Garden Borders – Bark V Slate Chippings

Once upon  a time, most gardens contained a lawn, some flower beds, borders with shrubs, a hedge maybe and lots of colour. Then, sometime in the fairly recent past, some people were sold the “low maintenance” garden dream and along came concrete, slate and other non degrading materials.

I’m not saying that some slate, concrete or stone isn’t required on a modern day garden. A patio, pathway and some concrete structures around the garden can look nice. Stone borders can do a fantastic job as can gravel and other aggregates. However, their main selling point (hard wearing and long lasting) can also be their biggest negative feature.

I went to a new clients last week to do a tidy up. Its a good time to do it because everything has died back, making it much easier and less destructive. On one side of the garden, it looked like half of it had been covered in slate chippings and the rest of it hadn’t. It was also clear that not nearly enough of the slate chippings had been used, so there were little gaps everywhere.

However when I looked more closely, the other half of the border was covered (too thinly again) in these little slate chippings but they were buried under a couple of years worth of leaves, twigs and other debris, some of which was already decomposed. My only option was to uncover the slates, take them all out, clean them off and replace them. It was time consuming and to be honest, it still didn’t look great.

So the client now has really only 2 choices. Go out an buy a load more chips and put them down over the top of the others or take up all of the chips and use a different material altogether. The problem here of course is that option one is going to cost money and option 2 is not only going to take time but they are going to be have to be disposed of. Slate chips certainly don’t qualify as “green” waste.

Border chippings serve a number of purposes. They are decorative, they are good for drainage but also, they can put back something to the soil (mulch). Bark chippings will decompose over time and put nutrients back into the soil. In fact, if you make chippings from waste from your own garden (as we do for our clients), that’s going to be pretty much the best mulch you can ever get.

Slate chippings won’t decompose. You will not be putting anything back into the soil and if you think they are easier to keep clean, that only works if you have enough of them to block any debris that falls on them. You then of course create another problem, too many of them, in hot weather and what little rain we do get, might not get through to the soil below, it will just dry off on the hot stones.

It probably won’t damage your plants but it can’t be doing the soil below much good and you may need to water your plants even more.

Many modern day landscapers like to work with slate, concrete and stone. They come from a building background and have worked with aggregates all of their lives. Slate doesn’t die so they can throw it on knowing exactly what it’s going to look like and what the end result will be. When the job is complete, the stone will look clean and tidy and will probably have been given a quick “wash” to make it look nice and shiny, like beach pebbles.

The trouble is, it will dry and then it will just look like grey slate. It won’t attract any wildlife, and it won’t contribute anything back to your soil.

Garden maintenance really doesn’t have to be a slog. A little and often approach should keep any garden in order and…. You know what…. If you don’t want to do it yourself, give somebody like me a call in your local area 🙂