Low maintenance garden border ideas: 10 designs for easy-care flowerbeds

These low maintenance garden border ideas will help you achieve a stunning planting display for very little effort

low maintenance garden border ideas – drought tolerant grasses and yucca
(Image credit: Alex Ramsay/Alamy Stock Photo)

These low maintenance garden border ideas are just what you need if you want a beautiful backyard but don't have much time for chores. As it turns out, you can still have a show-stopping display without hours of upkeep.

At least one or two borders brimming with blooms is a must-have for most gardeners, but some plants are more demanding than others. And, to put it simply, life might seem way too busy to be out deadheading, staking and watering every two seconds. Plus, you'll most likely want to spend the precious time you do have enjoying the view, not working for it. That's where the best low maintenance plants come in.

But when it comes to combining these plants to create rich and vibrant tapestries, you may feel a little unsure of where to begin. That's why we've rounded up some gorgeous low maintenance garden border ideas below – whatever your backyard's style you'll be sure to find something that suits.

Low maintenance garden border ideas: 10 stunning schemes that are easy to care for

From cottage-garden borders to jungle-style pockets full of verdant ferns, these low maintenance flowerbed ideas are sure to have you inspired for your own stunning display.

1. Opt for drought-tolerant plants

drought tolerant planting at hampton court palace garden festival 2021

This planting scheme was designed by Tom Stuart-Smith for RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival 2021

(Image credit: Beth Murton/Future)

Watering the plants can seem like an almost endless task, especially in the height of summer. And if you're often away, or are too busy to get outdoors every day, then plants can perish quickly beyond repair. No one wants to return to a backyard of dead flowers and foliage – not only is it depressing but replacing them is unlikely to be free of charge. That's why choosing the best drought tolerant plants to begin with is a brilliant option for time-poor gardeners, as they'll happily survive during periods of neglect.

As this display by Tom Stuart-Smith shows, the results can be breathtaking. It features the likes of Echinacea pallida (the pink cone-shaped flowers), Bupleurum falcatum (delicate lime-green foliage), the silvery perovskia 'Blue Spire' (otherwise known as Russian sage), and Macleaya microcarpa 'Spetchley Ruby' which adds a delicate tint of red to the scene.

For this kind of planting, you actually shouldn't water more than you have to. In fact, on the RHS's website, Tom advises to hold off with the H2O until things are looking quite stressed. This encourages the plants' roots to search out the moisture, meaning they will stand up better. Otherwise, a bit of light weeding in spring and a cut-back in late summer is all you'll really need to do.

2. Go for hardy perennials

perennial planting in cottage garden border

Create an easy-care cottage garden scheme with nepeta, hardy geraniums and alchemilla mollis

(Image credit: Mark Bolton Photography/Future)

If you're a fan of relaxed, romantic planting and want to create a cottage-garden theme, you'll be pleased to know there are plenty of easy-care plants to choose from.

For low maintenance garden ideas, perennials are your friend – as long as you put them in a place that's suitable, they'll come back year after year. For the most part, all you'll need to do is give them a quick chop at the end of the flowering season.

Easy-care nepeta is a well-favored choice due to its gentle fragrance, silvery foliage, and spires of blue-violet blooms that flower for months on end. Low-growing varieties such as 'Walker's Low' look lovely along the front of a border, spilling out onto pathways or patios. 

Continue the purple theme with a hardy geranium such as 'Roxanne'. As Chris Bonnet from GardeningExpress.co.uk says, 'Hardy geranium flowers are sometimes referred to as indestructible, due to their ability to flower for several months on end whilst also being drought-tolerant. The plant rapidly builds a dense carpet of foliage that suppresses weeds, making them a staple for both their aesthetic and their practical advantages.' Just remember to cut them back after the first flush of flowers and they'll be likely to bloom again in the same season.

Alchemilla mollis will provide a welcome shot of acid green against all the purple tones. Not only is it resistant to diseases and pests, but it's also an excellent self-seeder.

All three are tough and forgiving if you miss a watering session or two, and will grow happily in full sun or part shade. 

Looking for more cottage garden ideas? You'll find lots in our guide.

3. Plant bulbs for springtime joy

pink tulips in flowerbed

Bright bulbs are a low-maintenance choice

(Image credit: iBulb)

Bulbs are a fabulous choice for a low maintenance flowerbed. Sure, you'll need to pop aside some time in autumn to plant them, but once they're in they require practically no maintenance at all. Most will grow back year after year (leave their foliage to die back naturally).

'Flower bulbs are not too picky about where they are planted, although most do like a bit of sun,' say the experts at iBulb. You can plant them in beds beneath trees, between shrubs or perennials. 'The code word is "masses",' add the team. 'The more flower bulbs you plant, the bigger the effect.'

Of course, there are tons of choices to pick from – from daffodils to hyacinths and snowdrops. 'With their different shapes, colors and heights, they can be combined almost without limits,' continues iBulb. Will you choose peace and unity by working with a single color or variety, or will you go for a color explosion with a vibrant combination? 'Choose the style that makes you happy so that you can enjoy your personal mix to the fullest,' they add. We love this simple combo of sorbet-pink and magenta tulips.

When it comes to planting, 'If you prefer a natural look, mix the different varieties together in a bucket or basket and scatter them casually,' says iBulb. 'Plant the bulbs wherever they end up landing.'

You can find more advice in our dedicated guide to planting bulbs.

4. Create a cool leafy scene with ferns

ferns in flowerbed

This verdant scene works well in a shaded space

(Image credit: Leigh Clapp Photography/Future)

You don't have to stick to blooms for your low maintenance garden border ideas. In fact, there are plenty of types of foliage which are just as attractive and won't demand much in terms of upkeep.

'When searching for low maintenance plants, ferns are always a great place to start.' says Chris Bonnett from GardeningExpress.co.uk. 'Instantly adding texture and volume to your flowerbed, decorative ferns provide an eye-catching contrast in form and color whilst proving a backdrop to your choice of flowers.' They're also particularly good if you're looking for an easy-care choice for moist, shady spots. Most will grow quite happily in a wide range of soil conditions and don't require feeding (although mulching now and again will encourage growth). Simply cut back dead fronds down to the ground in late winter or early spring, before fresh growth begins. 

Pair with more of the best shade loving plants such as blue brunnera for a pretty display with a woodland feel, or add in a slow-growing tree fern for a more dramatic look. Bear in mind that the latter requires more maintenance, though – especially in terms of watering.

If you'd like to recreate the look in your backyard, our guide on how to grow ferns will come in handy.

5. Add texture with ornamental grasses

yucca and ornamental grasses in low maintenance flowerbed

Wispy grasses look stunning against structural blooms

(Image credit: Alex Ramsay/Alamy Stock Photo)

Ornamental grasses are becoming increasingly popular in planting schemes. It's easy to see why – they offer an ethereal view, especially when their delicate leaves catch the sunlight. Plus, their gentle swaying movement and rustle in the breeze adds a soothing sensory element to any backyard.

They're really easy to look after, too, which is why they're a great choice for low maintenance flowerbed ideas. They seldom need watering or feeding, there's no deadheading to take care of, and they tend to be both drought and heat tolerant. In spring, simply cut deciduous grasses back, or comb dead foliage out of evergreen grasses (whilst wearing gloves).

Use them along the back of borders in sunny sites, then position low maintenance flowers in front (purple alliums, yellow Phlomis fruticosa, and echinops, for instance) for a diverse range of color and texture. You could take a cue from this scene and add in a spiky yucca too – another plant that needs little water to thrive.

Some of our favorite grasses to try include the delicate Stipa tenuissima, the pink miscanthus 'Flamingo', the blue-hued Festuca glauca, and Pennisetum villosum with its bunny-tail-like flowers. 

You'll find lots more tips in our guide on how to grow ornamental grasses.

6. Bring soothing fragrance to your backyard with lavender

lavender and topiary flowerbed

Combine different types of lavender with a slow-growing topiary tree for a timeless look

(Image credit: Leigh Clapp Photography/Future)

'Lavenders are known for their beautiful foliage which add a fragrant aroma to your garden,' says gardening expert Callum Maddock at HomeHow.co.uk. 'They also come in a wide range of colors including purple, pink, white silver and more so are great for adding a little color to your garden throughout the seasons,' he adds.

As long as your garden gets plenty of sun, these shrubs are an almost failsafe option for low maintenance flowerbed ideas. They don't require feeding, and once established, need infrequent watering. You'll need to trim them back in late summer once flowering has finished, but this won't take too long and due to the calming fragrance, is rather a soothing activity. It's useful to bear in mind that English lavender tends to be hardier than French varieties.

Pair different tones together in one flowerbed for an easy yet effective display – try the elegant 'Arctic Snow' with its white blooms alongside the deep purple 'Hidcote' and the dusky pink 'Miss Katherine'. Add a central topiary tree for extra wow factor – holly is a slow-grower so will only need shaping a couple of times a year, plus will reward you with greenery throughout winter.

You can learn all about how to grow lavender in our feature.

7. Make a rock garden

The Mindset garden designed by Anna Galagan at the RHS Malvern Spring festival 2019

'The Mindset' garden' designed by Anna Galagan at the RHS Malvern Spring Festival 2019

(Image credit: Neil Hepworth/RHS)

Another option for an easy-care flowerbed is to opt for a rock garden. There are tons of beautiful plants to choose from, they're not too tricky to build, and once they're established, they need hardly any watering at all.

You can go for a sprawling design or a miniature haven in a container – just ensure you pick a sunny spot. If you're going for something larger, take a cue from this scene and raise it up with a short stone wall for greater impact. That way, you can then tuck more plants into the vertical nooks and crannies. We like the deep gray shade of the gravel here too – it sets a contemporary tone and looks particularly lovely against the vibrant planting.

In terms of the plants themselves, sedums are always a good choice and come in a huge range of colors and shapes. There are plenty of pretty alpines to opt for too, or how about a flowering cactus? Or, for a more Mediterranean feel, try introducing some creeping thyme – it will produce an enticing herby fragrance and sports pretty purple flowers.

Our small rock garden ideas feature is full of extra tips.

8. Switch out the flowers for easy-care shrubs

white hydrangeas in front of white picket fence

White hydrangeas will always look elegant

(Image credit: Geoff Wilkinson/Alamy Stock Photo)

As the RHS says, ''Much routine work in the garden involves weed control in borders and the maintenance of herbaceous perennials (e.g., staking, cutting back, lifting and dividing). It makes sense, therefore, to replace some or all perennial beds with shrubs.' And if you think garden shrubs are boring, think again. There are plenty that are undemanding and look spectacular.

Hydrangeas are a well-loved example. Their impressive flowerheads will add drama and beauty to any backyard every year, and they can complement traditional schemes as well as more modern spaces. Give them the spotlight by planting them by themselves along fences or in large planters for an understated yet elegant look.

Looking for an alternative? Choisya (Mexican orange blossom) is another low maintenance shrub which offers white flowers with an intoxicating fragrance. Or, for a more minimal approach, opt for variegated pittosporum with its attractive leaves.

Shrubs tend to be undemanding in terms of watering too, especially once they're established. For an even easier gardening life, plant your shrubs through weed-suppressing membrane, then top with bark chippings.

Feeling inspired for your own? Our best shrubs for small gardens buying guide will help you get started.

9. Create a natural scheme with self-seeding annuals

meadow flowers in garden

Go for a more relaxed approach with pretty wildflowers

(Image credit: Derek Harris/Alamy Stock Photo)

You can also choose to take a more natural approach when it comes to your low maintenance garden border ideas. A meadow-style scene is easy to achieve, will flourish on poor soils, and won't need much maintenance. And, it's fantastic for wildlife, too. Ready-mixed seed packs are available from most good garden centers – all you need to do is sprinkle them onto your prepared bed (get rid of any weeds first), water them in, then wait for them to grow.

Once flowered, many of these annuals are excellent self-seeders, meaning you'll get new blooms the following year. These include the likes of cornflowers, nigella, poppies, and calendula.

Our guide on how to plant a wildflower meadow has more advice.

10. Add an edge

border with homebase edging

The natural stone bull nose edging by Homebase instantly smartens up this space

(Image credit: Homebase)

Making a low maintenance flowerbed isn't just about the plants itself – there are other tricks you can do to keep upkeep to a minimum. Mulching is one, as is clearing the soil from weeds before you get planting. But garden edging ideas are useful, too.

Firstly, they add a stylish accent to your backyard and there are plenty of designs to pick from – from contemporary Corten steel and classic stone to more discreet looks. They'll give your borders a more orderly appearance whilst keeping everything (mulch, gravel, sprawling plants) in their proper place.

What should you avoid when making a low maintenance flowerbed?

According to the RHS, there are a few things you should avoid when planning out your low maintenance flowerbed ideas:

  • Avoid using lots of tender plants. These require seasonal tasks such as lifting, winter wrapping, or moving to a protected environment. Instead, opt for fully hardy plants which can be left outdoors all year.
  • If you're looking for small garden ideas, you may be tempted to bring in containers. True, they're a great way to add color and interest to a space, but they can require a lot of work – from planting up and repotting to regular watering. If you don't have another option, larger planters with lots of compost will dry out less quickly, or consider choosing self-watering designs.
  • Avoid trying to coerce plants into a site which doesn't suit their optimum growing conditions. It'll only result in more work for you as you try to keep it alive. If you need some advice for identifying your backyard's conditions, our guide to soil types will help.

ferns and pink Primula beesiana

Hardy and long-lived candelabra primroses look gorgeous against vivid green ferns – an easy-care duo for damp conditions

(Image credit: Jacky Parker Photography/Moment)

What are the best low maintenance flowers?

As you'll now know, there are plenty of plants to pick from when it comes to filling your low maintenance flowerbed ideas. However, here are a few more of our favorite picks:

  • Echinacea: Otherwise known as coneflowers, these perennials have an eye-catching structure, vivid color, and are loved by pollinators. They make a lovely addition to prairie-style planting schemes and need little watering.
  • Heucheras: These evergreen plants have beautifully scalloped foliage in a range of colors, from deep russet to acid lime. They're generally unfussy about where they're planted, and sport spikes of bell-shaped blooms in summer.
  • Erysimum: A great addition to the best cottage garden plants, the perennial erysimum offers long-lasting flowers in jewel-like hues.
  • Buddleja: Once established, these shrubs need barely any watering and don't need feeding. They have purple, cone-shaped flowerheads which smell of honey, and butterflies adore them. You may need to give them an annual prune to keep them looking smart. A fantastic option to bring height to the back of a border.
  • Cosmos: One of our most-loved annuals, cosmos bring joy to any flowerbed with their daisy-like blooms and easy-care nature. They're a good choice if you want to learn how to grow flowers from seed.
Holly Crossley
Acting Deputy Editor

The garden was always a big part of Holly's life growing up, as was the surrounding New Forest where she lived. Her appreciation for the great outdoors has only grown since then. She's been an allotment keeper, a professional gardener, and a botanical illustrator – plants are her passion.