Wondering how to design a garden border that gives your yard style and character? You can create a nonliving border, living border or a combination of both.
Determine your soil’s condition, how much sun the area gets, and then decide on a theme for your garden border. To do this, you must understand your own reasons for wanting edging around your bed. This will help you figure out which garden border design is best for your style, needs and desires.
Today’s article takes you through pre-planning your border design and how to complete your tasks without becoming overwhelmed. You’ll also learn the benefits of garden borders and 15 different design ideas for living borders or softscapes.
Last summer, I grew zinnias along the border of my lawn, which leads from my front yard to the front porch. It was one of the most boring borders I’ve ever seen. Why? Because I didn’t understand how to create contrast and cohesiveness at the same time using different colors and textures. So, I’m sharing some things with you that I’ve learned since then.
3 Questions to Ask Before Designing a Garden Border
If you’re wondering how to design a garden border, you’ve come to the right place. There are many different options for edging your beds. Some include living things, like bushes, shrubs, flowers and plants. Others feature nonliving garden borders, which are much less dramatic and eye-popping. Some examples of items used to create nonliving borders include:
However, if you want borders that pop and capture attention, living garden borders are a much better idea. They are more aesthetically pleasing and they are interchangeable, unlike hardscape borders.
But before you can plan out the gorgeous greenery you want to use for your borders, you have to consider other important factors. Yes, this part may sound a bit boring. But it’s extremely important to the planning process.
Answer the following four questions before deciding on your border design:
1. What’s the Condition of Your Soil?
There are many kinds of soil. They run from loamy, sandy or clay-like to alkaline, acidic or neutral. You have to understand what types of plants you can grow in your type of soil successfully based on what each variety prefers.
Yes, you can definitely improve your soil’s quality over time with regular amendments. But for now, you must work with what you have. You can have your soil tested for free by your local Cooperative Extensions Office. Or you can do a DIY soil test yourself.
DIY Soil Type Test
For the DIY method, use these steps to determine whether your soil is loam, sandy or clay:
- Grab a fistful of your soil
- Mix it with water
- Squeeze the mixture into a ball
- Use this infographic from Safer Brand to determine your soil’s type
DIY pH Testing
You can also test your soil’s pH level yourself. All you need is a cheap pH testing kit for soil. They are sold online and at your local big box stores, such as Lowe’s and Home Depot. Then, follow these steps to determine whether your soil is acidic, alkaline or neutral:
- Grab some of your soil
- Mix it with some water
- Add it to the DIY test tube
- Shake the tube well
- Wait a few minutes
- Check the color
- Match the color to the kit’s chart to get your results
2. How Much Sun Does the Border Get?
There are three main categories when it comes to the amount of sunshine an area gets:
- Full Sun – More than six hours of direct sunshine per day
- Partial Shade – Between four to six hours of direct sunlight per day
- Full Shade – Between no sunlight to no more than four hours of direct sunshine per day
When it comes to full shade, there are two different categories:
- Dry Shade – Areas that are rarely exposed to water, such as under covered balconies, eaves, canopies and porches
- Damp Shade – Areas that stay damp most of the time, like under trees lining waterways
Even if your border area gets little to no sunshine, you can still create it using greenery. You’ll just have to choose plants and flowers that thrive in such conditions.
3. What’s the Theme of Your Garden Borders?
There are many different types of themes for gardens. Some are common, while others are completely unique to the gardener. It all depends on the look and feel you want, combined with the types of plants that will thrive in your growing conditions.
Here are some ideas for garden border themes:
- Color Theme – Choose one specific color. Then, add plants and flowers in various shades of hues of that color to give it life.
- Butterfly Garden – Find which butterflies are common in your local area. Then, choose host plants to feed young butterflies and nectar plants for the full-grown adults.
- Wildlife Theme – Uses birdhouses, ponds, birdbaths, flowers, plants and the natural surroundings to bring in beneficial insects, birds and other animals.
- Perfume Garden – These gardens feature plants and flowers the give off strong aromas. They can later be clipped to create floral bouquets or dried to make potpourri.
- Secret Garden – Find a quiet place tucked away in the corner of your yard. Enclose it to create privacy using a gated arbor or hide it away behind densely planted flowers and plants that grow past six feet tall and add a bench or chair. Now you have a tranquil area to read, enjoy your morning cup of coffee or plan your next garden bed in peace.
Tackling Big Projects
Digging up grass, tilling dirt, amending soil, sowing seeds, planting transplants… There’s just so much to do when you start a garden to grow your own food. Then, you still have to plan out and design your garden border, which can all sound so overwhelming if you’re not prepared.
So, how should you tackle a big project like this without losing your momentum before completing it? The best way is to come up with an overall theme and break the tasks up into phases or parts.
For example, let’s say that your garden is a series of books. Each section of your garden is a book within that series. Start with one border at a time, looking at each one as a chapter of its book. Now, plan your borders one chapter (or block) at a time:
- Make a list of your favorite flowers, arranged by bloom time and color
- Assign each block a specific color scheme
- Create combinations of colors that bloom around the same time
Classic, Dramatic Look
These garden styles feature bright colors. Choose one color to dominate each block and no more than three others to accentuate it. For example, if you choose hot red as your dominant color, you can add oranges and yellows to help it pop.
Purple Color Scheme Example
As you know, my favorite color is purple. So, I love the look and feel of deep purple salvias combined with lavender petunias, silver-green astelias and blue ground ivies. You can use a different color theme for each block. Or you can repeat colors and plants from block to block for a rhythmic feel. This is what I tend to do simply because I have OCD.
4 Benefits of Creative Bed Edging
Garden bed borders, or bed edging, serve multiple purposes. Understanding which purposes are most important to you can help you choose the best border style for your garden. So, let’s discuss four advantages of garden borders:
1. Control Garden Components
Without a border, your amended soil, mulch, rocks, even plants may find themselves on pathways and other places outside of the bed. They are easily blown away or washed out when they’re not contained. Edging keeps them inside the beds where they belong.
Borders also help keep the roots of your plants from growing outside the designated area, while keeping your grass within the lawn. All of this helps your garden bed stay looking pleasing to the eyes and your plants healthy and thriving.
2. Define Garden Space
Garden edges distinctly mark off where your garden bed starts and ends. Whether the borders are curved or straight, they define the space between the bed itself and the rest of the garden.
If you plan to use a nonliving border, try to design your border first. Then, install your flowers based on the design. For living garden borders, they should be designed simultaneously so the look flows.
3. Maintaining the Area
Mowing and edging grass, as well as pulling up weeds is so much easier when borders are involved. The plants inside the border are safe from these tasks because the edging protects them. And because borders separate the rest of your lawn from the bed itself, it’s easier to control fertilizing and watering too.
4. Pleasing to the Eyes
Garden borders make the area look much more aesthetically pleasing by creating crisp, clean lines. For example, neutral-colored, nonliving borders allow your flowers and plants to act as the colorful stars of the show. One example of this is large stones placed along the edges of the bed.
14 Living Garden Border Design Ideas with Examples
Whether you’re going for a rustic look or a romantic feel, garden borders complete your bed. They give it a sense of charm while showing off your own personal style. Here are 15 living garden border design ideas to help you define your yard space:
1. Bright-Colored Perennials
If you have a bright, colorful personality, why not dedicate your border to showcasing and mimicking it? For example, you can create a border design dedicated to the color pink, but with other color variations to compliment your main color.
Create a border full of pink azaleas and dahlias. Then, add subtle splashes of blue hostas, green daylilies and maroon hollyhocks. This will give your garden bed a sophisticated look.
2. Colorful Three Seasons
This is a great border design for garden lovers who like perennials and like to plant from seeds. Sow seeds of flowers that bloom for one season, die off, then return when that season rolls around again. Then, sow new perennials for the following season. This is a form of succession planting. Some examples of the three seasons method include:
- Sow hellebore seeds in the winter for spring blooms. They are very resilient plants that can take the snow and ice. When the snow melts, they perk right up, giving you beautiful blooms that following spring.
- Sow oriental lily seeds in the spring for summer blooms. Whether you choose tall or short varieties, the collection of colors are sure to be show-stoppers in your summer garden.
- Sow Cosmo seeds in the summer for fall blooms. They germinate in soil above 70 degrees Fahrenheit. And depending on the variety, they bloom in about 45-65 days for a magnificent-looking fall crop.
3. Edging a Sidewalk
For a classic look, create sidewalk borders by pairing Iceberg roses with boxwood. Use the boxwood to create strong, distinctive lines along the border. Then, soften up the look by adding droves of Iceberg roses and allowing them to eloquently drape over the hedge. Add some pebbles or pavers under the hedges for a complete look.
4. Edible Garden Path
This one is my personal preference because I love maximizing my edible growing space. Instead of focusing on flowers, choose vegetables, fruits and herbs you like to eat. Pops of color and nice aromas add to the feel of the area as well.
When it comes to edible garden borders, choosing a color scheme is the best way to create a unified look. For example, my front flower bed has a purple garden theme. So, it contains the following crops, all in purple of course:
- Mustard Greens
- Bush Beans
- Peppers (Bell & UFO)
5. Flowers & Edibles Combined
For this garden border style, choose veggies and herbs with very colorful foliage. Then, choose ornamental grasses and flowers that look amazing when combined with them.
For example, let’s say you want to grow purple and lime green basils. Use lime and purple as your main color schemes. Then, you can add yellow yarrows, orange emperor tulips and red calibrachoas to help the purple edibles stand out.
6. Focal Frame
Think of your garden as a canvas. Upon completion, your canvass needs a frame to complete the look. Your garden border acts as that frame for your bed’s focal point.
One example would be using a large, green garden umbrella as the focal point of a bed. Create a garden border that acts as a frame to the umbrella by surrounding it with orange pretoria canna lilies, orangish-red Bishop of Llandaff dahlias, along with reddish-orange and green Tropicanna cannas.
7. Foliage Border
Interested in a living border for your garden but not really into flowers? No problem. You can still create a dramatic, layered look without them. Just use cool blends of small trees and shrubs with branches and leaves that create contrasts in shape, texture, size and color.
Instead of a focal point, you want every plant to stand out on its own. So, install hostas or some other plants with big leaves next to some with fine leaves, like native fairy bells. Then, give your mainly green color scheme some pops of color by adding multi-colored plants with palettes of purple, bronze and gold, like fritillaria michailovskyi.
8. Herb Border
If uniform colors aren’t a priority, plant herbs you actually eat regularly around the border of your garden bed. Once their roots are established in the ground, they require little watering. And you only have to fertilize them occasionally.
Many herbs are also great at helping suppress weeds while putting fresh herbs right at your fingertips. Some great herbal options include English lavender, oregano, thyme, basil, coriander (cilantro), dill, parsley and sage.
Note: Never plant mints directly in your garden beds because they are very invasive and will completely take over. Instead, plant them in pots that you can strategically place in the garden.
9. Lawn Accents
Have a unique garden area that literally curves into your lawn? A border is an artistic way to effectively define the space between the lawn and the garden bed itself. Add visual interest with brightly colored living border accents filled with orangish-yellow alstroemerias and red kangaroo paws.
10. Ornamental Grass
Various types of grasses help weave together all the garden’s other plants. They are graceful threads that allow everything in the bed to act in conjunction with each other to create a cohesive look. Add more light, texture, sound and motion to your garden by edging it with ornamental grasses like festuca glauca.
11. Pool Garden Border
Looking for a simpler look for your pool garden bed border? Well, no rule says all borders must be complex or large to scream with visual impact.
You can choose just four or five plants to keep things simple as a border around the garden near your pool. For a cool look, try a combination like silvery dusty Millers, electric blue and violet lobelias, sea lavenders and purple African daisies.
12. Shade Lovers
If your border gets partial or no shade, you must choose flowers that thrive in these conditions. For a stunning look, choose colors that create contrast in the bed. One example is combining red and purple Japanese maples with heart-shaped hosta leaves, whose colors transform from a buttery, light yellow to a dark, forest green to a gorgeous powdery blue.
13. Soften a Fence
Have a fence or wall in your yard that stands out more than your greenery? Looking for ways to soften it up so your flowers outshine that unsightly thing?
Create a leafy green screen using colorful foliage plants such as purple fountain grass. Grasses add color, style and texture in front of walls and fences, especially if you don’t want to plant flowers.
14. Sun Lovers
If your border area gets full sun (at least six hours of direct sunlight), you have numerous options. Choose a specific color scheme or choose color combinations that soothe your spirit.
Purple and yellow asters look amazing when surrounded by candytuft cover flowers. Or make your sunny border stand out with a combination of red coleus accented by yellow sedums.
About THE AUTHOR
Kiesha Joseph is an avid gardener dedicated to simple urban gardening on a budget. She enjoys sharing her Zone 9B Inland Empire, California experiences, as well as inexpensive DIY landscaping techniques. She loves experimenting in the garden, even if the project seems to be a failure. According to her, she does not learn from her successes. She learns from her failures. And that’s why she is determined to keep experimenting.Read more about Kiesha Joseph