Before you create or plant up garden border, it’s important to consider its shape and depth.
Think about what effect you want to achieve. Straight borders tend to be more formal in appearance, whereas curved borders suit a more informal approach. You can plant more in deep borders and even use them to hide certain parts of the garden, including walls and sheds. Shallow or narrow borders are useful if you’re short of space but still want to soften certain areas of the garden, such as a strip of soil between a fence and path.
Once you have this figured out, you can start digging the edges. Make sure you have a visual guide in place when doing this to avoid unwanted irregularities along the line. For straight edges, try using a piece of twine stretched taut and held in place with canes. For curving edges, use a length of hose laid in the desired shape, then start cutting along it with a spade.
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Find out how to select the most suitable border shapes and depths for your space, below.
Positioning your borders
Sunlit garden border
When positioning your borders, consider the amount of sunlight the area receives, your soil type and how exposed your site is. All can affect the plants you grow there and whether you’ll need to improve the soil before planting.
Video: How to prepare a border for planting
Wood tiled path lined with narrow borders
Borders can be several metres deep or as narrow as a spade’s length. One of the best ways to get an initial feel for how large you want your borders is to get out in the garden and have a walk around potential sites. Think about any eyesores you might want to hide with a border, a well as things that can’t be covered by soil and plants, like drain inspection covers.
Also, consider any other elements close to your border. For example, a border of scented plants would be wonderful next to a garden bench, or close to a patio.
Plants for a narrow border
Plants for the front of a border
Plants for the middle of a border
Plants for the back of a border
Border shapes: straight
Straight border planted with perennials and shrubs
Straight-edged borders naturally have a somewhat formal appearance. Of course, this is partly determined by the plants you use – soft, billowing plants such as ornamental grasses will help to offset the effect of long, straight edges. For small gardens, consider borders with curved edges, which can make the space feel larger.
Border shapes: sweeping curves
Garden border in sweeping curve
Sweeping, curved borders can really help to make a space feel larger than it actually is. It’s important you get a smooth, uninterrupted curve when creating these borders, so use a length of hose to experiment with the shape and size of the border. You can also use it as a guide once you start digging.
Border shapes: undulating and amorphous
Undulating garden border planted with wildlife-friendly plants
Undulating border edges can look great, but the secret to success is not to make the ‘waves’ or undulations too small. You can use plants to enhance the undulating effect, letting plants spill over the border edges at intervals, creating a rhythmic ‘rise and fall’ effect. Amorphous borders have more curves, of varying sizes and depths, like the flow of a river.
Keeping borders looking good
From the outset, you can reduce the maintenance of borders edged by lawns by adding concealed metal edging. Find out how to edge a lawn with shears to keep the edges trim. Borders next to paving will require less maintainance.