Some of the most beautiful gardens have borders as their major accent. Having great trees, shrubs, flowers, or other showcase plants is what makes a garden beautiful, but all of this is framed for the mental picture by the borders created by the gardener’s brush.
Purpose of Border Plants
Border plants can have several purposes in the garden. Sometimes they are purely decorative, creating a demarcation between one area of the garden and another or creating a pathway transition. Other times, they are necessary to keep the edges of boxes or raised beds secure. Sometimes they are there as a barrier for some types of bugs, pests, or cross-pollination.
Whatever the reason, borders are also often aesthetic to go with that.
Using Perennials as Border Plants
Probably the most common choice for border plants are perennials. This is because the pathways and borders of a garden rarely change much from one year to the next and most gardeners focus on their showcase plants. Perennials are also more deeply rooted, so they’ll hold soil and position better than annuals will.
The actual plants you choose will vary, of course, depending on your zone, conditions, and preferences. Carnations, Abbotswood Rose, Echinacea, and similar plants are very popular in most North American zones, for example.
How to Select Border Plants
Your selection will depend on several factors. First, you’ll need to consider the area the borders are to be in and what types of weather they receive each year. Sunlight, soil conditions, how often they may be subjected to extra wear and tear from walkways or animals, etc. are all considerations here as well.
Next, the types of plants and the textures and colors they’ll add are important. Do you want a uniform border of ornamental grasses, a multi-colored border of carnations, or maybe a leafy border of thick ferns? Maybe it would look better if it were taller, creating a short wall around a centerpiece tree on a slight mound? These are the aesthetics to think about.
Next comes the maintenance, care, and how often you’ll have to work the plants to keep them looking great. Some plants are relatively maintenance-free once they’re established, but others will require regular care and may even need replanting every year.
Border Plant Garden Design
There’s a lot to consider when designing your garden space with border plants. Don’t forget your site selection and gardening zone when choosing border plants. Also, the height of the plants is key to your border plant selection. Larger plants you’re framing will be able to tolerate taller border plants. You’ll also want to keep in mind bloom cycles of border plants and your framed garden to keep your garden blooming all season. Have fun with the design, including the edging. Create a curvy border or a linear one, and make this framing garden space accent and enhance the garden or walkway.
Here are some examples of what to think about when designing a garden space with border plants:
Let’s say you have a shady area with a lot of overgrowth and you’d like to create a nice border around a specific round raised bed next to the path. That bed contains two hydrangeas that bloom beautifully and you’d like to border them with something deeply green to backdrop that color display. Your zone is a 6, so you choose an Ostrich Fern for its lovely, thick leaves and deep green color. You will have to trim it regularly to pull out any dead stems and to keep it low enough that it won’t interfere with the hydrangeas.
As another example, you have a walkway that receives full sun and you’d like to mark it off with a great border to go alongside the new stepping stone bricks you’ve laid for a path. You want to use something annual, however, as you’d like to change it up every year and really make the walkway a showpiece on this stretch through the garden. So you go with something pretty, blooming, and mixed with color. You plant petunias, begonias, and geraniums in a shotgun splatter of random mixing to create a colorful, vibrant border. Thick reed grass accentuates with green. Nicely done!
Want to learn more about gardening with border plants?