Create a Sunny Flower Border

Free Garden Design

Free Garden Design - Sunny Border
Marie Iannotti

When most people think of a flower border, they picture it in full sun. Perhaps that's because when you create a garden in full sun, you have thousands of the most popular plants to choose from. You'll get the most blooms in full sun and once established, sun-loving plants require relatively little care to grow vigorously.

The design illustrated here is for a long border, 24' x 6' long. One of the easiest ways to design a cohesive garden is to limit your choice of colors and the flowers in this border are basically in shades of purple, blue and gold. Most of the flowers selected are suitable for a range of hardiness zones, but alternatives are also listed. Keep in mind that local nurseries usually stock varieties that are specially adapted to your area.

Full sun opens the doors to a full spectrum of plant material. The sunny border design illustrated here runs 24' long and is about 6' deep. It would look lovely against a fence or in front of a hedge. The colors here are minimal, mostly shades of purple and yellow. They can be intensified with stronger hued varieties are by adding more hot colored flowers, like orange daylilies or red phlox.

Most of the plants are suitable for a range of hardiness zones, but alternatives are listed. Specifics about each plant follow on successive pages.

  1. Buddleia davidii 'Potters Purple Butterfly Bush' 
  2. Phlox paniculata 'Tall garden phlox'
  3. Symphyotrichum novae-angliae (New England Aster) 'Purple Dome'
  4. Heliopsis helianthoides (Sunflower heliopsis, False Sunflower) 'Golden Plume'
  5. Hemerocallis (Daylily) 'Hyperion'
  6. Echinacea purpurea (Purple Coneflower) 'Vintage Wine'
  7. Sedum 'Autumn Joy'
  8. Achillea filipendulina 'Coronation Gold'
  9. Perovskia (Russian Sage) 'Blue Spires'
  10. Liatris spicata (Blazing Star) 'Kobold'
  11. Coreopsis verticillata (Tickseed, Threadleaf Coreopsis) 'Moonbeam'
  • 01 of 11

    If You Plant It, They Will Come

    Buddleia (Butterfly Bush)
    Buddleia (Butterfly Bush). Marie Iannotti

    Butterfly bushes are no-brainer plants. You cut them back to about 10 - 12 inches in early spring and then let them do their thing. They'll shoot up 5 - 6' in a season and send out a continuous supply of spiky flowers in shades of white, pink, magenta and purple. And if you plant them, they will come. Butterflies really do love butterfly bushes.

    Note: Butterfly Bush is invasive in some areas, such as the Pacific NW. Check with your Cooperative Extension to see if you should be planting Buddleia in your area.

    Buddleia davidii 'Potters Purple' (USDA Zones 5 - 9, 6' x 4' Purple Blossoms: July - Oct.)


    • Vitex agnus-castus (Chaste Tree) 'Colonial Blue' (USDA Zones 5 - 11, 4' x 3', Purple Blooms: July - August)
    Continue to 2 of 11 below.
  • 02 of 11

    It's Called Garden Phlox Because It's Almost Guaranteed to Be There

    Garden Phlox
    Garden Phlox. Marie Iannotti

    Phlox may be an old-fashioned plant, but they just keep coming out with wonderful new varieties. Not that the older varieties aren't gorgeous. But Phlox has a tendency to develop powdery mildew in damp or humid areas. By mid-summer, the plants can get pretty ugly. Newer varieties are being bred for resistance to powdery mildew, so you can take advantage of Phlox's repeat blooming nature. You will need to deadhead the flowers, to keep more flowers coming. And you may also need to stake the plants since the flowers make them top heavy.

    Phlox paniculata 'The King' (USDA Zones 4 - 8, 26" x 24", Magenta Blooms: July - Sept.)


    • Phlox x paniculata 'Red Feelings', (USDA Zones 4 - 8, 28" x 20", Reddish-Purple Blooms: July - Sept.)
    • Centranthus ruber (Red Valerian) (USDA Zones 5 - 8, 36" x18", Magenta Blooms: June - Aug.)
    Continue to 3 of 11 below.
  • 03 of 11

    Fall Surprise

    New England Aster
    New England Aster. Marie Iannotti

    Asters are known as fall bloomers, but in truth, if left unpinched they bloom earlier. However they will also get tall and gangly and since it only takes a moment to pinch back the stems, it's worth the effort. You'll get sturdier, fuller plants with many more blooms. And they will burst into rich fall colors just when you need them to.

    The New England Aster shown here will keep the color going in this corner or the garden, as the Phlox plants begin to fade for the season.

    Symphyotrichum novae-angliae 'Purple Dome' (USDA Zones 3 - 9, 24" x 24", Purple Blooms: Aug. - Sept.)


    • Aster x frikartii 'Monch' (USDA Zones 5 - 7, 24" x 18", Purple Blooms: June - Sept.)
    Continue to 4 of 11 below.
  • 04 of 11

    It's Called False Sunflower, But It Will Truly Light Up Your Garden

    Helianthus (Sunflowers)
    Marie Iannotti

    Heliopsis isn't a true sunflower and it doesn't grow into a giant stalk. I'm not sure why it got its common name, except that the bright yellow flowers are indeed sunny. They also bloom almost all summer. It forms a nice fat clump, but it may need some staking, particularly when it gets wet. Deadheading keeps the flowers going longer and helps maintain a more attractive look to the plant.

    Heliopsis helianthoides (Sunflower heliopsis) 'Golden Plume' (USDA Zones 3 - 9, 48" x 36", Orange/Gold Blossoms: June - Aug.)


    • Coreopsis grandiflora (Large Flowered Tickseed) (USDA Zones 4 - 9, 30" x 36", Orange/Gold Blossoms: June - Sept.)
    Continue to 5 of 11 below.
  • 05 of 11


    Repeat Blooming Daylilies 'Happy Returns'
    Repeat Blooming Daylilies 'Happy Returns'. Marie Iannotti

    Daylilies are one of the most popular perennials because they grow with so little fuss. A mature daylily will have enough buds to bloom for weeks. The repeat-blooming varieties, such as 'Happy Returns', will bloom for weeks, rest and bloom again. For continuous color, you can choose either repeat bloomers or simply plant a few different varieties that bloom at alternate times.

    Hemerocallis (Daylily) 'Hyperion' (USDA Zones 4 - 9, 40" x 24", Yellow Blooms: Mid-Summer)


    • Hemerocallis (Daylily) 'Happy Return' (USDA Zones 4 - 9, 18" x 18", Yellow Repeat Bloomer)
    • Hemerocallis (Daylily) 'Going Bananas' (USDA Zones 4 - 9, 18" x 20", Yellow Repeat Bloomer)
    Continue to 6 of 11 below.
  • 06 of 11

    Purple or Otherwise, They're Easy Growing Garden Treasures

    Echinacea (Purple Coneflowers)
    Echinacea (Purple Coneflowers). Marie Iannotti

    No garden should be without a few coneflowers. They're long bloomers, relatively easy maintenance, butterflies love them and the birds will feast on their seeds in the winter. Plus, there are so many wonderful new varieties coming out. Coneflowers are almost always called Purple Coneflowers, even though they now come in white, yellow, orange, pink and red and the purple Purple Coneflowers are more of a magenta. What they all have in common is a rugged growth habit that lets them withstand poor soil and drought conditions. However, rich garden soil, full sun, and regular water will reward you with healthier plants and more blooms.

    Echinacea purpurea (Purple Coneflower) 'Vintage Wine' (USDA Zones 4 - 9, 36" - 30", Magenta Blooms: July - Sept.)


    • Echinacea 'Twilight' (USDA Zones 4 - 8 30" x 18", Rose Blooms: July - Aug.)
    • Monarda x 'Violet Queen' (USDA Zones 4 - 9, 36" x 18", Magenta Blooms: July - Aug.)
    Continue to 7 of 11 below.
  • 07 of 11

    An Idea of a Perfect Plant

    Using Sedum in a Full Sun Garden Border Design
    Using Sedum in a Full Sun Garden Border Design. Marie Iannotti

    If the deer didn't eat Sedum, they would be perfect. They look good all year, even in the snow. And the only care required is cutting back to new growth in the spring. Sedum 'Autumn Joy' has been in gardens forever. Catalogs keep saying they've improved it, but gardeners keep returning to it.

    Sedum 'Autumn Joy' (USDA Zones 3 - 9, 36" x 24", Magenta Blooms: Aug - Sept.)


    • Sedum 'Autumn Fire' (USDA Zones 3 - 9, 24" x 18", Magenta Blooms: Aug - Sept.)
    Continue to 8 of 11 below.
  • 08 of 11

    A Blue that Keeps You in Anticipation

    Growing Russian Sage (Perovskia)
    Growing Russian Sage (Perovskia). Marie Iannotti

    Russian Sage came out of nowhere, in the 1990s, and established itself as a garden standard. It's a sub-shrub grouped with perennial flowers because it blooms on new wood and it tends to die back to the ground each winter. Wait until the lower buds just start to turn green in the spring, then cut the whole plant down to 8 - 10 inches. As the flowers develop over the summer, their blue gradually increases in intensity until they are almost iridescent. After peak, they fade down to a gray-blue.

    Perovskia (Russian Sage) 'Blue Spires' (USDA Zones 4 - 9, 4' x 4', Purple/Blue Blossoms: July - Aug.)


    Continue to 9 of 11 below.
  • 09 of 11

    Fluffy Spikes of Cheerful Purple

    Liatris (Blazing Star)
    Liatris (Blazing Star). Marie Iannotti

    Purple & blue flowers are at their best in a sunny border, when paired with their complement, yellow. The spiky flower stalks are a nice contrast to the wispy, lacy leaves of the neighboring coreopsis and the purple-blue is echoed by the nearby Russian Sage.

    Liatris spicata (Blazing Star) 'Kobold' (USDA Zones 3 - 9, 24" x 12", Lilac Blooms: July - August)


    • Agastache x 'Black Adder' (USDA Zones 6 - 9, 23" x 15", Purple Booms: July - Sept.)
    • Lavendula x intermedia 'Grosso' (USDA Zones 5 - 10, 24" x 18", Purple Blooms: July - Sept.)
    Continue to 10 of 11 below.
  • 10 of 11

    An American Native with a Royal Petigree - 'Coronation Gold'

    Yarrow 'Coronation Gold' and 'Moonshine'
    Yarrow 'Coronation Gold' and 'Moonshine'. Marie Iannotti

    Achillea is a plant that is taken for granted in its native United States. Other counties show it a bit more respect. 'Coronation Gold' was hybridized in England and was named to commemorate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. When they sent it back to the U.S., it still didn't get the praise we confirm on 'Moonshine',  a paler yellow yarrow shown with'Coronation Gold' above. But 'Coronation Gold' is a wonderful sturdy plant with a yellow that forces the colors next to it to look vibrant and alive. As with all yarrows, deadheading is necessary to keep the flowers coming. However 'Coronation Gold' is less floppy than many of the fern-leaf yarrows.

    Achillea filipendulina (Fernleaf Yarrow) 'Coronation Gold' (USDA Zones 3 - 9, 36" x 20", Gold Blooms: July - Sept.)


    • Achillea 'Moonshine' (USDA Zones 3 - 9, 20" x 24", Yellow Blooms: July - Sept.)
    • Echinacea 'Harvest Moon' (USDA Zones 4 - 8, 30" x 24", Gold Blooms: July -Sept.)
    Continue to 11 of 11 below.
  • 11 of 11

    No Other Yellow Quite Measures Up

    Coreopsis 'Moonbeam'
    Coreopsis 'Moonbeam'. Marie Iannotti

    Threadleaf coreopsis has the most delicate foliage. The soft, buttery yellow of 'Moonbean' isn't often seen in flowers and is Moonbeam's main attraction. However, it can sometimes be short-lived or difficult to keep in the same place. It's not an aggressive grower, but it has a tendency to disappear from the spot you planted it and pop up elsewhere. If that's the case in your garden there are other, more reliable threadleaf coreopsis with less buttery, but still attractive shades of gold.

    They are all difficult to deadhead, because of the abundance of their tiny blossoms. The easiest thing to do is to let them bloom their hearts out and then shear the whole plant back by about 1/3. It will take only a couple of weeks to send out new blooms.

    Coreopsis verticillata 'Moonbeam' (USDA Zones 4 - 9, 18" x 18", Yellow Repeat Bloomer)


    • Coreopsis verticillata 'Zagreb' (USDA Zones 4 - 9, 18" x 18", Yellow Repeat Bloomer)
    • Coreopsis verticillata 'Golden Showers' (USDA Zones 4 - 9, 24" x 18", Yellow Repeat Bloomer)