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.
Photo by Kimberley Navabpour; written by Kathleen N. Brenzel
2 of 21Photo by Kimberley Navabpour; written by Kathleen N. Brenzel
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. Many herbs also help suppress weeds. And best of all, it's right there any time you need to add flavor to your cooking. More:18 indispensable herbs to grow
Photo by Jennifer Cheung
3 of 21Photo 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’.
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 like this hosta and Gunnera manicata beside fine-leafed ones (like the maidenhair fern and native fairy bells), and spice up a mostly green palette with variegated plants that provide hits of gold, bronze, and purple. More:12 great foliage border plants
Photo by Damien Scogin
6 of 21Photo by Damien Scogin
Colorful border for three seasons
This garden border softens the transition between flagstone hardscaping and a wall, and will be gorgeous throughout the year thanks to good planning. 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
Photo by Norm Plate
7 of 21Photo 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.
Red kangaroo paws and yellowish orange alstroemerias brighten a border that curves out into a lawn in Rancho Santa Fe, CA. Garden borders can be very effective for artfully breaking up a large lawn or hardscaped yard and adding visual interest.
Photo by Claire Curran
9 of 21Photo 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. Grasses are also a. wonderful choice for adding fall color without flowers. Design: Proven Winners/EuroAmerican Propagators
Photo by Darcy Daniels
10 of 21Photo 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.
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.
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.
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.
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