Border plants are used as edging to fill out borders and to mark the boundaries of the beds in your garden. While you might immediately assume that they are small because they’re usually at the front, there are a wide variety of heights and shapes to choose from.
The choices can be overwhelming, even to someone who is practiced at planning out their borders, but there are ways to narrow it down and get the exact look you’ll be happy with.
Why Border Plants?
While you could have a bed of the same plants repeating over and over, which makes for a striking design in some cases, there’s a lot to be said about having some variety within your planting scheme.
Border plants are the best way to do this. They help ‘soften’ the look of any border, adding height, variation and color, which helps stop garden borders from looking too rigid or too formal.
You’ll also notice the difference in the way you feel. If your eyes have something to focus on, a varied landscape of different heights, shapes, and colors, it looks much more natural, and because it feels less rigid, you’ll find yourself relaxing.
Border plants are a great way to express your creativity, as well as fleshing out your garden, immediately telling you where one border ends and another begins.
They can be used in any kind of bed or to line any sort of path, some only for decorative purposes, while others help create boundaries.
They also stop the soil from eroding, keeping it where it should be. Clever planting decisions will also increase the amount of pollinators in your garden, keeping away pests and improve its overall health.
You can also use border plants to deter intruders, if you use the right type. Thorny climbers, for example, are great for fences, walls, and under downstairs windows to keep your property secure.
How to Make the Right Border Choices for Your Garden
The first thing you need to do – if you don’t already – is know your garden. There is no greater advice that I can give you than this, as it’s the most vital step, but it can take the longest time to get right.
If you don’t know which way your garden faces, grab a compass. You can also use an app for this, but it may be less accurate. You can also use a satellite image program, too.
Knowing if your garden is North-facing, for example, will mean that you’ll get the most sunlight during the morning, as your house will block most of the light. This will inform your planting choices, as you’ll need to choose plants that are happier in shade.
Get to know exactly how much sun your garden gets, when it gets it. Get to know the hottest, sheltered part, and the coldest, most exposed part.
Does the soil drain easily, or is it more boggy? Is it heavy, full of organic matter, or light and sandy? Dry, rockery areas are perfect for grasses, succulents and drought-tolerant plants, for example.
Look at the plants that are in your neighborhood, specifically those gardens closest to yours. They will have similar soil types, and maybe similar light requirements, which will give you a good idea of what will thrive in your own space.
Your border choices also need to match the size of the border. It’s no good getting a huge shrub that will dwarf the rest of the bed, and starve other plants of light and nutrients.
How cold does your garden get in winter? You’ll also need to match the plants to your area’s hardiness range.
How much time do you want to spend maintaining your plants? Pick ones according to your needs.
All of this information will help you narrow down the selection of plants, and while this is very specific, you’ll still be surprised at the range of plants you’ll have to choose from.
Plan it Out
One of the easiest ways to get started in picking your plants for borders is to pick about six plants you’d like to have that match your garden’s conditions and your own level of care expectations, while being plants that you’d like to show off.
Think about the color and the form of each plant, and where they would go in your garden. These will act as your focal points.
Then you can go for other plants that will compliment or contrast these six, and you have the basic idea of what you want your border to look like.
Look at the surrounding landscape for inspiration. If you are lucky enough to be surrounded by lots of greenery or trees, you can continue that greenery in your own garden using smaller but similar plants. This gives the illusion that your garden goes on forever.
Look for varying heights in your potential border plants. This will help naturalize the planting scheme, avoiding it becoming too rigid or looking too man-made.
Even if you’re planning a formal garden, you want some variety, otherwise you’ll feel bored or uninspired, and that’s not what gardening is about.
Border plants cannot be underestimated in your garden scheme. They do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to adding color and form into your garden, and getting varieties of heights, growth habits, foliage shapes, will also help you with this.
The Power of Research
Think about the end-goal. Is there a specific garden design or style you’d like to mimic in your own garden?
There are many to choose from, and you can recreate them on any scale, even if that’s a small patio, you can still take the elements you admire from certain art movements, garden trends, and make them your own.
But first you’ll have to look at what the common denominators are.
If you have a specific type in mind, such as a formal garden, or one of a particular period, go visit some. Have a look at how they’ve arranged their borders, and what similarities you’ll find between each.
Certain movements, designs, adopt the same techniques, no matter how large or small a space is.
For example, formal garden designs are extremely manicured, often featuring box or another hedge to define different beds in the garden. They also draw your eye down a path, making you feel compelled to follow it.
If you’d prefer more of a cottage garden, have a look at the types of plants they include. It’s usually a mixture of climbers, crops, and perennials, where beauty blends with edible plants.
Or if you’re more into a prairie type garden, you can achieve this too in a big or a small space. Look at types of grasses you can grow, late perennials which would provide a good contrast, and a mixture of heights and color.
Even if you want to only grow a certain type of plant, you can do that too. Some people hold the national collections of a certain type of plant, helping to preserve the species for the future.
Make sure that the style you choose and the plants it encompasses matches the conditions of your garden. If you live somewhere hot and dry, it’s no good trying to create a woodland garden, or a tropical garden that requires a lot of humidity.
On a Budget
You can also do any garden to a budget, if you’re smart about how you get your plants.
You can grow them from seed, buy perennial plants when they’re on sale during the later days of summer, and buy bulbs when it gets nearly too late to plant them for the following year.
Join seed-swapping groups or plant trades. Instead of buying a lot of the same plants, buy only a few and propagate them instead.
If You Prefer: Outsource the Planning
Maybe you don’t feel you know enough to design your own border, or you don’t have the time to dedicate to it.
Some companies specialize in just planning, and those will save you some money over companies that will do the lot for you.
They’ll give you a plan that will suit your specific space and plant requirements, and it’ll save you time and the expensive mistakes you would otherwise have to learn.
They’ll also be able to give you an all-year-round plan, to make your space look at its best no matter what season it is.
If you don’t have the time to narrow down the plants, and you just want something for now, why not plant annuals (see also our Top Annuals To Grow)? These will give you a good idea of what plants will thrive where, and they will also only last for one growing season, though they will look spectacular.
Categorize Your Potential Border Plants
When you come across a plant you’d like in your garden, add it to a list of potentials, and then have a definite list with plants that will thrive in the border you have in mind.
So now that you have the list of plants you’d like in your garden, and they match up to the conditions within your green space, it’s time to categorize them by type.
Always keep a key to one side of this chart, if you plan on abbreviating parts, otherwise you will forget.
List them by growth habits or size. Climbers, upright growers, dwarfs, standard plants, this will help you when it comes to arranging your borders.
Consider your edging plants, as these can be the most important.
They are what you’ll look at first, more often than not, and changing an edging plant can change the whole look or feel of a border, without having to change anything else.
Lay Your Plants Across the Beds Before You Start Digging
Once you’ve chosen your plants, and you’ve bought them, lay them out exactly where you planned, adjusting the scheme where necessary.
There’s a lot of difference between planning where plants will go and seeing them there in the flesh. Play around with where you want them, until it feels right.
Let them sit there for a few hours if you can, look at them from different angles and at different times in the day, and adjust as necessary.
Edging Plants You Should Consider
Here are just some of the border plants you should consider growing at least once, to get you started.
Herbaceous perennials work for any garden scheme imaginable, while attracting plenty of pollinators into your garden, and giving your outdoor space a wealth of color.
Also known as the coneflower, echinacea (see also Purple Echinacea Varieties) is a perfect choice for borders, as they hold their own against both taller and shorter plants.
Their medium height and abundance of color creates a real focal point, and they die off during winter and re-emerge in spring.
If you have a lot of space to fill, and you want something highly scented, phlox is the perfect choice. It will fill out any border without becoming invasive, while adding a wealth of height and color.
They are better for the middle or backs of borders, allowing smaller plants their space in the sun.
For border plants, you can’t go wrong with evergreen shrubs. They add a lot of texture into any planting scheme, and offset any flowers behind or in front of them.
If you’re looking to edge a sunny border or an entrance, lavender is the perfect choice (see also Types Of Lavender). It will add a plethora of fragrance into your garden, with sprays of color, while also attracting plenty of pollinators.
Perfect for the front or middle of a border or lining a path, Daphne is a large upright shrub which produces heavily scented flowers.
Some bloom during the winter months, while others appear in spring, but all will add a magical touch into your garden.
Also consider adding plants which are prized for their foliage, as this will help contrast any flowering plants beautifully.
Hostas are great plants for shady borders, providing dramatic and striking foliage which is also easy to get past.
They die back in the winter months, and come back in spring, but they will largely take care of themselves, but you will need to watch for slugs.
Crocosmia are renowned for their huge lance-shaped foliage, while also producing striking flowers which cascade over the leaves. They will blend into any planting scheme nicely.