Just as a picture needs a frame, often a garden bed needs a border. Plants that define the garden are often small but use texture, colour and shape to highlight areas of bloom. Most gardens benefit from several different kinds of borders: an annual border for punchy colour, a perennial border for colour and easy maintenance, an edging border that lets larger plants shine, and a shade border. Learn the elements of good border gardening.
The goal of an annual border, above all, is to bring colour to landscaping. Impatiens, begonias, lobelia, salvias and marigolds bring a riot of pinks, reds, yellows and whites to a summer yard. Except for a few larger marigold varieties, all are bred to grow a foot tall or less, making them logical candidates to edge vegetable gardens, flower beds and walkways. Adding plants that do particularly well in local conditions, whether ranunculus, small dahlias, dusty miller or strawflowers, increase the range of colours available and also extend the growing season into fall.
Perennial borders, especially when composed of native plants, offer easy maintenance and long-season interest. Creeping and wild phloxes, columbine, dicentra (bleeding heart) and wild lobelias are among annual plants that remain in the low range (1 to 1 1/2 feet tall), expand at a moderate rate and contribute texture as well as colour to borders. Perennial herbs add further interest and feed the gardener as well. Usually, mild spring trimming is the only required maintenance.
Sometimes a border needs a border. The narrow perennial bed adjacent to the front walk constitutes a border of its own and welcomes visitors with medium-tall perennials, including coneflower, clethra and brown-eyed Susans. Somehow, however, it always looks unfinished. For the neatest edges on flower beds, paths and walkways, add plants often classified as suited for rock gardens to your border list. Spring bloomers such as alyssum and candytuft can be combined with other low, cushiony plants like sweet woodruff. Including a frequently trimmed ground cover like pachysandra adds to the visual depth of your edging border with only a small amount of maintenance. British gardeners recommend that pruning be accompanied by regular plant division to keep your border thick and vigorous without suffocating.
Dark shady areas in the yard can reflect discouragement and a low fund of ideas. Fill and formalise them with plants that depend more on leaf variegation and texture than on coloured blooms for interest. Hosta is a frequent favourite and comes in a wide range of leaf textures and sizes and an even wider range of blues, greens, yellows, creams and whites. Liriope and shade-loving native plants including ferns add further interest to a bed bordering a large tree or the bare space behind the garage.
Even though your front yard landscaping may be quite formal, a border of fluffy-textured colourful annuals adds a welcoming touch. If you are using only one or two rows of annuals, consider bright reds, pinks and yellows to make the strongest statement from a distance. What may seem flashy close up may be perfect from a curb-appeal point of view. Special borders also enhance your vegetable garden; one of the values of bright-coloured annuals is their ability to draw pollinators to improve your crops.