A beautiful border, stuffed full of a wide variety of rich and colourful plants can be a joy to behold, but it can seem like an expensive venture to create, especially if you’re starting from scratch. But the reality is that with some clever planting techniques, some brilliant recycling ideas, and some top tips from industry experts, you can easily create a stunning border on a surprisingly small budget.
Begin by establishing the size and shape of your border. Try sketching out your garden plot, even roughly, on a piece of paper, and doodling some border shapes and ideas until you find a look that you’re happy with. Looking to annual garden shows, such as the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, for inspiration can be a great place to glean all sorts of useful tips and style ideas to get your border looking fantastic!
There’s no right or wrong way to design your borders – but take care to ensure that you regard the sunlight in your garden. If you have a very shady, north-facing garden, and have plans to plant lots of sun-loving flowers and shrubs, ensure that you create borders in the sunnier areas of your garden. Also take into account any existing structures in your garden, and build your borders around these garden-defining shapes. For example, if you have a shed, a pergola, or a fountain, imagine how the borders around these elements will compliment, or hinder them. If you’re a very creative person, you’ll love this first part of the border building process!
Now that you’ve established where your borders are going to sit in your garden, it’s time to get your wellies on and your spade out. If you’ve recently moved into a new home, and are faced with just a blank lawn, you can easily lay out your border design using all manner of thrifty tools, such as string and pins. All your likely to spend at this stage will be a bit of sweat and toil!
A good starting point for laying out your design is to place a long piece of string on the ground, and adjusting and rearranging its shape and position until it resembles your initial paper sketches. You can then easily dig this outline into your garden using a spade or half-moon edger.
Going for a curvy border look? Easily create accurate curves by placing a pin, or a tent peg, into the lawn, stretching a length of string out to the required length, and attaching this to your peg. Pull the string taught from the centre peg, and dig into the lawn using a half-moon edger or spade at this point. Pulling back on the spade slightly towards yourself will ensure that you can easily see the line you’re creating. With the string still pulled taught, rotate further around the peg and dig another line here. By doing this for the complete 45 degrees, or further, if your design calls for it, you’ll easily achieve an accurate curve.
Having ‘sketched’ out your outline into the lawn, start removing the turf in these border areas using a spade. Take care to only dig up small chunks of turf at a time, so you don’t strain your back lifting enormous clods of earth and grass.
With the turf-layer removed, you should start to see your border shape emerging, and the reality of your gardening design taking shape! In order to establish a good basis for growing plants and shrubs in your border, you must now review and dig over the soil. There are different methods to digging your soil – single digging or double digging. Single digging is most likely the best method if you’re starting out with a new garden, as it allows for the incorporation of organic matter. Adding this matter can significantly improve the quality of your topsoil, leading to a productive and populous border. Simple digging – meaning the lifting of the soil, inverting the spade and dropping it back in it’s original position, will help to some degree, but single digging, and the inclusion of organic matter will certainly improve your borders.
Start with Structure
Having established the shape and soil quality, it’s time to get some strong structure in place. Shrubs, trees and plants provide you with a quick, and effective backbone for your border display. Around these elements you can easily and creatively arrange colourful and eye-catching displays of perennials, annuals and other structures.
If you’re on a very tight budget, invest in a few young structural plants – you’ll have to be patient, as you wait for them to mature to give you the structure you’re needing. Alternatively, you can include some faster-growing, instant effect, plants, such as hydrangea, rosa glauca and spiraea japonica. These fast growing shrubs will quickly, and cheaply, give you a good amount of coverage and structure, as well as providing small hints of colour. It’s also often a common complaint that borders tend to look great in the summer, but look empty and featureless in the winter. Planting structure-full evergreens will ensure that no matter what the season your border will look full and in fine fettle!
All Sort of Annuals
Annuals are plants that ‘perform’ in a single season – such as spring flowers. Once they have flowered they die back to seeds, and will reappear the following year. A mixture of annuals that perform at different points in the year, combined with perennials, will ensure that you have a beautiful display of foliage in your borders all year-round.
The advantage of planting annuals is that they are the show-off plants in your border, and will give you great satisfaction, quickly – allowing you to see the fruits of your labour. Whether you choose poppies, dahlias, sweet peas or asters, there are a huge range of cheap and charming annuals out there to fill your borders.
When planting in your new borders, think about the height of the plants you’re arranging. Taller annuals, such as sunflowers (which can grow up to 3m tall!), zinnias and cosmos, are perfect for the backs of your borders, whilst shorter plants, such as marigolds look great up-front.
Perennials are the perfect addition to your new border. Available in a huge variety of colours and species, these plants are very economical in the long term. They may appear slightly more expensive to buy at the outset, but don’t worry, they multiply over time, meaning your initial investment will keep on giving throughout the lifetime of your borders. They require very little maintenance, and return year after year with new blooms.
The cheapest way to plant perennials is to start them from seed. Again, this may require some patience, and if you’re wanting to give your borders that instantly full look, you may not fancy waiting for nature to take its course in growing the seedlings, but with seeds costing so little, your budget could provide you with an impressive display in the long term if you’re willing to invest the time waiting.
Garden centres always entice with full displays of blooming flowers, however, don’t be fooled – if you’re in this for the long haul, and want a beautiful border for the long-term, it’s worth planting flowers, either from seed, or when they are dormant or just beginning to show signs of life. Planting at this stage will ensure that the plants are using their energy to get a good hold in the new soil, not displaying their wears.
You’ve got your annuals and your perennials planted, and your border is looking fuller, but why not double up your border to grow some edible goodies too? Herbs, such as oregano, thyme, parsley and sage are great fillers for your border, which provide vibrant colour and a great look. Mixing these lush greens with the energised look of annuals and perennials will provide an eye-popping display with very little money spent. They also require very little maintenance, and will serve your table with a mouth-watering variety of flavours.
Having planted your new borders with a range of structural evergreens, bold annuals, hardy perennials and great-tasting herbs, your garden will be starting to transform. To add the finishing touches to your borders-on-a-budget, try adding these simple recycled materials:
Leaving a gap of around 15cm from your planting to your lawn ensures that the edges of your border will remain neat and free from plants – allowing you to keep your lawn neat and your borders well maintained. This border gap can be filled very cheaply with mulch, such as bark chipping, or even recycled rubber, which looks exactly like bark, and does a great job of keeping your borders looking neat and tidy. Using mulch just around the edge of your borders will keep your costs down, whilst keeping your plants healthy.
Try asking builder friends, or local tradesman if they have any leftover materials, especially bricks or rubber. Mixing and matching colours and styles of bricks can give a great look to the edge of a border for no money! For straight sections of your borders, why not use an upturned piece of discarded guttering as a useful way to neatly edge your display? Love the seaside? Collect shells and driftwood for a colourful and natural edging.
There are infinitely varied ways to design, construct, plant and finish a garden border, and your creativity with these projects can be just as limitless. Get familiar with the basics of how to construct a border, and get creative with your design ideas, and you’ll quickly and cheaply have a beautiful border which will delight and inspire.