Brick has been around since humans started gardening, and it still remains a solid choice for bordering beds as well as patios and walkways. Brick is subtle and earthy -- its muted tones blending beautifully with both soil and blooms, and because it is long-lasting, the delicate patina it develops with age makes it even more attractive.
Traditionally Stacked and Mortered
Perhaps the most useful way to use bricks as a border, is to stack and mortar them in the traditional way, exactly as with a wall. The process is a straightforward “one-over-two” pattern, called a “stretcher bond” that you can repeat to make the border as tall as necessary to achieve any flower bed design. This is an especially useful style for irregular spaces, such as slopes, because it allows you to level out a bed by filling in low spots in the landscape with extra courses and gradually decreasing the number of courses.
If brick-laying is not your forte, or you prefer a less permanent bed, you can achieve something of the same look by dry-stacking bricks. Use the traditional one-over-two style or space them apart in whatever pattern you prefer. Lay a solid row down first, then for the second row, begin spacing the bricks to make your chosen pattern. This method has the advantage of being intentionally impermanent and will serve its purpose while allowing you flexibility for future design changes.
Half-buried bricks, set on a slant and butted together closely, give a sawtooth effect that makes an interesting border for low beds -- especially near a walkway where a low curb is all that you want. Diagonal bricks are rarely more than one course high, and give a less formal look to the garden that stacked and straight styles.
Gain some height for your flower bed without using more than one course of bricks by turning them on end, vertically. A row of vertical bricks free-standing on a flat surface is the same height as two courses of dry-stacked bricks laid horizontally. Partially sinking them in the ground results in a stronger border. You can regain the loss of height by adding a single row of horizontal bricks as a kind of “cap” over the vertical row.
If you have access to a lot of bricks, make a wide border by doubling up on the rows. There are a number of design possibilities you can choose from using a double row that are impossible to do with only one row of bricks. One way to do this is to start with two parallel, end-to-end lines for one course, followed by a single, side-by-side course -- alternating them this way until you get the height you need. Another way is to alternate two pair of stacked horizontal bricks with two pair of vertical bricks, over and over to the end of the bed. Yet a third possibility is to simply change the orientation of the ends of pairs of horizontally stacked bricks in repetitions to outline the beds. Basketweave and herringbone styles are others to consider.
“Specials” is the term brick-layers use to denote any brick shape that is not rectangular. Look for oddly shaped, half, round, bullnoses or the more unusual quoins, cants and cills to add interest to your borders. Use your imagination to incorporate some of these unusual shapes into more standard patterns or make a border exclusively of them. Half the fun is in arranging and rearranging different bricks to make a border that is distinctively yours.