How to make a garden border
Garden borders are a great way to bring colour and vibrancy into your garden. With thousands of varying styles and planting effects making a new garden border can be an exciting process.
Typically today many gardens are covered with lawn or paved over to save time. Many people are not confident enough to try a little gardening to make their gardens more naturalistic and interesting. Making even a small garden border can be the difference between an amazing outside space or a boring lifeless desert.
Although making a new border or flower bed is easy in principle there are a few things to consider when getting started. This article will explain how to make a garden border perfect for any garden in any circumstance.
How to make a garden border from hard standing
If your existing garden has areas of hard standing which you wish to be turned into a new border some demolition will be needed. Hard standing is any external surface which is too hard to be removed without breaking equipment. Paving, concrete and tarmac are the most common forms of garden hard standing.
In all cases the top layer and underlying hard core must be fully removed until you reach the subsoil. The subsoil should then be turned over and broken up to allow sufficient drainage to the border. You must have made provision for the waste material to be disposed of usually in a cartable skip.
In some cases the hard standing may be thin enough to break out with basic hand tools such as a sledge hammer, iron bar or even a robust spade. In most cases however an electric or hydraulic breaker is needed to fracture the hard standing especially if it is concrete.
With thick layers of tarmac and concrete a 12 inch grinder can cut out the shape of the new border before you break out. Always ensure you never work alone with heavy power tools and you always read the safety instructions before commencing work. Never use electric power tools in wet weather.
How to make a garden border from lawn
Creating a garden border from lawn is a much more straight forward process as long as the underlying ground is not too shallow in top soil. Typically the shape of the new bed is marked out and the top few inches cut with a half moon edging spade. The turf can then be neatly scraped off the border area and disposed of.
If you are lucky you have an adequate depth of suitable topsoil which will be deep enough for planting new plants. The hard subsoil should be excavated to make way for new topsoil loam to be filled in afterwards. The ground should be turned over and worked to a fine texture ready for planting.
Soil which has been under turf for many years commonly is very low in fertility and nutrients. The constant cutting and compaction makes lawns rather low quality for growing plants. This means you will need to add a certain amount of soil amelioration in the form of fertiliser. If the ground is heavy and lacks drainage some course sand or course grit can be added.
With borders made from lawn areas it is good to install a new edge or mowing strip. This will stop the lawn grass from spreading into the new border and help maintain a neat and robust boundary to the lawn. Lawn edging is best installed flush with the turf level for convenient mowing without the need for a strimmer.
How to make a garden border with wood
How to make a garden border with bricks
If you want to know how to build raised garden beds or borders why not check out our article on thesubject here
Choosing a shape for the border
When making a new garden border it is always good experiment with varying shapes and sizes before digging. This can be done by sketching over images of your garden, computer software or simply experimenting with shapes using a hose pipe.
This will give you the opportunity to experience the effect of the new bed before you commit to any heavy work. Sometimes getting ideas by looking at images in magazines or online can be great research to finding the effect you want.
When planning a new border think about the types of plantings you visualise growing. If it is a wild flower cottage garden bed perhaps sweeping curves are a good shape.
If the garden style you envisage is more contemporary perhaps strong lines and angular forms are best. Whatever style or shape you choose, experiment this is the fun part of garden planning! Creating a new garden border can be a fulfilling and enjoyable process.
Edging your new garden border
When creating a new garden border it is common to want it to have a clean and defined edge. This is especially important when marrying up next to lawn. In such a case an edging of some sort will prevent grass encroaching into the soil of the bed.
Edgings can be made from many materials including paving, brickwork, timber or aluminium. If a new border is next to a lawn it is good to have the edging level with the lawn surface for easy mowing. This is why edgings at lawn level are often referred to as mowing strips.
Improving your garden borders soil
Most of the time existing ground if it’s lawn or hard standing will be compacted with a low level of fertility. It is vital that the existing ground is turned over and all rubble and large stones are removed to improve drainage.
If the existing area is hard standing it will be important to supply some new topsoil to build up a workable and fertile soil. Most landscape suppliers can advise you on the best option for you within their range. Most suppliers can deliver large amounts of soil in jumbo bags or loose for even larger loads.
To quantify how much soil you need times the surface area by the depth in millimetres. This will give you a cubic metre quantity. With soil 1 cubic metres is usually equal to 1.6 tonnes very often people are surprised just how much material can be generated from a seemingly small excavation. When digging also bear in mind soil bulks up by 30%. The best soil for growing healthy plants is a compost rich loam soil with a free draining structure.
To improve your garden soil to its maximum potential try to get an idea of what the local soil conditions are in your area. For example if your garden is usually damp and boggy you may want to add some sand or grit to help it drain better. If your existing soil is heavy and clay add more organic material to help break up the soil.
It also may be worth obtaining a soil PH testing kit to discover if the existing soil is acidic or alkali. The perfect ph for most garden plants is about ph 6-7 or neutral. Kits are available from most garden retailers. To adjust the ph of the new garden border chalk or lime will raise the ph and ericaceous compost can lower it. Regular turning and rotovating will keep your soil aerated, workable and free draining.
For further reading on improving your gardens soil see our article here.
Raised garden borders
One good way of ensuring a good depth of good quality soil in your border is to build a raised one. Raised garden beds are very popular allowing you to bring your planting schemes to eye level and ensure good drainage.
Raised garden beds are also very suitable for growing vegetables and plants that require a deep rich growing medium. The two most common ways of building raised garden borders is with external grade timber or some form of masonry, usually bricks.
If building with timber it is recommended to use timber with a minimum of 3 inches thickness. It is common to try and build beds with standard 6x2 timber but bear in mind from personal experience this will rot through in about ten years. It is best to build raised beds with heavy duty timber sleepers. These are usually 10 x 5 inches and can be bolted to 4x4 posts concreted into the ground for extra stability.
If building with masonry it is important to install a robust concrete foundation for the brick work to sit upon. This will prevent cracking and movement later on. Brickwork should be built with a double thickness above 1 foot or 300mm. This extra thickness is vital to support heavy loads of wet soil.
These raised beds should have weep holes at the base to help excess water to escape. Masonry raised beds can be rendered and painted and can bled to any style or theme. Although this type of raised bed is more robust than timber they are more work and usually more expensive than timber construction.
Raised garden border ideas
Drainage for a new garden border
Depending on what type of plants you wish to grow you may need to consider the drainage of your garden bed. Most plants prefer good drainage but you don’t want the soil so well drained that plants dry out in summer.
The best solution for this is working on your soil. A clay loam with plenty of organic matter is the best soil type for drainage and moisture retention. When creating a new garden border try to dig down as deep as you can and turn the soil over to relieve compaction and allow water to permeate the ground. This combined with good quality topsoil will allow your new bed to have great drainage.
Irrigating your garden border
When creating your new garden border or bed you may or may not wish to install irrigation. If you have a particularly dry garden or raised garden bed you may wish to install irrigation unless you wish to grow dry loving plants. For a perfect growing medium soil should be slightly damp to the touch about 2 inches under the soil. If you are not prepared to regularly water your new garden border in hot dry weather you may want to install an automated for of drip feed irrigation.
Orientation and Micro-climate
When selecting your new garden borders position it is always important to contemplate the type of effect you want. This means considering what types of plants you wish to grow.
To make your choice as broad as possible a sheltered and sunny position is best. If you wish to grow exotic plants and summer flowering plants areas that warm up in the sun are best. This can include south facing walls and heavily sheltered sunny borders.
If you need to create your border in a shady, open, boggy or dry area don’t panic! There is plenty of good information on the best plants for these sorts of conditions also. With a little research you can still find the perfect planting effects for any beds orientation or microclimate.
Choosing plants for your garden border
Most of the time people have an idea of the type of plants and blooms they want in their new garden border. Even if your borders soil and orientation is not perfect for the plants you have in mind there will always be a substitute. Below are some of the considerations you may want to take into account when choosing plants for your border.
The theme of your garden will determine the type of planting and even shape of your new border. If you are going for an exotic jungle theme organic curvy borders are very suitable. If you have a modern scheme angular and straight lines are a more common choice.
Foliage or the leaves of the plants you plant have a huge impact on the effect your border will give. Foliage can provide visual textures colours sound and movement. Also seasonal variation can make dramatic impacts by paying attention to your plants foliage.
There are many ways to utilise colour in your new garden border. Plants can be planted which change colour seasonally. This can include flowering and foliage. Raised beds and fences can be painted to create a colourful backdrop to your garden beds. Some research will soon find you the plants that will display your favourite colours in the garden for yers to come.
All year interest
When planning a planting scheme for your border it is good to consider what the bed will look like all year round. A combination of seasonal blooms, foliage, evergreens, bulbs, climber’s perennials and annuals can make your borders look amazing all year round. Study books on planting design to get the best seasonal effects for your garden.
Mulching your border
A great way to keep your garden border weed free and retain as much moisture as possible is to mulch. Mulching is adding decomposing organic matter such as bark chippings to create a moist soil cover. There are many advantages to mulching including helping to feed microscopic soil life.
This can keep your plants healthy and stop aggressive weeds from taking hold. There are many different mulching materials to choose from including simple solutions such as leaf mulch and even grass clippings.
Enjoying your new garden border.
Making a new garden border like any form of gardening is not an exact science. There is much to consider and much information to digest to get things right first time. Having said this, the joy of gardening is learning and experiencing through trial and error. If you are planning a new garden border the most important thing is you get started! Do your research but most importantly get out there and just go for it! Good luck!
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Planning on building your new garden border yourself? Why not check out our resources page or recommended landscaping tools article.
Paul Nicolaides has over 30 years of recreational gardening and 20 years of professional landscaping experience. He has worked for landscape contractors including design and build practices across London and the South East. In 2006 he qualified with a BA Hons degree and post graduate diploma in Landscape Architecture. In 2009 he founded Ecospaces an ecological landscaping practice which aims to improve social cohesion and reduce climate change through landscaping. In 2016 he founded Buckinghamshire Landscape Gardeners which designs and builds gardens across Buckinghamshire and the South East. This blog aims to provide easy problem solving information to its audience and encourage others to take up the joy of landscaping and gardening.