Narrow borders might lack the promise of larger spaces, but a little creativity can work wonders.
One of the best ways to deal with a narrow border is to use the vertical space by growing climbing plants or trained trees and shrubs.
There are lots of herbaceous perennials you could plant, but many tall perennials are best avoided – in wider borders they blend in with shorter plants, but alone you’ll be left with rather stark, naked stems. There are exceptions of course, for example many verbascums produce a neat rosette of foliage at the base, from which emerges a tall, elegant flower spike.
It can be tricky to create a sense of cohesion in small spaces, so avoid overstuffing your border with lots of different plants to avoid a confusing medley. Take a look at some garden colour schemes you could use to pull everything together.
Check out some of our favourite plants to grow in narrow borders, below.
Espalier, fan and cordon-trained trees are a great option for narrow borders. Flat against the wall, they take up little room but can provide foliage, flowers and fruit. Trees to train in this way include, apples, pears, apricots and peaches. Discover three ways to train a fruit tree.
Bearded iris take up very little room and will thrive in a hot, sunny border. There are bearded irises in just about every colour, too, so they can be slotted in to suit lots of different garden colour schemes. Find out more about growing bearded irises.
Libertias are elegant perennials with strappy, grass-like foliage and airy stems bearing white flowers. Libertia chilensis is one of the most popular species to grow, enjoying a sunny spot and moist, well-drained soil. Try combining with small evergreen shrubs or perennials like nepeta and stachys.
If your narrow border is next to a pathway or somewhere else you pass by frequently, scented climbers like honeysuckle and jasmine are a great option. Don’t forget to plant around the base of your climbers, to avoid too much bare soil on show.
Mexican fleabane (Erigeron karvinskianus) is adept at growing in small crevices and cracks, so a narrow border is just the spot for it. It’s a good self-seeder so will gradually spread. Looks great combined with campanulas, ballota, rosemary and eryngiums. Discover some of the best self-seeding plants.
A narrow border is the perfect spot for a lavender hedge – even the narrowest borders can host dwarf lavender varieties like ‘Hidcote’ and ‘Little Lottie’. Check out more lavender varieties to grow.
For shady spots, an assortment of ferns is perfect for greening up the soil. If your border is at the base of a wall or fence, the soil may well be dry. For dry shade, go for ferns like Dryopteris affinis, Asplenium scolopendrium and Polypodium vulgare.
Japanese anemones are vigorous perennials that can be grown in sun or shade, though they prove especially useful plants for growing in dry shade. Try combining them other plants for dry shade.
Belladonna lilies (Amaryllis belladonna) are one of the many bulbs you could grow in a narrow border. All bulbs don’t take up lots of room, so are great for planting in narrow borders. Belladonna lilies have attractive, agapanthus-like foliage and large fragrant blooms. They’re good plant partners for salvias and echinaceas.
Japanese quinces (Chaenomeles) are stunning, easy shrubs to grow that can be trained against a wall or fence. They can be grown in sun or shade and will provide spring blossom, foliage and autumn fruits.
Many ornamental grasses will grow to form large clumps that could overwhelm a narrow border. Stipa tenuissuma is a good choice as it remains at around 40-60cm tall, providing fluffy, airy foliage. For shady spots, try Hakonechloa macra. Other sun-lovers to grow include Festuca amethystina and Schizachyrium scoparium.
Verbena bonariensis helpfully tend to grow up rather than out, so in a narrow border they’ll bring plenty of height without requiring a huge deal of room. They’re brilliant plants for pollinators, too, and can be cut back to produce more flowers.
Improving dry soil
Borders are often situated at the foot of walls and fences, and if so, are likely to be in a rain shadow resulting in dry soil. There lots of plants that enjoy dry soils, but if you are growing something that likes wetter feet, improve the soil before planting by adding organic matter, such as well-rotted manure or garden compost.