How to revamp your garden borders – 5 tips from an expert

Monty Don shows off his incredible Jewel Garden

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Flower and shrub borders are a way to neaten up your garden and make it easier to maintain. You can plant seasonal flowers altogether in one patch or spread them out, organise a colour scheme, or simply make sure your plants stay out of a specific zone of the lawn. Whether you’re a border newbie or you’ve already got borders and want to spice them up a bit, here 5 top tips for bordering your garden from Isobel Spander, a gardening expert from Wiltshire Garden Design.

Structural Elements

Topiary shapes can give structure and year-round interest, they create a contrast to blowsy summer perennials and distract from less well cared for areas, according to Isobel.

However, the expert warned: “Do not rush in and get a couple of box balls, Buxus sempervirens, – there are a myriad of different options including good alternatives to box if blight is a problem in your area.

“Ilex crenata or Hebe rakaiensis can be clipped to create rounded evergreen balls or domes similar to box or yew.

“For something simpler consider deciduous beech, great for beehive shapes, or narrow leaf Portuguese Laurel, easy to grow and happy in most situations.”

Height and movement

Nobody wants a dull, flat border with everything at one height.

Isobel advised: “If your border seems to flower at all one level, then introduce some height with taller perennials and shrubs.

“A drift of Veronicastrum, which comes in pinks, lilacs and white, will add bulk as well as height.

“Thalicturm which is lighter and airier will contrast against denser left shrubs and is perfect at the back of a border.

“Where space is tight, consider Viburnum plicatum ‘Kilamanjaro’, a pretty, deciduous shrub with lace-cap like flowers on tiered branches, can grow up to 3m in height in the right conditions but will only spread to about 1.5m.”

A bit bitty

If your garden borders are a bit broken up and uncoordinated, there’s a simple solution.

Isobel said: “If you have one of everything and an incoherent mix of colours, shapes and forms, consider rationalising your borders so that you restrict the colour palette.

“Choose one or two complementary or contrasting colours, such as whites and pink for a dreamy feel or purples and yellow for something that packs a punch.

“Then, group plants together so that you have a minimum of three together – this may mean buying a few more plants of the same variety.

“Repeating plant groupings will also pull your planting scheme together.”

Good ‘doers’

Every border needs plants that have long flowering periods and require little attention (Isobel calls these ‘doers’).

The gardening expert advised: “Try Alchemilla mollis for its lime-yellow flowers & Geranium ‘Brookside’.

“Both are happy in sun and part shade and flower over a long period.

“Spilling out onto paths and lawns, they will create an exuberant, generous feel to your planting.

“Plants such as these are quick to mature so within a few years you will find yourself able to split geraniums and dig up seedlings to plant elsewhere.

Top notes

Some people get highlights in their hair to add interest and tie all of the colours and textures together, and you can do the same with your garden borders.

Isobel said: “Foxgloves and the pom-pom flowers of alliums are ideal for this.

“Don’t think too hard about where they are planted, they need to look like natural drifts that flow through the border rather than large clumps.”

Not sure where to buy all these bits from? Isobel recommends supporting your local independent plant nurseries as they often grow their own and will offer better value – have nurseries listed by county.

She added: “Alternatively try online specialist retailers like for perennials like Alchemilla mollis and Veronicastrum and for a wide variety of topiary shrubs.”

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