How to plan a garden border

Updated April 17, 2017

A well-planned, thought-out garden can add beauty to your yard and value to your home. However, in order to achieve these ends, you must decide which plants to incorporate into your garden and where in the garden to plant them. A good place to start when planning your garden is the garden border. The border will establish how you will choose plants to extend backwards into the rest of the garden. Following are the elements you should consider and the steps you should take when you decide to plant a garden border.

Plant size. You need to know how tall a plant will grow and also how wide it will spread. Generally, shorter plants are placed in front along the garden border. However, you should also consider--especially when planting perennials--how tall the plant will be in full bloom. Some perennials will have low-growing mounds of green foliage, but the blooms will shoot 2 to 3 feet into the air. (Red-hot pokers are good examples of perennials that exhibit this trait.) In addition, by knowing the width a plant will eventually reach, you will know how far apart to space your plants.

Plant shape. The shape of a plant is determined by how it grows; this includes its leaves, stems and blooms. For example, a plant that grows in a mound; e.g., silver mound artemisia, would work better than an upright lily in the front of the border. A creeping plant like pinks or dianthus might be preferred over a fountain-shaped plant like a daylily. The way a plant blooms also determines its overall shape. Some plants have blooms arranged on sturdy spikes, such as delphiniums, and are generally too tall for a border. Others, however, may have flowers that bloom on delicate wands, like gaura, and may be ideal choices for the border.

Plant texture. The plant texture refers to the foliage. Is it delicate and lacy or bold and coarse? Choose and combine your textures wisely. Coarse-textured foliage draws the eye and can make a garden look smaller. Too many finely textured plants can cause your garden to lose its lustre and make it look almost boring. Mixing textures can work very well; however, do not be too drastic with your combination. Gradual contrasts--from bold to medium to light and airy--generally work better than planting light-textured plants immediately next to bold-textured plants.

Plant colour. Plant colour includes blooms and foliage. Hot colours are red, orange and yellow; and these hot colours will jump out at you. The cool colours--purple, blue and green--are more calming and will make your garden look larger. You can also cool down the reds in your garden with the opposite colour of red on the colour wheel, which is green. (Think foliage.) You can also warm up too much purple with its opposite--yellow--or the colour next to purple on the colour wheel, which is red. Use white blooms or silvery-green foliage to brighten up the border.

Draw up a plan. Now that you know what you must consider when planning your garden border--plant size, shape, texture and colour--it is time to design your garden border. You can use graph paper to draw your border to scale. Grab some garden magazines and cut out plants that you would like to include in your garden border. Use the tracing paper to trace the general outlines of the plants and then colour them in with your coloured pencils. In this way, you can visualise what your garden border may look like. It is also easier to erase plants from paper than to uproot them once they are planted. Once you have a sketch of a garden border that is appealing to you, start having fun planting.


If you are not much of an artist, there is software available that allows you to design your garden border on your computer. Check with your local computer software store. Consider that small yards usually require small gardens with smaller plants. Also consider that larger yards almost demand larger plants in the garden, including the garden border. Think of choosing some trailing plants for your garden border if you are designing a raised garden with a stone or brick wall. Try inserting a taller plant at the end of your border for an unusual and interesting effect.

Things You'll Need

  • Garden magazines
  • Tracing paper
  • Graph paper
  • Black lead pencil
  • Coloured pencils
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About the Author

Dena Bolton has written for local newspapers and magazines since 1980. She currently writes online for various sites, focusing on gardening. She has a BA in Political Science and German and graduate credits in Latin American Studies from East Tennessee State University. In addition, she is a TN Master Gardener.