By Janalyn Fleming, Landscape Designer, Dundee Nursery and Landscaping
To berm or not to berm, that is the question. Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageously flat landscapes, or take arms against them and create “The Berm.”
I usually berm almost every garden I plan. I can’t help it, I really like the appeal of a planted mound of earth, whether large or small. It always shows off the plants to their advantage.
In case you’re wondering, a berm is a raised garden area, like a small hill, for the purpose of creating interest or height. With the right placement and plantings a berm can have many functions. A berm can help block an unappealing view and be planted with shrubs or evergreens for a privacy green screen. Or it can be a more subtle feature, useful in small garden areas, such as near foundations or along walkways. These mini berms are raised slightly, less than a foot, and often planted with smaller stature perennials, shrubs, and dwarf evergreens.
I’m of the natural-looks-better mindset for these raised garden areas. When planning a berm on a flat property, a long, undulating shape that gently rises out of the ground, looks more natural than a pimple-like bump in the lawn. A berm should have some peaks and valleys rather than all the same height and will also appear more natural by blending or connecting to an existing slope. And placing outcrop boulders in a steep-sided berm makes an interesting contrast for plants growing over and around the hard shapes, while helping to control erosion. One more thing I’d like to mention about shaping a berm; it’s important to be aware of water drainage, so that water runoff isn’t trapped in an unwanted place.
Apart from the aesthetics, another nice berm benefit is that many perennials perform better when growing in the looser soil of a berm than when planted in the compacted soil of the typical suburban yard. I like to use a garden mix soil, which is a blend of black soil and peat moss, then rake and shape the berm before planting. If possible, I plan a full garden, spacing so plants will be touching each other when mature, mimicking plants growing on their own in nature, but with a designer’s hand. Later on, this plant spacing will require less mulch coverage… oops, now I’m wandering into a different topic.
If something is rotten in the state of Denmark – or in your landscape – consider adding a berm. It is a much more pleasant subject to contemplate than poor Yorick’s skull.