Landscaping Tips for Creating a Border

Border gardens are exactly what you’d picture from the name: gardens longer than they are wide or wider than they are deep that run alongside (border) a walkway or house, or serve to separate one section of the yard from another. English gardens are famous for their lush, blowsy mixed borders full of interesting plant sizes and textures. These gardens look impressive when they grow in, so people assume they’re difficult to design. They’re not, though. Here are some landscaping tips for creating a border.

Choose a color scheme:

Borders planted with contrasting colors (colors that are opposite of each other on the color wheel) such as red, yellow, and blue/purple, create dramatic visual effects in the landscape. Borders planted with analogous colors (colors that are next to each other on the color wheel, or shades of one color) are more peaceful to look at. Shades of pink, from hot pink to pastel pink, combined with white and silver would provide a more calming visual. Hot colors (red, pink, yellow, orange) are more dramatic and cool colors (green, blue, purple, silver) are more subdued.

Create a plant combination:

The secret to designing a sophisticated border garden is variety in plant material. That means, mix it up with perennials, trees, shrubs, ornamental grasses, bulbs, and annuals. That can seem like a lot to juggle, and whether you can incorporate a tree or two depends on your space. If you’re new to design, start with perennials and shrubs.

You don’t have to choose 25 different plants, though. Make a combo! You are probably used to doing this with container gardens—picking one big feature plant, and then a couple of other plants to fill out the design and carry out the color scheme. Border gardens are the same, just on a bigger scale. Select plants with similar sun and water needs.

Here is a combo made entirely from First Editions® plants:

Cotton Candy™ Phlox:

Lambrusco™ Barberry:

Sky High™ Juniper:

This plant combo of pink, burgundy, and silvery-green falls on the analogous color scale. They are all sun lovers with medium water needs. The Juniper likes it a little bit on the drier side, but should be fine with the other plants. The combo gives you varying heights, forms, and textures, and year-round interest.

Repeat the plant combination:

The way you make a border garden from a group of plants is to repeat the combo. Plant perennials in ratios of 3:1 for shrubs and 5:1 or 7:1 for trees. For example, one juniper to three to five barberries and one barberry to three to five phlox plants. Depending on how large your space is you can repeat that combo two or three times to instantly get that “professionally-designed” look.

If you have space, incorporate a few more plants into the combo. Ornamental grasses add movement and fine texture that few other plants offer. Selecting a few other pink-flowering perennials that bloom at different times than the phlox would round out the example combo nicely, as well.

The trick is to find a picture of a border you like and observe its characteristics. What colors are repeated? Are they repeated by use of the same plant, or a different plant with the same color of leaves or flowers? What forms are repeated? Are there lots of columnar shapes in the garden, and are they the same plant or different plants?

Border design is a balancing act between contrast and repetition. Don’t be afraid to set out your plant combo in the parking lot of the garden center to eyeball it. If it looks interesting, buy multiples and plant. If all of the plants look the same, go back to the sales area and look for something to make it pop!