How to Plan a Garden Border

Let’s face it gardens are really all about the planting. We don’t walk into a garden and think ‘ooh amazing patio’ or ‘the path looks great’. Instead we walk around a garden looking at the plants, that is where the enjoyment lies. So this post is all about how to plan a garden border, so that it looks amazing and beautiful and makes you feel like a job well done.

There are two parts to any border, the shape and placement of the border and secondly the plants used.

Shape of the Border

I believe in providing you with a method and level of understanding of the design process to enable you to make changes to your own gardens. Now these methods aren’t necessarily how a professional design would design, but that is not what you are trying to achieve. You want to improve the look and function of your garden, by yourself, so my job is to help you understand what you need to know. Hence why I will not be writing about, form and flow and proportion because it is meaningless to most people. Instead I want you to think about the big shapes.

The garden has several big shapes, the shape of the entire garden and the shape of the lawns, patio and shed shapes. Then the garden has smaller shapes, the paths, borders and utility areas etc. Now when it comes to border design and planning, think how that border impacts the big shapes in the garden. Take this garden for example, chipping into the rectangular shape of the lawn to ‘make a border’ will only make the shape of the lawn look messed up. Instead you need to create the shape of the lawn and see what shapes the borders end up as.

The second advantage of this method is that it creates bigger deeper borders. In the first image, the long narrow borders along the fences could only be planted in long narrow way. The plants would stand side by side tracking the line of the fence. If however, the lawn is turned or offset, the areas for planting become larger but the lawn will still feel a good size.

The starting point in how to plan a garden border is to not make one! The borders are simply the spaces left over once the big shapes are fitted in.

Planting a Border

It is nigh on impossible to begin to choose a planting scheme if a person doesn’t know much about plants. So what is needed is a method that can be used that will help that process. Fortunately, there is one you can use – now it will not create the style of planting seen in a show garden, but it will help you plan the border planting more easily.

Planting with Boxes:

In my book ‘I want to Like my Garden’ the back of the book has a whole section dedicated to boxes. If you know the space the plant will occupy it is easier to plan a planting look, because boxes are easy to fit together.

The border is a 3 dimensional space, so create a 3 dimensional scheme by using boxes. The second part then involves your underwear…. well your wardrobe actually. If you were going out for the night you would have an idea what to wear, just as you would if you were off to a plush restaurant. The idea is the same for planting a border, you need to have an outfit in your mind. Then the trip to the garden centre to choose plants becomes easier.

Firstly, you know the number of plants needed, by counting the boxes. The colour of those plants is also known because the boxes can be different colours. You will (hopefully) have my book telling you what box shapes the plants will be and you have an outfit in mind.

The result

It is much easier knowing the shopping list for plants is something like

  • 3 tall columns in soft pink
  • 5 small square boxes in dark pink
  • 4 big boxes that are evergreen but have blue flowers and
  • 6 plants with tall flower stems in shocking pink…

Then, after a quick google search up pops some names of plants that will fit the job description you need. It is not a perfect system, but it’s a darn sight more useful than wandering up and down the aisles in the garden centre not knowing what to buy! 😉

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