20 garden border designs

See how to use foliage and flowers to soften a wall, accent a lawn, or fringe a path

Making a great garden border

Photo by Norm Plate

Great garden borders: The basic ingredients

Creating a border isn't difficult if you break it down into its basic elements ― lacey fringes, accent colors, layers of short-to-tall plantings, and color echoes.

Curving borders, like this one in Ralph Hasting's Whidbey Island, Washington, garden, are more interesting ― and more complementary with casual landscapes ― than straight-edged ones.

Before planting, test out possible outlines for your border with a rope or hose.

Click ahead for 13 inspiring border designs to get you started.

Herb border

Photo by Kimberley Navabpour; written by Kathleen N. Brenzel

Herb border

Combine thyme, oregano, English lavender, and sage for a gorgeous herb border. Once established, these herbs need only little to moderate watering and occasional fertilizing to look good for most of the year in mild climates.

More: 18 indispensable herbs to grow

Cool spot in the sun

Photo by Jennifer Cheung

Cool spot in the sun

“I use ribbons of color—a sort of running stitch—to unify the border,” says designer Gabriela Yariv in her Santa Monica garden. Pink Echeveria ‘Afterglow’ dots the carpet of gray-blue Dymondia margaretae, repeating the hues of the larger plants.

Golden bamboo (Phyllo­stachys aurea) creates a soft green backdrop that doesn’t compete with the sculptural plants in this sunny Santa Monica border.

For an accent: a bronze-tinged ‘Sundowner’ phormium is striking beside an icy blue Agave attenuata ‘Nova’.

Design: Gabriela Yariv Landscape Design (310/458-7250)

Warm bed in the shade

Photo by Tish Treherne

Warm bed in the shade

Tish Treherne's garden on Bainbridge Island, Washington, features a variety of warm colors that do well in the shade.

Plants like Spiraea japonica ‘Goldflame,’ Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’ (foreground) and a grassy Deschampsia flexuosa ‘Aurea’ carry their hues throughout the border for overall harmony.

Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’ arches over the top: “I particularly like trees whose bright red or orange fall color floats above blue or chartreuse foliage,” says the designer.

Design: Tish Treherne, Bliss Garden Design (206/799-0897)

 

Foliage border

Photo by Stacie Crooks

Foliage border

A great foliage border gives a garden a rich, layered look that doesn’t depend on flowers for dramatic effect. The key to success: Pick the right blend of shrubs and small trees whose leaves and branches create contrasts in color, texture, shape, and size. To make each plant stand out, set big-leafed plants beside fine-leafed ones, and spice up a mostly green palette with variegated plants that provide hits of gold, bronze, and purple.

More: 12 great foliage border plants

Colorful border for three seasons

Photo by Damien Scogin

Colorful border for three seasons

Flowers that bloom over a long season and require only modest amounts of water or time ― isn't that what we all want? Choose the right plants and you can have vibrant borders from spring through fall.

More: Border for three seasons

Pool garden border

Photo by Norm Plate

Pool garden border

Borders don't have to be large or complex to have visual impact; just four or five well-chosen plants can work wonders.

Here, a border of purple African daisies, lobelia, sea lavender, and silvery dusty Miller hugs a pool in Scottsdale, AZ.

Design: Graham Smith, Arcadia Studio (602/955-0301)

Lawn accent

Photo by Bob Wigand

Lawn accent

Red kangaroo paws and yellowish orange alstroemerias brighten a border that curves out into a lawn in Rancho Santa Fe, CA.

Soften a wall

Photo by Claire Curran

Soften a wall

Purple fountain grass and other foliage plants create a leafy screen that adds texture in front of a fence or wall.

Design: Proven Winners/EuroAmerican Propagators

Fringe a path

Photo by Darcy Daniels

Fringe a path

This border features two rosy Scotch heathers (Calluna vulgaris ‘Dark Beauty’) and variegated Hebe speciosa ‘Tricolor’. Scotch moss grows between pavers.

Design: Darcy Daniels, Bloomtown Garden Design, Portland (503/331-1783)

More great garden paths

 

Edge a sidewalk

Photo by Darcy Daniels

Edge a sidewalk

In a curb strip are 'Royal Purple' smoke tree, 'Sapphire' blue oat grass, 'Globemaster' allium, yellow 'Golden Celebration' rose, white 'Iceberg' rose, and Miscanthus sinensis 'Variegatus'.

Frame a focal point

Photo by Allan Mandell

Frame a focal point

Orange-red ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ dahlias, ‘Tropicana' canna, and green-leafed 'Pretoria' canna surround an umbrella in Mark Henry's garden in Snohomish, WA.

Sun-loving plants

Norm Plate

Sun-loving plants

Red-leafed coleus and yellow-flowered sedum accent a sunny border in Washington state.

Design: Daniel Mount, Seattle (206/679-4759)

Shade lovers

Norm Plate

Shade lovers

In partial shade, heart-shaped hosta leaves contrast with lacy Japanese maple foliage.

Design: Daniel Mount, Seattle (206/679.4759)

Pink garden border

Norm Plate

Pink garden border

Pink sweet William and poppies play off yellow daylilies and silvery lamb's ears in Betty Taylor's Ketchum, ID, border.

More: 3 beautiful planting plans

Edible garden path

Photo by Thomas J. Story

Edible garden path

Line a garden path with herbs and vegetables for fragrance, color, and a delicious harvest all summer. To unify your design, pick a color scheme. We chose chartreuse and purple for this garden plan.

More: Eat your garden border

Ornamental grass

Ornamental grass

Adding grasses brings texture, motion, light, and even sound to the garden. More important, grasses are graceful threads that weave all other plants in the garden together, making them look more like family members than a convention of strangers.

More: Designing a garden with gorgeous grasses

Using the right balance

Norm Plate

Using the right balance

Drifts of shorter Shasta daisies play off tall flower spikes of lupines and iris in this garden. Playing with height is but one principle of how to design a balanced border. Plants' needs, as well as leaf texture and color, are other considerations.

More: Mixing plants in borders

Cool perennials

Rob D. Brodman

Cool perennials

A new twist on the pink theme, a border that pairs pink-flowered plants with subtle splashes of gray, green, and maroon foliage is more sophisticated than sweet.

More: Get details & planting plans for this border design

Flowers and edibles

Rob D. Brodman

Flowers and edibles

Many herbs and vegetables have especially colorful foliage that look great with flowers and ornamental grasses. In this 8-foot-wide planting, lime green and purple basils determine the color scheme. Use flowers of yellow, orange, and red to play off bold foliage in shades of green.

More: Get details & planting plans for this border design

 

Tropical jewels

Rob D. Brodman

Tropical jewels

You don't have to visit the tropics to enjoy jungly foliage and flowers. Just choose the right plants to create a tropical border anywhere in the West. For this 9- by 5½-foot planting, landscape designer Karen Donnelly combined coral, fiery orange, red, and yellow flowers with lime green and deep green tropical foliage.

More: Get details & planting plans for this border design

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