Rather than plant borders all at once, try planting flower bed borders in stages. As with any gardening task, plan ahead and do your homework. Ask questions. For instance, is there enough space to accommodate a flower border? In order to complement the surrounding landscape, make sure that the flower border is large enough to create a pleasing visual effect, but keep it small enough to maintain easily.
The length of flower borders usually depends on what is being bordered (walkway, property line, etc.), while the width is ultimately determined by your available space. Wide borders allow the opportunity to use a variety of flowers, layering them with varying heights, forms, and textures. Nonetheless, the size and shape of a flower border should stay within a suitable proportion to its surroundings; otherwise, it will look out of place.
Depending on the style of your home, borders can have straight, formal edges or they can take on a more natural appearance with a curved, meandering edge. Flower borders placed around the outer edges of a landscape or within certain areas of the home (along walks and foundations) provide a tidier appearance than sporadic beds within the lawn. Borders can easily be worked into any landscape, fitting any design scheme.
What overall purpose will the flower border serve? For instance, if you’re hoping to screen an unsightly view, group together tall, flamboyant plantings with dense foliage. This also works well for creating privacy. Arranging flowers in groups rather than in rows can also make straight borders seem less overpowering. On the other hand, straight borders can be softened by incorporating a slight curve within the center or to one end as well.
Most flower borders are planted along fences, near buildings or similar structures, and along the edges of walks, paths, or driveways simply for aesthetic purposes. Using mulch, decorative edging, or even plants to edge borders will make them more attractive. This is also a good way to reduce overall maintenance such as weeding and mowing.
Double borders are commonly seen along the sides of paths or along property lines. Often, double borders consist of straight edges and a formal appearance, though this needn’t be the case. Formal borders are commonly located along walkways or the foundation of homes. Typically, these borders consist of neatly pruned shrubs and subtle plantings.
Nearly any type of flower can be used for borders. Choosing plants with long-lasting blooms will provide interest throughout the seasons. To keep your borders appealing year round, try planting spring-blooming bulbs along with cool-season annuals. Follow these with beautiful summer-flowering perennials and fall plantings like asters and chrysanthemums. Foliage plants and ornamental grasses will continue to hold interest throughout the winter months as will seed heads from late summer and fall flowers.
As the name implies, perennial borders are filled with perennial plantings. Most are not formal in appearance but curve slightly and are usually edged with small perennial plantings, such as candytuft.
Mixed borders have it all. Located amongst shrubs and small trees, mixed borders are home to an array of plants, from bulbs, annuals, and perennials to grasses, vines, and ground covers. Most mixed borders have an untamed appearance and flow naturally within the landscape. Accents such as birdbaths and ornamental pieces are usually incorporated for further interest as well.
Herbaceous borders often consist of backdrops such as walls, fences, or hedges. These borders provide height and are great for use as screens. Herbaceous borders are also good choices for climbing plants.
I like to structure gardens so that there’s something eye-catching on each level. I find that it’s often easy to forget about the plants right at your feet. So, when you’re planning your garden, consider these plants for forming borders, either in a bed or along a path. Some of these do really well in containers too!
1. Tricolor Sage
This perennial herb is just gorgeous! It’s an edible as well as an ornamental. The leaves have the same sage flavor that you know and love, but the green leaves on the tricolor sage feature a white edge with pink and purple coloring. In the summer, its lavender-blue blooms will bring butterflies to the garden!
Tricolor sage reached about 18″ tall and grows best in full sun. It prefers drier, sandy soil.
I plant plenty of nasturtiums every year. I love a small bouquet of the blooms, and the spicy foliage is great in salads and cream cheese dip. On a more practical level, nasturtiums will protect tomatoes from aphids and whiteflies. Plant nasturtiums around the base of fruit trees to help repel insects.
These little beauties are so easy to grow. They need partial to full sun, and the only soil requirement is that it’s well-drained. Once you plant nasturtiums, just let them be!
3. Moss Phlox
Moss phlox is such a low-maintenance plant. It’s drought tolerant and fills in spaces really nicely, which is why you may hear it referred to as “creeping phlox.” It can grow to 6 inches tall and can spread a couple of feet out. Moss phlox bursts into bloom in April and May and is perfect for a butterfly garden.
Moss phlox thrives in well-drained soil in full sun and can tolerate sandy and rocky soil.
4. Laguna™ Sky Blue Lobelia
I’m not one to pick favorites, but I do love the color blue. This has to be the best heat-tolerant lobelia on the market. In my very Southern garden, I can grow this gorgeous sky blue flower. These lobelias are so perky and bright. I like to plant extras of these to make sure the blue color shines through all summer, and they’re a magnet for butterflies.
This lobelia can grow to be a foot tall and 1-2 feet wide. Plant in partial to full sun and well-drained soil.
5. Goldilocks Rocks® Bidens
This annual belongs to the aster family. This particular variety is compact and features bright golden yellow flowers. These bidens can grow up to 14 inches and are great as edging or as a groundcover. These bidens are also heat and drought tolerant.
Plant in full sun in average soil.
6. Sweet Alyssum
Also known as Lobularia, sweet alyssum gets its name from its fragrant blooms. It thrives in a variety of climates and is both heat and drought tolerant. Some varieties will stop blooming if the summer heat gets really high. Some varieties like ‘Snow Princess’ have been developed to keep blooming through the summer heat waves.
Plant sweet alyssum in well-drained soil with moderate moisture. If you have mild summers, plant sweet alyssum in full sun. Here in the South where summers can be intense, I plant mine in part sun.
7. Lemon Ball Stonecrop
Look at the gorgeous foliage on this plant! Lemon ball stonecrop, also known as Sedum mexicanum, is a beautiful succulent that does wonders in the garden. Because it’s drought and heat tolerant, its chartreuse foliage will give your garden bold color through the season and you’ll be treated to yellow blooms in summer.
Plant in average, dry soil and partial to full sun. Stonecrop also can tolerate rocky and sandy soil if there’s good drainage.
You have lots of choices when it comes to landscape edging. Hardscape elements, such as brick, are often homeowners' first choice for edging, but plants can provide a beautiful, blooming focus for the very front of flowerbeds, too. Try one of these best plants for landscape edgers in your yard.
Edging your landscape creates a crisp, finished look. Beds and borders seem to sparkle when there's a clear edge between the planting area and your lawn, driveway, sidewalk, or another landscape bed.
Traditional edging, such as brick, stone, or steel, does a fantastic job of keeping plants in the bed while keeping the lawn out, but it isn't always attractive. Fix that with plants!
Alyssum. Compact and fast-growing, alyssum is an annual in most areas. It sends up dense, tiny fragrant white flowers (varieties with pink, lavender, and cream flowers are available, too) and, if cut back, will bloom fairly continuously throughout the growing season. Zones 5-9 Learn more about sweet alyssum.
Barrenwort. A top pick for edging shaded landscape beds, barrenwort is a perky little perennial that blooms in spring with spidery flowers in shades of pink, purple, orange, yellow, and white. Many varieties have attractive foliage that turns bronzy in autumn. Zones 5-9 Learn more about barrenwort.
Bloody geranium. It may sound a little scary, but bloody geranium picked up its colorful moniker from the bold red shades its leaves change to in autumn. It also blooms in late spring and sporadically throughout early autumn. Bloody geranium is a beautiful edging plant for sunny or lightly shaded spots. Zones 4-8 Learn more about perennial geraniums.
Japanese forestgrass. One of the few grasses that thrives in shade, Japanese forestgrass forms compact mounds of gracefully arching foliage. It's an amazing accent along the edges of a bed or border. Zones 5-9 Learn more about Japanese forestgrass.
Lady's mantle. Beautiful lady's mantle has scallop-shape leaves covered in fine hairs. It gives the foliage a glistening effect in early morning or evening light and also catches dewdrops. Lady's mantle blooms in early summer with clusters of chartreuse flowers and makes for an elegant landscape edge. Zones 4-7 Learn more about lady's mantle.
Sedum. Clumping, upright sedum varieties such as 'Matrona' add fall flair to the landscape and create a neat edge for taller plants behind them. Most sedum varieties are attractive to butterflies and hold up well to heat and drought. Zones 3-10 Learn more about sedum.
Thrift. Thrift is a delightful perennial that offers tidy mounds of grassy foliage and little rounded clusters of bright pink or white flowers from late spring to early summer. It loves full sun and well-drained soil. Zones 3-9 Learn more about thrift.
Tish Treherne's garden on Bainbridge Island, Washington, features a variety of warm colors that do well in the shade.
Plants like Spiraea japonica ‘Goldflame,’ Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’ (foreground) and a grassy Deschampsia flexuosa ‘Aurea’ carry their hues throughout the border for overall harmony.
Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’ arches over the top: “I particularly like trees whose bright red or orange fall color floats above blue or chartreuse foliage,” says the designer.
Design: Tish Treherne, Bliss Garden Design (206/799-0897)
Try using tires as your edging. Paul Farber is the author of a book called Tire Recycling is Fun and one of his ideas is to cut the sidewalls off of a used tire, and then cut across the tread. This gives you a two to three foot piece of edging that can define your border. Depending on the tire size, they can be up to 6″ high, and they are indestructible.
They don’t rot, dogs don’t chew on them, and you can get them free almost anywhere. You just need to be careful of the wires if you cut a steel belted tire because they are sharp!
Jonathan in NM
Piet Oudolf has used a series of mound shaped plants in large drifts to create easily-recognisable patterns at Trentham Gardens. Image: Chris Denning/Verve Garden Design
When we first look at a scene such as a garden border, there is a bit of a hierarchy in what we perceive first. Usually it is the outlines of familiar shapes that we notice first. A series of similar, well-defined plant shapes will be recognised more quickly than a jumble of many different shapes.
Repeated upright plant shapes of Iris, Salvia, Verbascum and grasses. Designers: Andrew Wilson & Gavin McWilliam. Image: Chris Denning/ Verve Garden Design
In garden and landscape design the overall shape of a plant is more usually known as the plant form. Plants can be upright, columnar, mound-shaped, cascading, horizontal spreading, weeping, vase shaped, spiky, oval etc. Repeating the same form, or a restrained number of different forms makes a much more successful border design. In the image above, a series of mounded forms are used, with contrast provided by colour and texture. In the image to the left, all of the plants have upright forms, again with varying texture and colour to add interest. In the more formal garden below, repetition is used in the mound shapes of the Buxus balls, in the rectangular hedges, in the vase shapes of the pink Phlox and in the spreading horizontal effect of the white flowers in pots. The columnar tree trunks are also repeated.
However, formal or informal you want your borders to be, try to repeat some plant forms either more frequently for a formal effect or less frequently in a more informal style.
Repeated plant shapes used to great effect in this formal garden at Wollerton Old Hall. Image: Chris Denning/ Verve Garden Design