Garden Beds and Borders

Autumn is an ideal time to reflect and reconsider your garden plan.

| October/November 2002

Gardeners are quick to be critical of their home ground and that impetus, slowed down, can be useful in identifying the need for change. We sometimes get a bee in our bonnets over some small nuisance. However it’s best not to focus on aggravating details, but first take a broad view of the area and determine its character. Is this an old garden with accumulated artifacts from previous owners, or a new and barren landscape? Does it appear empty or crowded, disorganized or messy, vacant or overwhelming in size and scale? Are structures tumbled down, in disrepair, antiquated? Or is there nothing but a new sod lawn and board fence?

Gardeners are natural-born collectors and can’t pass through a plant nursery without several unplanned but deeply coveted acquisitions finding their way onto the cart. Restraint is just not their virtue—gardeners are shameless when it comes to impulse buying. Nature obliges this compulsion by producing endless species of ferns and campanulas, but if you’re going to enjoy them all you’d better have someplace to put them. And that leads to beds and borders.

Beds and borders

The purpose of a planting bed is to provide a showcase for ornamental plants that will complement the landscaped garden. Beds can be situated as focal points that gradually lead you through the garden, and in that respect, they are directional signals indicating which way to go or when to stop and pause.

Beds and borders can be used to balance a garden, perhaps placed across from large objects like swimming pools or surrounding a gazebo to provide context and tie the structure into the garden. Staggered along the sides of a long and narrow garden, they cause interest to shift from one side to the other; avoiding the bowling-lane effect of looking straight to the back.

Island beds

In a very broad garden, island beds can be set into the lawn area to focus attention inward and keep you from feeling lost in too much space. Making a bed in a very small area is sometimes the best way to bring a diversity of interest where nothing else will fit. Some townhouse gardens are so tiny that they can be given over to one big bed with a place for two chairs.

In a cold climate, it’s important to place some beds planned and planted for winter interest where they can be seen from windows, allowing you to anticipate spring while gazing on a display of ornamental bark, berries, and dried grasses with tall sedums.

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