Beds And Borders
IN a gardening dictionary one can imagine the first word is likely to be garden. After which the following words would be “beds” and borders. Why? It’s impossible to have a beautiful garden or any garden without beds and borders in it.
A bed is an area of ground marked out in the garden where flowers and plants are grown. A border is another type of bed, a strip of ground in which plants are also grown, enclosing an area in a garden or running along the edge of a walk or driveway.
The next word, logically would be “Design” A beautiful garden, any garden must have good design, a layout of beds and borders.
There are two basic types of garden beds and plants layouts- Island beds and borders- and two garden styles- formal and informal.
WHEN outlining the area of your new garden bed, give careful consideration to what is going to be planted in the bed, and then determine how large each plant is going to be when fully mature.
Your garden’s character and how much time you are prepared to spend in maintenance would determine the types of plants you choose.
If you pick trees and shrubs, for example, they will cost more, but take less maintenance.
Herbaceous perennials require higher maintenance, but higher return. You can keep shrubs trimmed to a certain size and perennials can be divided to keep them at the desired size, but be realistic when making estimates of their mature size.
Underestimating the size of plants as they mature and making the garden bed too small for mature plants is Number One mistake made by do-it-yourself landscapers.
If the garden bed is too small, the landscape is going to look silly as the plants mature and reach their full potential.
A BORDER is anchored by a backdrop, and I think these beds are easier to visualise than Island beds, at least for me, since the background will help define the size of your new bed.
The backdrop might be a house, a hedgerow, a fence, a wall or anything else that gives you a solid background. Borders are viewed from only one side.
A flower border is generally, but not always, long and narrow. Your bed should not be narrower than 42 inches and corner beds should be at least 12 feet in diameter. A three-feet by eight-feet bed will look right at home.
A longer bed will need more depth, if possible 12 feet by 100 feet bed will look proportional. Most home gardens are more likely to have beds that fall between five and 50 feet long.
In this case, depth should range between three and eight feet deep. Any bed that is deeper than four feet (you can only reach so far) will need to have access to the interior of the bed for weeding and other maintenance purposes.
Paths or stepping-stones are common ways to provide access.
Island Beds on the other hand, are not anchored by a backdrop and can be viewed from all sides. They often have a centre anchor. This anchor isn’t necessarily right in the middle.
It can be offset to one side for an asymmetrical look. Centre anchors can be anything from a tree, shrub or large perennial to a piece of sculpture or a large container; even a trellis/arbour can work as a centre anchor.
Island beds tend to be more round, square, rectangular or amorphous. They are rarely long and skinny.
As with borders, their length and width need to be somewhat proportional. So, long beds need also to be wider.
Island beds can be small, but are more often large. Since they can be reached from all sides, only beds larger than six to eight feet across will need access for maintenance.
A tiny island bed floating out in the middle of a spacious lawn just looks terrible. To make an island bed look good, it must be 20 to 40 feet long and a minimum of 12 feet in diameter on at least one end.
In general, plants in border are arranged with tall plants (taller than two to tree feet) placed in the back, mid-size plants (10 to two to three feet) in the middle, and short plants (less than 10 inches) in the front of the bed.
It is best to use groupings or drifts of plants for a natural feel.
The other thing to consider when planning your plant placement is that it is often best to use groupings of at least three of the same plant together.
One plant alone often does not have enough impact, where a group of three, five, seven or more will have good impact.
Odd numbers tend to look better than even numbers. This is especially true of smaller plants, where groups are necessary to have impact. Short plants can be used in long narrow plantings to create borders on the edge of a bed.
There is an exception to the plant-three-or-more-plant rule. In general, if a plant is large enough- thick shrubs or large perennials- it can hold its own without being grouped with other plants.
Usually, only back of the border plants can stands alone.
Island beds work on the same principles as borders, but rather than having the taller plants in the back, they are in the middle of the bed or centred on the anchor plant.
Your design doesn’t need to be rigid. The tall-to-short progression is simply a rule of thumb, not a hard and fast rule.