It can be tricky knowing where to start with garden border planting ideas. It’s so tempting to go to the nursery on a sunny day and buy a variety of plants that you like the look of, without researching what they will work well with or where they will thrive.
As a garden designer, that's where I come in. As designers, we think of gardens as a whole, creating areas that share a common visual language and planting schemes with different environments in mind.
With a little bit of know-how, however, you can use the same approach as a garden designer in your outdoor space to create stunning garden borders that will suit your plot, the weather conditions and the space you have available.
To help you create the best possible planting scheme, our garden border planting ideas includes six different options for a range of plots. So whether you have a hot and sunny garden border or a more shaded spot you'll find a layout to suit your space.
Each layout idea includes a list of key plants to include in your planting scheme, along with information on where to place them in the border to create the best effect. Whether you're transforming an existing border or creating a new one from scratch, it's a simple, easy-to-follow method.
Transform your plot with our 6 easy-to-follow garden border planting ideas
Your garden borders are a key consideration for how to plan your garden design with a specific look and feel, so it's worth spending the time getting them right.
The layouts for our six different garden border planting ideas are for a 3x6.5ft (1x2m) space, but this can be scaled up or down depending on the size of your plot.
1. A scented border for light shade
List of key plants:
- Hyacinth orientalis ‘Delft Blue’
- Daphne ‘Perfume Princess'
- Lavandula angustifolia ‘Felice’
- Osmanthus delavayi
Perhaps it’s because we can’t see it, but scent is often overlooked when it comes to garden design. However a garden without fragrance isn’t fulfilling its potential. Your outdoor space should delight all your senses, and this border is created to have something flowering throughout the year that offers just that.
Most of the plants I’ve chosen are fairly hardy, but the border will do best in a spot that has light shade for at least some of the day, and that doesn’t get waterlogged.
Learning how to plant a border for year round color involves ensuring you have a strong main structural plant as part of your garden border planting ideas. In this design the plant is a Daphne odora ‘Perfume Princess’. Like most daphnes, it doesn’t like its roots getting dry - so make sure you keep them well watered during the hotter months.
Make sure you cut some of those stems off every now and again to enjoy the scent indoors! Add sweet peas, Lathyrus odoratus ‘Oxford Blue’ and Lathyrus odoratus ‘Charlie’s Angel’, into the border in the summer to complement the lavender both in color and scent.
2. An evergreen border
List of key plants:
- Bergenia ‘Ice Queen’
- Sarcococca hookeriana 'Winter Gem'
- Heuchera ‘Black Beauty’
- Pachysandra terminalis
There’s no two ways about it, shade gardens can be a bit of a challenge. So much so that people often write off a shady part of the plot as their sad corner, and use them as a dumping ground for bicycles, bonfires or sheds. But there are so many beautiful shade loving plants which will thrive in these areas.
I imagine this scheme would be particularly useful down the side of a house or a front drive where you want evergreens that are easy to grow but also something to enjoy in terms of smell and flowers.
The Sarcococca's common name is ‘Sweet box’ and its smell is divine, particularly as it shows up in the depths of winter when we often need cheering up the most.
Light pruning will help the Sarcococca to keep its shape. Remove faded flower spikes and watch out vine weevil, which can attack heuchera.
Deadheading flowers after they have faded from the Bergenia and applying a slow-release fertilizer around the plant will keep it healthy. Lift and divide large clumps in early spring as these can get quite carried away.
Place the Sarcococca near the edge of your path so you can enjoy its scent in the winter. If you add in the Anemone blanda, put it under a tree or a shrub - it's a good low maintenance ground cover plant which will create a lovely carpet of flowers for you in the spring.
3. A gravel border for a dry, sunny spot
List of key plants:
- Stipa tenuissima
- Geum ‘Mai Tai’
- Iris ‘Alaska’
- Euphorbia characias subsp. Wulfenii
Gravel gardens aren’t just for the Mediterranean. Here, in this little border plan, a mix of peachy oranges and zesty greens rustle together to create an ethereal, low-maintenance scheme as well as a great garden gravel idea.
This is an increasingly popular style of planting, as it requires little irrigation and by using a gravel mulch you can help the soil retain its moisture at the same time as keeping weeds at bay.
This is ideal for putting in raised beds where you can enjoy the sway of grasses from both inside or outside the house, but really it will work in most sunny, dry spots, particularly in a south-facing garden and the drought tolerant plants will be quite happy in relatively poor soil.
Give the plants space; this is not a crowded herbaceous border but a lighter touch planting scheme that let’s each species sing. Unlike bigger, tougher grasses, Stipa tenuissima doesn’t need an annual chop; instead, pull your fingers through it gently, every now and again, to remove any dead parts.
Deadhead the Geum regularly in the summer to prolong the flowering period. Experiment with seeds and bulbs too – another good addition to this border would be alliums or nerine for color before and after summer.
Choose a light, bright gravel as your ‘mulch’ layer; this will make the colors in the border really pop.
4. A sunny prairie-style border
List of key plants:
- Sanguisorba ‘Tanna’
- Carex testacea ‘Prairie Fire’
- Molinia caerulea subsp. Arundinacea ‘Transparent’
- Echinacea purpurea
Inspired by the prairies of North America (parts of which have a similar climate to areas of the UK), prairie-style planting is increasingly popular due to its matrix of colors and textures, and its natural, unmanicured look. Like a wildflower meadow, these landscapes are loose and relaxed, and there isn’t any formal topiary in sight.
Most of the plants chosen here are versatile and will work on clay and chalk soils, but will appreciate free draining soil. A spot in full sun will get you the best results.
Give the Molinia lots of space and keep an eye on it as it establishes so it doesn’t get overshadowed by the other plants. You can just cut the plants in this scheme back once a year in early spring; Sanguisorba in particular looks beautiful through the winter thanks to its floaty seedheads.
The poppies can be sown in fall, and will add to that more random feel as they’ll surprise you where they come up. Having said that, be careful not to be too diligent with your weeding and accidentally take the poppies out!
Repeat this scheme over a bigger scale for even more drama, mixing in dogwoods and allium bulbs for scale and more color across the seasons.
5. Cottage garden-style border
List of key plants:
- Thalicturm delavayi ‘Hewit’s Double’
- Tiarella 'Sky Rocket'
- Geranium 'Orion'
- Alcea rosea ‘Halo Blush’
Colorful, wild, rambling, inviting… this is a romantic look which many people strive to emulate in the their garden border planting ideas. And while the best cottage garden plants that we associate with it can be used in many settings, it’s only when they’re carefully combined that they create that romantic look.
Plenty of light and sun will make this border easy to grow and care for. Most of the plants here will tolerate partial shade and most slightly acidic, slightly alkaline or neutral soils.
This isn’t a scheme for the faint hearted, with lots of bold colors mixing in with each other, but it’s certainly cheery! Divide the geranium after a few years if it's getting too big for its boots.
Go big with the bulbs (most of the plants in this scheme flower in the summer) and they will reward you with fab spring color. The Alcea rosea ‘halo’ is one of the bigger hollyhocks, so position yours on the side of the flowerbed especially if you have a view behind you want to maintain
Add some climbing roses in if you repeat this across a bigger space, using obelisks for them to climb – or a wall, if you have a sunny south-facing one.
6. Easy low-maintenance border
List of key plants:
- Pittosporum tobira ‘Nanum’
- Hydrangea arborscens ‘Strong Annabelle’
- Miscanthus sinensis
- Geranium Dreamland ‘Bremdream’
Lots of us want nothing more than a stunning low maintenance garden, and there are plenty of ways to achieve this. Usually evergreen shrubs are a good bet, as they do their thing and don’t need much help (except for the occasional pruning).
But if you want something with a little more interest in it, this border is a good start; and still very low key in terms of care thanks to its mix of shrubs and grasses and long flowering perennials.
This scheme would like full sun but tolerate part shade. As for the conditions, just make sure it’s not somewhere too windy, or the hydrangeas will get battered.
When landscaping with grasses it's important to give the Miscanthus plenty of space and try to put it in a spot where it gets a good amount of sun. Leave the flower heads on the hydrangeas over winter, their golden colors will look fantastic against the tall, textured Miscanthus.
Keep the Pittisporum nice and rounded to contrast the height and spread of the other plants. The Muscari baby’s breath smells divine so put it somewhere you can enjoy it!
If you enjoy this scheme and want to try something a bit higher in maintenance, this would work really well combined with the prairie-style border in a bigger space.
When is the best time of year to plan a new garden border layout?
Fall can be a great time to be planning your borders for the following spring and summer. Not only are the bare root plants and trees available to buy now much less expensive, but you will be giving your new border plenty of time to get its roots in, at the same time as sowing seeds and planting bulbs.
But garden centres will have stocks of ready grown plants year round so you can add to your garden design ideas in an instant, no matter what the time of year.
Tabi is the founder of TJG Gardens, a London-based design practice who work across the UK and abroad. With a reputation for textured, vibrant and informal planting schemes and rich, characterful gardens, Tabi enjoys sharing her love for the natural world with her clients. Her favourite projects are those that benefit humans and wildlife alike; in the studio, improving biodiversity and a client’s enjoyment of their outdoor space go hand in hand.
As well as designing big and small gardens in the city and the countryside, Tabi writes about nature, design and gardening for the Financial Times, Country Life, The Telegraph, House and Garden and Ideal Home.
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