How to restore a border

How to restore a border

How to Restore a border & make it look like you know what you’re doing!

At PlantPlots we aim to make gardening easier, so many of our articles focus on sorting out everyday garden problems. Here we look at how to restore a border that have gone a bit wrong. It could be poor planning, over-enthusiastic plant growth or the whole thing just no longer looks the way it should.

Plants have a really annoying habit of sometimes growing faster than you want them too and the garden is a mess. So what can be done?

Well clearly, you need to get in there and tidy things up, however unless you resolve what is going wrong, the same problem will inevitably reoccur. You need to work out why it looks such a mess so quickly.

So here’s how to restore a border!

You’ve planted the wrong plants for the plot conditions you have.

There are two rules when planting…

Rule 1 : Plants thrive in the right conditions 

Rule 2:  Plants will misbehave given the wrong conditions!

The misbehaving behaviours include, romping away and smothering all in it’s path. Over prolific self seeding, growing tall and spindly, flopping and drooping. The plants are also likely  to fall sick, looking decidedly threadbare or get covered in bugs. Other bouts of bad behaviour include not flowering properly, growing underground and popping up where you don’t want, taking up way too much space or simply sulking and not growing at all. We have 3 great guides to help sort out your garden

The first step is to look at all the plants in the border and see which ones seem to be doing well. These are the plants to keep. Secondly look at all those plants that have grown too fast. In rich soil many plants will grow like the clappers and quickly become thugs.

Thug taming:

If this is the case, then either remove the plant from that border and replant it in a ‘tougher’ spot. If however you want to keep the plant in the border, then plant it in a large pot. Sink this in the border and the pot should help curtail the plant’s excesses!

plants to avoid if you don't like gardening

Light seeking:

If however, the plants that have grown too quickly are all tall, thin and a bit threadbare, then the problem is light.

There is not enough sunlight getting to these plants and they are all growing as fast as they can to get some. In this instance, increase the light levels from above by removing overhanging branches. If this is not possible, the plants will need to be moved to a sunnier location.

Soil problems:

If the plants are looking really miserable or have succumbed to disease, it is generally a sign that they cannot get enough nutrients. They are weakened, sickly and generally slow to grow.  

Here the soil is usually the culprit. In this case, carefully dig all the plants out and set them to one side. Then add copious amounts of well rotted garden compost or manure, dig the ground over properly (see digging) replant your specimens and water them well in.  

The plant combinations are a bit wrong.

Plant combining can be tricky, not all plants either grow well together nor indeed go well together – so how do you know what to put with what?

Well there are some basic rules that you can use, as a guide.  Plants tend to grow in a few basic shapes, to create a well balanced border, you need to combine the shapes to fit the space horizontally AND vertically.

Filling the space:

When creating a border, look at the whole area that needs to be filled and not just the ground space.

 In these first 2 images below, the plant shapes have been combined in a way that does not fill the space in front of the shed.

Neither border really seem to look right.

However in this image we have combined more shapes to fill the space better – and it all starts to look a little more ‘designed’!

‘What to wear!’:

There’s a bit more to read about choosing plants below… but if you fancy a short cut… we have already pre-designed lots of border planting ideas just for you!

It is not just a question of getting the shapes right, colour and texture are also really important. Now colour choice is very much a personal preference, and it is definitely OK if you choose to be more Vivienne Westwood than Coco Chanel. But there are a few guidelines when it comes to combining plant textures.

  • If all the plants are going to be grasslike – only use naturalistic dainty flowered plants.
  • When combining flowing grasses and shrubs, use compact small leaved shrubs for best effect.
  • Don’t mix thorny plants and thick strappy leaves or they will get shredded
  • If the border edges are ‘hard’ such as having a low hedge, have a softer more flowing middle.
  • Similarly if the middle is quite rigid and ‘solid’, soften the edges.
  • Spiky, swordlike and vertical looks good with a soft and fluffy underplanting.
  • If the plants are all soft and irregular shapes add in something formal like a big urn or an obelisk for added interest.
  • Don’t mix big bold leaved plants with small delicate plants.
  • If big sturdy shrubs (but a bit boring) are planted, liven them up with scrambling climbers that grow through.
  • Avoid combining naturalistic flowers with the bold larger flowering hybrid  plants – they tend not to look right.

You have inadvertently planted a ‘triffid’.

If you have been seduced into buying a plant that has aspirations to world domination, you have 2 clear choices. Firstly, learn to enjoy the annual or monthly battle to keep it in check or dig it up.

the plant could be replanted in the garden but  replant it in the tought areas of your garden.  The ability of the ‘triffid’ to grow fast will be curtailed by the tough growing conditions. It maybe that the triffid in the border could then become the welcome weed smotherer in another part of the garden.

You have planted plants that require too much gardening effort – & you can’t spare the time

Avid gardeners have gorgeous gardens simply because they spend a lot of time gardening. Even if they have the issues listed above, these don’t become a nightmare as they are constantly tweaked by the gardener.

Most of us however, don’t simply have the time to be able to devote to the garden we might all love to be able to do. So to get the garden back on track, you need to be a little honest with yourself.

Decide how much time you have available to garden and then look at the border. The plants that simply require too much effort to keep looking nice should be parted with.  No matter how gorgeous lovely or wonderful they are, if you don’t have the time to maintain them, they will never perform well.

Instead the border needs to change to one that requires less overall attention.

Read more on our creating a low maintenance garden series.

Lastly don’t worry about moving the plants:

If the garden has truly become unmanageable then the quickest and easiest approach is to dig everything out and start again. Ensure the roots are kept out of direct sunshine and and not allowed to dry out.

These plants to keep can be replanted and the rest located in other parts of the garden, passed onto friends or disposed of.

The garden is making you feel good. For more amazing garden design advice – buy our book. Available at Amazon and other online book stores.

best garden design book - I Want to Like my Garden by Rachel McCartain