Herbaceous border

Gardening for beginners – Planting styles

Get inspiration from the different planting styles, including cottage, prairie, jungle, wildlife and more.

Once you’ve got a handle on the different types of plants – bulbs, annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees – you can start to put them together to gorgeous effect. But first, you need to decide on your planting style.

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There are lots of different planting styles, from the traditional herbaceous border to a prairie look, or a romantic cottage garden to a more tropical or exotic style.

An overarching style throughout the garden often works well, but you could also divide or separate the garden into different areas or ‘rooms’, with a different style in each. There are no hard and fast rules, and it’s your garden, so do what pleases you.

In the next part of this series we’ll look at combining plants but in the meantime, here are some of the main garden styles for inspiration.

There are lots of different planting styles to choose from, from the traditional herbaceous border to a prairie look, or from a romantic cottage garden to a more tropical or exotic style. 

Herbaceous border

The herbaceous border is formal planting style that you see in the beautiful long borders of country houses. It is often themed by colour and is planted mostly with perennials, with shrubs and topiary for structure. It’s a beautiful style of planting that requires careful planning – and can be high maintenance, as perennials need cutting back after flowering and dividing regularly. Browse our website for more information on planning and creating borders.

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Cottage garden

The cottage garden is a much-loved planting style. It’s an informal affair – a jumble of brightly coloured bulbs, annuals, perennials and flowering shrubs and climbers. Traditionally, a cottage garden also include some edible plants, too, such as runner beans. Find out more about plants for a cottage garden.

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Gravel garden

A gravel garden does away with a lawn and borders, and instead involves growing drought-tolerant plants through a layer of gravel. It gives an informal look and is a great option if you live in a dry part of the country. The soil beneath needs to prepared well first. It’s a good, low maintenance option for a sunny spot – Beth Chatto’s renowned garden in Essex is famously never watered. Discover plants for a gravel garden.

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Prairie style

Prairie-style planting, also known as new perennial planting, combines ornamental grasses with late-flowering perennials to create a natural, prairie look. The plants are planted in groups and are left standing over winter, so that the plants’ forms and seedheads can be appreciated. This low-maintenance style looks great in a large garden. Discover plants for a prairie border.

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Bog garden

If you have a permanently boggy, poorly drained or persistently wet area in your garden, it is perfect for a bog garden, in which moisture-loving plants can thrive. You can also create a bog garden around the edges of a pond. It’s a great option for attracting wildlife. Discover plants for a bog garden.

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Jungle look

Exotic, jungle gardens are all about creating a lush, tropical look, using large-leaved plants such as bananas, paired with brightly coloured flowers. You can use tropical plants, but these will need protection from frost in the cold winter months. You can also achieve the look using hardy large leaved and exotic-looking plants such as hostas and fuchsias. Discover plants for a jungle garden.

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Urban garden

Urban gardens are often small, so the plants you choose need to look good all year round, with long-lasting blooms, great foliage and interesting shapes and forms. In an urban garden, you can get away with a bold, contemporary look (although other styles look great, too) – and you’ll often have the added advantage of a sheltered microclimate. You might think that you need to fill a small space with compact plants, but in fact, plants with a strong, architectural form will have more impact and make the space feel bigger. Discover 12 plants for an urban garden.

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Woodland border

A woodland look is perfect for an area of your garden that is shaded by trees, or even a boundary. Alternatively, you can plant trees and shrubs to provide shade, planting shade-loving perennials and bulbs underneath. The soil in these areas may be rather dry, so incorporate lots of well-rotted organic matter such as leaf mould or well-rotted manure when planting, and mulch generously in spring. Discover 10 woodland plants to grow.

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Wildlife garden

Any garden can and should be good for wildlife – read Alan Titchmarsh’s advice on making a wildlife-friendly garden. But you can go one step further and create a garden that is much about wildlife as it is about plants, packed with features that feed and shelter all kinds of insects, animals and birds. Watch Monty Don’s video guides to creating a wildlife garden.

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