Flower Beds and Borders

Most formal garden designs and many informal ones group plants within beds and borders. These groupings may feature plants of a single type, such as flowering bulbs, or combine plants from different groups, such as annuals and shrubs.

A bed is a freestanding area of soil—rectangular, square, round, oval, or kidney-shaped—surrounded by lawn, flagstone, brick, or some other ground cover. It is usually mounded in the middle to improve drainage and to render the plants visible from all sides. The plants are most often arranged concentrically, with the tallest variety in the middle and the shortest around the edge.

A border is a narrow planting along a pathway or at the foot of a hedge, wall, or fence. Borders are often rectangular, but sometimes have an informal, free-flowing edge. Most borders are approached from only one side, by means of a path or lawn area. A very effective planting design is a parallel border, in which two flower borders face each other across a path lined with grass, brick, gravel, flagstone, or wood chips. If the border is against a wall, fence, or hedge, raise the soil at the back of the border so that water drains down from the background feature. Border plants are arranged in tiers, with the tallest at the rear, intermediate-height plants in the middle, and compact plants at the front as an edging.

Some designs call for the plants in a bed or border to be perfectly uniform in height. This is the case in so-called carpet bedding, a bedding style in which plants are laid out like a carpet on soil that has been raked flat. A level surface and a uniform plant height are also desirable in traditional parterre gardens, where dwarf hedges and flowering plants delineate circles, diamonds, scrolls, and other formal patterns.