Establish Your Garden Softly With Planted Borders

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In the medieval knot garden to Victorian displays of carpet bedding, delineation between landscape attributes has always been important in garden design; defining lawn edges, pathways or paving from neatly planted beds continues to be valuable in our houses today.

Hardscaping materials like concrete, brick and terra-cotta have traditionally been used, however there are benefits of using a softer alternative: plants. Plants have the advantage in many ways, such as being cost effective, supplying year-round interest in foliage and blossoms and, first and foremost, having the capability to soften the joint between pathways and plantings.

Both formal and casual edging plantings are appropriate to contemporary gardens, and today we see a broad range of plants used. Let us look at some fascinating examples.

Schmechtig Landscapes

Seventeenth-century English botanist John Parkinson wrote that boxwood hedging “is of great use to boundary up a knot, and a marvellous fine decoration there unto.”

Boxwood (Buxus sp.) Remains the preferred favorite in formal gardens today; whether hard clipped or allowed to grow more broadly, it’s stunning.

Pam Adams

Here we see non box edging maintaining formal lines, while creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia) has been used as a reduced edging to help soften the border with all the brick paving.

Stefan Laport Landscape Architect IFLA

Contrast foliage, shape and colour by double lining edging plants for a dramatic border edge. Purple-leafed flowering Heuchera, shown here, contrasts so well against the deep green of the clipped boxwood.

Jamie Van De Vanter

Grasses can be perfect for formal edging plants and are getting increasingly more popular with this use.

Here Japanese blood grass (Imperata cylindrica ‘Rubra’) shows us how successful it may be in developing a well-delineated border to the bed; its vertical nature certainly defines the sharp edge of the paving. (Ornamental grasses used in this fashion also tend to be low maintenance.)

Randy Thueme Design Inc. – Landscape Architecture

Not all planting edges will need to be low. The stately lines of tall Miscanthus sinensis hereshow us exactly what a dramatic effect really tall edging plants could produce. They are used to specify the path advantage, getting almost sculptural in form.

Shades Of Green Landscape Architecture

We could see a much more natural use of edging plants.

One of the most adorable edgings that really combines this border to the path is lamb’s ears (Stachys byzantina). Stachys was a favorite pruning plant of Gertrude Jekyll, the Edwardian garden designer who taught us how to use colour in our borders.

In a number of her planting approaches, especially the extended color-schemed herbaceous borders for which she is famous, she adored using low-growing silver-foliage plants as edging. She found that the neutral gray-silver coloring harmonized with a variety of coloured blossoms within her borders.

JMS Design Associates

The lavender (Lavandula stoechas ‘Hazel’) and lamb’s ears (Stachys sp) used here produce a low tunnel of flower and scent without limiting the passage along the path.

When the flowering is over, what is left is the gorgeous glaucous, pungent foliage of this lavender on one side, almost represented by the silver Stachys opposite.

Both are contented in dry, well-drained and sunny scenarios.


Lavender cotton (Santolina chamaecyparissus) is just another excellent gray-leafed all-natural edger. Some folks may not enjoy its wayward habit, its bright lemon-yellow pom-pom blossoms or its pungent odor, but it’s great for blurring the advantages of any pathway. If trimmed it could make a very neat, formal, nonflowering edging hedge around 12 to 18 inches tall.

The Garden Route Company

Perennials can be a popular choice for a low plant. Blossoms and their fresh seasonal foliage overcome the landscape situation of many species’ expiring back over winter.

This Euphorbia martini, with its acid-green blossoms, creates not only a casual edging but also a excellent knee-high barrier to deter animals and little children from invading the bed behind.

D-CRAIN Design and Construction

It’s not merely along pathways where casual plantings of edging plants may be used to take the eye off hard edges. Here the steel sides of those raised beds are draped with a low-growing stonecrop (Sedum sp) — the contrast against the steel is quite effective, in the contrast of both texture and colour.

This superb parterre possibly links both styles of edging. The arrangement is formal, but the stunning white astilbes encompasses the casual.

More: How Low Can Hedges Move? Interesting Garden Borders

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