Flower Borders

  • 01 of 15

    Flower Borders: Ideas to Make Your Landscaping Sizzle

    tulips and phlox
    Tulips and creeping phlox: a dynamic duo for a spring flower border. David Beaulieu

    How are your flower borders looking these days? Are they an exciting component of your landscaping? When you pass by them on the way to your mailbox, do they put a smile on your face? They should. If they do not, then you're in need of some ideas to jazz up these areas that are so critical to the overall appearance of your yard.

    The purpose of this 15-page tutorial is to supply you with just such ideas. There's a photo of a sample flower border on each page, so feel free to just flip...MORE through the pictures first, to gain some immediate inspiration, if you like. Just make sure you return here to Page 1 afterward and begin reading all the text, too, because each image is meant to illustrate one or more ideas I discuss that will help bring some sizzle to your plantings. Follow the links within my text to access additional resources that expand on the concepts and plants presented here.

    Note that the present article deals specifically with flower borders, which are garden beds that can be grown anywhere in your landscaping. If you are seeking information about how to landscape boundary areas (a different kind of "border"), you'll want to check out my article on how to landscape property lines. Likewise, if you're more interested in shrub lines, please consult:

    Let's begin with a look at some flower borders that shine especially brightly in particular seasons of the year. The planting in the picture above is obviously geared to spring. By planting tulips and creeping phlox, this homeowner has made it possible to enjoy two of the springtime's favorite blooms in one bed.

    Tulips are one blossom that I prefer to see displayed in mixed colors, as here. The creeping phlox is short enough to furnish an effective foreground, hiding some of the tulip's rather mediocre foliage but not obstructing the beauty of the flowers. Just as importantly, the phlox's cascading habit allows it to hang over the stone wall, thereby softening its edge.

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  • 02 of 15

    Landscape Border for Spring: Grape Hyacinths and Yellow Alyssum

    Grape hyacinths look great in a border with yellow alyssum, as this photo reveals.
    Grape hyacinths and yellow alyssum are a nice combination in a spring landscape border. David Beaulieu

    As in the prior photo of a landscape border with spring flowers, this one is a mix of a spring bulb plant and a low-growing perennial. The former is grape hyacinth flowers, while the latter is yellow alyssum.

    Yellow alyssum, like creeping phlox in the prior example, is often used as a flowering ground cover plant. It contrasts strikingly with grape hyacinths not only in color but also in another respect: it is a bad-smelling flower (whereas grape hyacinths are fragrant flowers). For many...MORE gardeners, fragrance is an important consideration when selecting plants for landscape borders.

    The combination of grape hyacinths and yellow alyssum has sufficient impact to warrant inclusion in a photo gallery that's all about color combos. Consult Landscape Color Schemes for tips on using color.

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  • 03 of 15

    Summer Flower Borders: Patriotic Combos for American Gardeners

    Red geraniums, white alyssum and blue ageratum for a patriotic border for July 4.
    Red geraniums, white alyssum and blue ageratum for a patriotic border for July 4. David Beaulieu

    There's almost an endless number of themes that you can employ in a summer flower border. Some examples of theme-based beds are:

    But for American gardeners, a popular idea is to create a summer flower border using red, white and blue flowers. Such patriotic displays are usually composed, at least in part, of annual flowers. Why? Because annuals are inexpensive bedding plants, for one thing, meaning you can plant an impressive display without...MORE breaking the bank. Moreover, the annuals that you select are all likely to be in bloom when July 4th rolls around (in creating such combinations, it's obviously paramount to choose plants that will bloom in unison, at the proper time).

    In the photo above, the red color is achieved with geraniums, the white with annual alyssum, and the blue with blue ageratum, but one could just as easily use:

    1. Red salvia for the red.
    2. Shasta daisy for the white.
    3. Victoria Blue salvia for the blue.
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  • 04 of 15

    Fall Flower Borders: Extend the Season With Autumn Joy Sedum

    Picture of a flower border with 'Autumn Joy' sedum. This is a good planting for fall.
    Long after other flower borders have lost their color, a planting with sedums such as 'Autumn Joy' will remain vibrant. David Beaulieu

    We've seen examples so far of flower borders for spring and summer. Indeed, those are perhaps the first two seasons that come to mind when we think of beds of colorful blossoms. But with proper plant selection, there's no reason you can't extend the season of floral enjoyment to autumn.

    The star of the picture above is Autumn Joy sedum. This late-bloomer is invaluable for fall displays. A long-blooming perennial, growing it assures you continuous garden color from late summer right...MORE through to the first hard frost.

    In the photo, the Autumn Joy sedum is complemented by 'Silver Dust' dusty miller, among other plants. Dusty miller is a common choice where silver foliage is called for. The brightness of its foliage leavens a scheme that is otherwise dominated by the dusky-pink tones of the Autumn Joy.

    Of course, there are a number of other possibilities for fall flower borders. Perennials such as hardy mums are the most common choices, but this article on fall flowers suggests a way you can save yourself some money: Nurse bargain-basement annuals back to health and use them to supplement the fall color afforded by perennials.

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  • 05 of 15

    Use Foliage to Keep Your Flower Borders Looking Good Between Blooming Periods

    The photo shows the importance of foliage to a flower border.
    Without the vibrantly-colored foliage in this flower border, it would look bare early in the growing season, while we wait for the blooms to appear. David Beaulieu

    So far, my pictures have shown examples of beds with plants blooming during a certain season: spring, summer or fall. But it won't always be "prime time" for a particular flower border. In fact, when we think in terms of four-season interest in the landscape (365 days of visual interest), the period in which this or that perennial is blooming will represent the exception, not the rule.

    So the question of how to handle the in-between periods arises. When the plants of a flower bed are...MORE not enjoying their blooming season, will that flower bed still look good? There are some simple things you can do to ensure that this question will be answered with a resounding "Yes!"

    The key is to plan a flower border with just as much of an eye to intelligent selection of foliage as of flowers. In fact, some plants are grown primarily as foliage plants, because, despite offering little in the way of a flowering display, the beauty of their leaves brings much value to the table.

    When studying up on the contribution that foliage can make to a flower border, think in terms of a couple of elements critical to a great landscape design:

    1. The form of a plant
    2. The texture of a plant's foliage

    Take the planting in the picture above, for example. It does contain plants that will bloom, but those blooms are only in the bud stage right now. That's no excuse, however, for such a flower border to be lacking in visual interest. What redeems this flower border in the pre-blooming period? Its foliage.

    For one thing, the foliage color is outstanding. I love the combination of the 'Purple Fountain' beech tree in the background and the golden type of creeping jenny ground cover in the foreground. But it goes beyond just the color of the foliage. This flower border exhibits a pleasing variation in texture, as well. For example, while the creeping jenny has leaves with a fine texture, the texture of the foliage of the hosta plants just behind them is considerably coarser.

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  • 06 of 15

    The Perfect Flower Garden Border

    My photo shows a flower border with lots of interest. It even has garden art.
    Landscaping perfection? This flower border has a lot going for it. David Beaulieu

    The flower garden border pictured here pulls out all the stops. This planting has multiple components to keep the viewer interested (without being reduced to a mere mish-mash). In addition to perennials, it exhibits:

    The annuals (marigolds) brighten the composition and afford long-lasting color for little money. Pachysandra is a foliage plant; this groundcover furnishes a nice, solid green background and keeps this...MORE flower garden border from looking too "busy." Meanwhile, the evergreen shrubs offer a different plant form (they're globe-shaped) from the rest of the vegetation.

    But the softscape only begins to tell the story of this flower garden border. Hardscape nicely complements the plantings.

    The yard art serves as a focal point, while the fence breaks up the planting into more easily-digestible segments. Finally, notice the effect of the cobblestone driveway pavers lined up along the edge (bottom of the picture). One of the functions of garden edging or lawn edging is to frame a display area. The cobblestone achieves that and more here. Its appearance is rustic enough to retain an informality consonant with its flower garden border.

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  • 07 of 15

    Ornamental Grass in Flower Borders

    The photo shows a flower border with ornamental grass. The latter brings up eye level.
    The ornamental grass in this flower border blows in the wind on gusty days. David Beaulieu

    Just as there's a place in a flower border for foliage plants (the reasons are articulated on Page 5), so ornamental grasses have a role to play in such beds. The tall or medium-sized types, in fact, can play several roles, including to:

    • Elevate the viewer's eye level
    • Furnish variation in plant form
    • Rustle in the breeze (a pleasant sound)
    • Sway rhythmically when blown by a wind

    The ornamental grass in the flower border pictured above provides an example of this last benefit.

    Types of ornamental...MORE grass that are tall to intermediate in height include:

    1. Maiden grass
    2. Zebra grass
    3. Purple fountain grass
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  • 08 of 15

    A Flower Border That Uses Foliage, Form and Texture Well

    Different textures and forms can add interest to your flower border. This photo shows an example.
    Different textures and plant forms can spice up a flower border considerably. David Beaulieu

    In the example of a flower border in the picture above, two things will probably strike you immediately:

    1. The bright red color of two of the plants
    2. The cascading form of one of those two red plants

    The plant referred to in #2 is the aptly named "love-lies-bleeding." The other red plant is a coleus. Coleus is an annual foliage plant that is indispensable for gardeners looking to experiment with color combinations in planting beds. It's a classic shade plant, although many types do just...MORE fine in bright sunlight, too, as long as they receive sufficient water. 

    But there is a third element used in this flower border, the importance of which should not be underestimated: textural contrast. Its impact is more subtle than that of the red color and cascading form just mentioned. Look to the right of the love-lies-bleeding and the red coleus. See the plant with the airy foliage? That's cosmos, and its leaves contrast nicely with everything else in the flower border. For a closer look at cosmos (in a different planting), see this example of contrasting textures.

    The concepts of form and texture are illustrated further in this photo gallery showing examples of plant form and texture in landscaping.

    Next we will see a picture of a foliage plant that looks so stunning in its flower border that you might be tempted to rush out and buy one right away. Do not do so, however, before reading the caveat presented regarding this plant.

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  • 09 of 15

    Picture of a Castor Bean Plant in a Flower Border

    Flower border with castor bean plant (picture). The latter offers foliage value.
    Castor bean plant: striking foliage and stems, but is it worth the risk?. David Beaulieu

    The spectacular plant in the middle of this flower border with red stems and deep burgundy leaves is castor bean plant. This is a great example of how much a foliage plant can do to spice up a planting.

    This type of castor bean plant has such dark leaves that it can be categorized as one of the so-called "black plants." As such, it's wonderful for color contrasts with brighter plants. The flower border in the picture above contains plants with relatively dark colors; a better example...MORE of the potential for color contrasts with this tropical plant can be seen in another picture of a castor bean plant.

    Is there anything that might give you pause when considering castor bean plant for your landscaping? Yes: It is toxic, so it may not be the best plant to have growing in your yard if children will be playing there. View these pictures of poisonous plants for other examples of toxic tempters.

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  • 10 of 15

    Scale in Landscape Design: an Illustration of the Concept

    The picture shows a large flower border in scale with its large house.
    The large flower border here is in scale with the equally large house. David Beaulieu

    So far, we have talked about such landscape-design concepts as form, texture and focal points. But one that has been saved until now is known as "scale." The picture above of a large flower border with black-eyed susans helps illustrate this principle.

    Quite simply, imagine a much smaller flower border in front of this home. What would be the effect? The planting would be lost, right? Yes: It would be swallowed up on this vast estate. A house and landscape of this size require a flower...MORE border sized to match, not some wimpy little planting.

    The principle can work the other way around, too. Smaller trees for one-storey homes are generally more appropriate (aesthetically speaking) for your landscaping than monster trees if you live in a little cabin, trailer, or similar structure.

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  • 11 of 15

    Layering Flower Borders

    Layered flower borders look neater. Plus the tall plants don't shade the small ones.
    This layered flower border has plenty of color in it, courtesy of Victoria Blue salvia, Stella de Oro daylily and more. David Beaulieu

    First of all, note that when one speaks of "layering" in this context, one is using the term in a sense that is distinct from its use in the context of plant propagation. Layered flower borders are composed of rows (or "ranks" as the British say). The concept is elaborated upon more fully in this tutorial on planting flower beds.

    A layered perennial planting will feature tall perennials in the back row and short perennials up front, with those that are medium-sized growing in...MORE between. Designers sometimes stray from this regimen for effect, as when a relatively tall plant is installed in the front row to make a strong statement.

    We don't always have the same rationale for layering flower borders. In some cases, we do it for a practical reason: namely, to ensure that the shortest plants are not deprived of sufficient sunlight. The idea here is to avoid having taller plants shading the shorter ones excessively. So in this case, the tallest plants would be installed to the north of the rest.

    Other times, we layer flower borders for aesthetic reasons. Where will you be standing while you're admiring your future flower border? Wherever that vantage point in your yard is, you will most likely wish to install the shortest plants closest to there. That way, your view of them will not be blocked.

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  • 12 of 15

    Petunia Flower Borders

    Photo of a flower border of just petunias.
    This petunia flower border has more impact because of the multiple colors used in it. David Beaulieu

    Do you think your plantings always have to be complex to make a big splash? Think again! This petunia flower border requires no help from other types of plants to dazzle the onlooker with magnificent color.

    Note three things about this petunia flower border, which was growing in a downtown area:

    1. The plants at ground level are growing in containers, although the containers are so well hidden that, at first glance, you might think they're growing right in the ground.
    2. Varying the color of the...MORE petunias (there are three colors) provides more interest than using one solid color would.
    3. The ground display is supplemented by window boxes.
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  • 13 of 15

    Catmint Flower Border Complemented by Tubs of Petunias

    Picture of pots used here in conjunction with the flower border, adding more color.
    Petunia containers are used here in conjunction with the flower border, adding more color. David Beaulieu

    Catmint flower borders are pretty, but they can lack pizazz if left to their own devices. The photo above shows how one homeowner addressed this challenge: namely, by complementing the planting with tubs of petunias.

    Unlike in the prior example, where we also had petunias growing in containers, here the containers are not disguised. Indeed, why would you want to? These ceramic containers are gorgeous.

    Are you interested in growing a catmint flower border? Brush up on some of the different types of...MORE catmint plants first.

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  • 14 of 15

    Begonias Used as Edging Plants

    Photos shows begonias used to edge a border. The flowers are red and white.
    Begonia flowers used to form an edge around a shrub bed. David Beaulieu

    For the most part, this article has been about "flower borders" in the sense of rectangular plantings (often contiguous to a walkway, driveway or sidewalk) that include blooming plants. But the term is also sometimes applied to a group of flowering edging plants.

    For example, consider the photo above. Wax begonias (the alternating red and white flowers) form an edge or "border," if you will, around a shrub bed. Therefore these plants do, literally, constitute a "flower...MORE border" in and of themselves, although that terminology must be understood differently here than the way in which it has been used throughout this article.

    Wax begonias (Begonia x semperflorens-cultorum) can also have pink flowers and are one of the most commonly used bedding plants in North America. They are tropical plants treated like annuals in the North. Their attractive foliage adds to their display value: The succulent leaves come in bronze, as well as green. They reach approximately 1 foot tall at maturity with a spread of less than that. A bonus in growing these plants is that they are among the rabbit-proof flowers.

    Don't confuse wax begonias with the prettier but pricier "tuberous" begonias, which are called that because they actually do grow from a tuber. But, like wax begonias, they're tropical, so you'll have to dig the tubers in fall and store them away for the winter. Another type, meanwhile -- namely, the "Rex" begonias -- is perhaps best known as a houseplant. 

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  • 15 of 15

    Flower Border With Brick Edging

    Photo flower border with brick edging coming to a curious point. I critique the design.
    So close: All that's needed to make this a brilliant flower border is a bit of work on the impatiens planting. David Beaulieu

    Let's conclude the article with this example -- a flower border with brick edging. It's a planting that would be quite nice with just a slight change.

    To be sure, there's a lot of potential here. The brick edging is surely more attractive than plastic garden edging, and the builder here has used it in such a way as to have the curving flower border taper to an interesting triangle. The Heuchera, with its rusty leaves, goes well with the brick edging. Meanwhile, the black-eyed susans...MORE go well with the Heuchera.

    For a closeup look (from a different planting) at a Heuchera, see this picture of a dark Heuchera.

    How could one improve this flower border? Well, first there's the obvious: you could complete the planting of the impatiens, so as to extend floral color all the way to the tip of the triangle. But beyond that, the color choice is not that great. One could have tested a salmon color here, and if that did not work, one could have gone with white impatiens.

    Are you looking forward to creating a perennial flower border for yourself? Would you like some help with the planning? Check out this review of the Encyclopedia of Planting Combinations.

    Fess up, have you just been browsing through the pictures of this 15-page tutorial? Then you need to return to Page 1 and begin reading all of the text in earnest. It's for your own good -- really. The pretty flower borders you've been seeing didn't happen by accident. The gardeners who created them truly knew their stuff.