Flower Garden – Flower Borders – 3 Simple Principles to Beautiful

I congratulate all of you who have been able to wade through all the garden design books and have perfectly planned your flower borders and gardens on paper before planting.  That’s a significant accomplishment.  It’s one I’m afraid I’ll never be able to add to my list.

My main purpose for starting a garden was to eat.  Flowers were added to my garden as I acquired them. In those early days they came as “share gifts” from neighbors.  And of course there were dear friends like Betsy  who purchased a new plant for me each year because she knew how I loved flowers and she also knew we had not a penny to buy them with.

Whatever flowers I acquired I planted where I thought they would look nice, allowed them to do their thing and if they didn’t do well — I moved them to another part of the garden to see how they’d do there.

We were so busy trying to make a living that I never really had time to give a lot of thought to border design.

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Over the years I encountered various garden design books.

Overall, I’ve always found reading garden design books rather boring.  It’s not that I don’t look at them — I do. I even own quite a few. But I just never can seem to do any more than read a paragraph here and there.  I get more from the pictures in the them than I do from the written word.

I hate to say it — but many times just opening the book and seeing them talk about putting a plan on paper  was enough to make me immediately shut the book.

And for some reason — when I got to parts like” how warm colors appear closer than they actually are and cool color appear further away” — I never could figure out that minute exactly how I could apply that to my borders.  So I  usually closed the book.

The Good News

Fortunately we don’t have to spend years studying design or read volumes to get started on improving our existing borders or creating new ones.  There are 3 simple principles that we can focus on that will take us a long way towards having  flower gardens and borders that delight the eye.

 3 Simple Principles to Beautiful

# 1 – Use Trees, Shrubs, Evergreens and Tall Grasses for overall Structure (a/k/a backbone) and All Year Interest.

It’s much easier to put in the garden structure (or backbone)  when you first establish your gardens.  I didn’t.  So, I’ve been working on adjustments for several years.

If you don’t already have them – start adding flowering shrubs, evergreens, conifers, ornamental trees, and/or tall grasses to your flower gardens and/or borders.

In the winter, in times of drought, and in between blooms — “the greens” can hold your garden together without flowers.


Shrubs, evergreens and ornamental grasses give borders structure and interest. And by the way – that wooden thing with the netting is for cucumber that I planted in the border.

#2 – Choose Plants that are Long-lived Perennials that don’t have to be Nursed along.

Plants you choose should be tolerant of a range of growing conditions including drought.

Examples in our area would be

  • Tete a tete for late winter/early spring bloom.
  • Iberis (Candytuft) and Baths Pink Dianthus for early spring.
  • Oenothera for late spring early summer.
  • Daylillies, Rubeckia, Shasta Daisy, Echinacia, and Heliopsis for summer.
  • Nova anglia aster for late summer.
  • Mums  and sedums for fall.

Keep in mind – you’re better off with  3 or more of several good plants rather than one of  many different plants.  Too many plants — and not enough of any of them can make your garden look like  just that: a conglomeration of plants with nothing to unify them.

#3 – Repetition can give continuity to your gardens and borders.

Use repetition of color, texture, form and/or shape to create an overall theme.  And don’t worry — the various locations won’t look exactly alike but will have enough elements alike that your garden will have unity.


This pink Oenothera is wonderful in late spring and I try to use a little of it throughout my borders to tie things together. Also note the variety of textures in this spot.



The contrast of texture of these irises and grasses compliment each other make each more beautiful.

A simple example from my garden of repeat color would be my use of Baths Pink Dianthus and white Iberis (Candytuft) in the spring.  I try to have a little bit of it throughout all the borders to unify them.

Candytuft (Iberis Semperverins) placed sporadically along the edges of my borders.

White Candytuft (Iberis Semperverins) placed sporadically along the edges of my borders. Variety of textures in plants add more interest to the overall border.


Baths Pink Dianthus starting to bloom in the borders and candytuft (Iberis) finishing up in lower right corner. The texture and form of this ornamental grass really help this border.

Baths Pink Dianthus starting to bloom in the borders and Candytuft (Iberis) finishing up. The texture and form of this ornamental grass really help this border.

Another example is the use of repeated texture and form of tall ornamental grasses to help give unity to my borders. (Yakajima silver grass is the best in my opinion. Hard to find now-a-days.)


This back side border would be extremely dull without the texture and form of the ornamental Yaka-jima silver grass.

Overall Goal

Your goal is to have structure in your garden and borders that will be interesting in every season — intermixed with flowers that are beautiful and need little care.  All your choices should be repeated enough that the garden flows as one and is harmonious to the eye.

One More Thought

Never be afraid you’ll get it wrong.  I get it wrong lot’s of time.  The way to success is to keep trying. Make up your mind to enjoy the journey and your mistakes.  You’ll be amazed at all the good that will come from your failures as well as your successes.


All content including photos is copyright by  All Rights Reserved.


Related Posts:

Border Design – Evergreens – Perennials

Do Your Flower Gardens or Borders Have Year Round Interest?

Developing Garden Structure

3 Simple Concepts to Enhance Your Flower Gardens and Borders

Perennial Flowers – 8 of the Best to get you Started

Iberis – Candytuft- Spring Blooming Perennial

Daffodils – Miniature Daffodils – Tete a Tete – Flower Border Must-Have

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6 comments to Flower Garden – Flower Borders – 3 Simple Principles to Beautiful

  • Cynthia

    Write the book, write the book !!! Your way of speaking to all of us organic minded gardeners is SO refreshing, common sense and easy to read. It touches our gardening soul and our senses and gives us hope that we can do this too!

    God’s blessings on you and yours and your gardens.

    Cynthia from Florida

  • Theresa

    Cynthia — your comment was one of the most meaningful things that has ever been said to me. It touched me deeply.
    AND — if I live long enough — I WILL WRITE THE BOOK — and not pass on with my “music still in me”.

    Thank you so much for letting me know how you feel.

  • Sandra

    This is one of the most difficult things for me, Theresa. Sometimes I look at my ‘flower garden’ and think ugh. Nothing seems to go together. Thanks for breaking it down. Remember that the power of a little COULD get a book written – just as that constant dripping wears away the stone. There are lots of us who feel as Cynthia does.

  • Theresa

    Hope the “break down” was helpful. Just write to me if you need more help.
    And I’m working on a book. I keep handy many of the previous suggestions about it that you emailed to me. They’re so helpful!
    It’ll take me forever and ever — and the project will definitely be steamed under the “power of a little”. 🙂
    Growing food will get the priority first but the same principles apply to flower gardening.
    How grateful I am to have the encouragement of friends and readers like you and Cynthia. I probably wouldn’t be writing it otherwise and I’ll go so far as to say I probably would not have continued with TMG either.
    As long as I feel that I’m offering something of value for you —- I’ll continue.
    Thanks Sandra.

  • Sharon

    It’s always a treat to see pictures of your garden, Theresa!
    And I too, would be thrilled to hold in my hands and read a book that you wrote! Everyone who gardens should have one. You are so inspiring!

  • Theresa

    What a wonderful thing to say Sharon! Thank you for the encouragement. The book might take a long time —- but little by little it will get done.
    With this kind of encouragement — it’s easier to dedicate time to the project.
    Thanks again Sharon!

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