hi Mrs Mac, that’s some good advice and tips. I don’t like to get too familiar with vegetables and it’s often a challenge to get in five a week, let alone five a day. The border was created in a semi-emergency for the squash, I’m not actually planning to plant it up proper or put anything further in it (even if it is just temporary) as I’ve too many other things on the go at the moment. I’m currently doing work to try and reduce the amount of maintenance work I need to do hence creating a border for the squash to save me from having to water and feed them daily if they remained in pots. It’s the same with creating the side border along the fence to let me plant out shade-loving plants before they cooked in their pots on the exposed patio.

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  2. I love the curves in this new bed! Straight lines in a garden bother me. Roses lined up like soldiers are down right depressing. But a curvy voluptuous bed is a beautiful sight, indeed. It will look wonderful stuffed with squash. 🙂 Getting plants off the patio is a wise choice if they’re baking. You can always rearrange them later.

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    1. Hi Tammy, gaps have begun to appear in the patio pot plant collection where I’ve gone and planted out the two small borders we have but it’s a slow process but at least if they’ve been dug up once, then they can be dug up again and it’ll save me a lot of watering work.

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  3. I’d rather see roses that squash, but whatever you plant there it looks to be a handsome new bed!

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    1. The squash is only temporary, I’m planning to fill the bed with bare root roses in the late winter (so best get my order in soon!). A glorious mix of fragrant David Austin Old English shrub roses will be the order of the day for this bed and I’m going to try and really cram them all in!

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  4. I’ll keep my eyes open for squash recipes. Then again you can always give all of it to neighbors. You’ll be known as that nice man who is always giving away squash. I would say your project definitely qualifies as a new bed, and you will have lots of room for new plants. But as you say, digging one bed will only make you greedy for more.

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    1. I hope they store well too, there might be a glut of them in Autumn, if I can get them planted in time and the weather is good. I do need to get started on the other new beds now, if just to put the current one into context.

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      1. Around here in late summer people are warned that if they leave their car doors unlocked they might find a basket of zucchini on the seat when they return.

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        1. That’s hilarious! I can just imagine unwitting people’s cars being loaded up with excess produce when they’re not looking.

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  5. The curves of that new bed are lovely. 12 squash plants is a lot of squash! I hope you are collecting squash recipes. If these are what are called “winter squash” (as opposed to “summer squash”) in the US, most varieties will keep quite a long time in a cool place. You can also cook them using Mrs. Mac’s strategy and then puree and freeze the cooked squash. And just think how much easier it will to get those roses in next year now that you’ve created the bed.

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    1. Hi Jean, I’ve got several recipe books that I can look through if we do end up with a glut of squash, I’ve no idea whether these are winter or summer ones though, it’s just good that squash do tend to store well for a long time in general. I’ll be much happier when there are roses in the bed instead, I hope I can catch this coming winter for planting bare root roses. Shopping for those will be a lot of fun!

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      1. I think what we call summer squash in the US is what you call marrows in the UK. They do not tend to be long keepers, and I don’t think they’re anywhere near as interesting or varied as the winter squash (some of which, by the way, are also great for making pie).

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  6. You had better learn to love eating squash – if not, I am sure your new neighbours will appreciate a little garden produce.
    It is all coming along brilliantly, isn’t it? I am particularly impressed with the shine on your lawn edger. I hope that’s because it’s new and not because you have been busy with the silver polish!

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    1. Hello Sarah, I’m going to minimise my intake of squash and palm as much off to the parents and neighbours as I can. That lawn edger is very well polished since it’s one of the tools I use most often and it’s going to get used a lot more too since this is only the first bed of many I’ve got planned.

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  7. Breaking new ground is always daunting but one should forge ahead as you are doing. Having some good basic principles as you do will insure consistency and a holistic approach.
    I grow squash from seed and start a few more than I need and then end up planting them all. This summer is no exception but we have started eating the summer squash when they are only 4 inches long – that way we might be able to keep up with them. As for winter squash, if they are well cured one has all winter to use them.

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