Using Herbs As Edging: How To Grow An Herb Border
Herbs can, of course, be grown in an herb bed designed solely for their culinary use, but using herbs as edging or as borders is a fun way to incorporate them amongst the rest of the landscape. Edging with herbs is also another way to integrate edible plants into the landscape while at the same time delineating a particular area of feature. Interested in trying your hand at herb edging? Read on to learn how to grow an herb border.
About Edging with Herbs
When gardeners plan a new garden space, they usually map out the shape of the bed, prepare the soil for planting and sketch out the location of trees, shrubs and other plants. What is often an afterthought, if a thought at all, is edging.
Edging or creating borders often between the garden bed and lawn is the finishing touch. Although it is a finishing touch, it’s actually the first thing the eye is drawn to. And it plays an important role by setting boundaries while also illuminating and complementing certain features of the garden.
There are quite a few herbs useful as borders or edging. Edging with herbs is a practical, low maintenance, edible solution to outlining the garden. Plus, placing herbs on the outside edge of a bed makes them readily accessible, easily in reach to snip their aromatic foliage.
Types of Herbs for Herb Edging
Many herbs are suited for edging pathways, vegetable gardens, or perennial beds. If the border is at risk for being trampled on by pets or kids, stick to herbs that can take a beating such as thyme or chamomile.
Consider the height of the mature herb, the types of herbs you would find most useful, and those that offer the most fragrance and color. Low growing herbs include:
- Lamb’s ear
- Winter savory
Useful herbs as borders might include any of the aforementioned culinary herbs, tea herbs as well as medicinal ones such as pennyroyal.
Herbs chosen for their rich aroma or lovely bloom hues might include:
- Purple coneflower
- Scented geraniums
How to Grow an Herb Border
As you are deciding on what herbs as edging plants you might want to use, play around with the sizes. The general rule of thumb is to put low growing plants at the forefront and taller towards the back. While this makes sense, some rules were made to be broken. There is no reason that an exquisite tall bronze fennel can’t command a space at the edge of a curved path. It even adds some mystery to the garden, as in what is around the bend?
Of course, a tidy row of lavender also has its place when using herbs as edging, especially if this rigid line is confining a riotous garden bed.
Once you’ve decided on the plants you would like to use, you may need to complete the edge with a border of bricks, blocks, wood or plastic edging. It isn’t necessary but does lend a finished look to the bed and keeps the lawn from spilling into the bed and the lawn mower from destroying the plants.
How to design and plant a garden border
There are a few stages to this process. Firstly you need to understand the space you have available to work with: The size and shape, soil conditions, sunlight, and so on.
Next, you need to think about the plants you’ll include in your border: how they look individually, the shape and size they grow to, and how they will combine visually with other plants nearby.
Then comes planning the border after you’ve decided which plants to go for. How will you arrange them all so that the visual effect is as stunning as it can possibly be?
Finally comes the physical act of planting your garden border. This is where the blood, sweat, and tears of gardening come in: You’ll be preparing the ground, removing weeds, and giving the plants the TLC they need to become fully established.
If that sounds daunting, don’t worry. We’ve broken the process down into twelve easy steps.
1. Look at the space you have available
Perhaps you have an area in your garden that looks a bit like the photo below. Empty, forlorn, and falling way short of its potential…
This just won’t do
While it may not be particularly inspiring in its current form, try to imagine the potential of such a space. This is an important first step: Visualising how planting a border could revitalise this part of your garden. Once you have an image of what to work toward, the prospect of planning and planting becomes a lot more exciting.
2. Choose the right plants
You’re probably wondering, “what are the best plants for a garden border?”
Well, as with everything in gardening, personal preference plays a huge part. Your favourite plants will most likely differ from your neighbours, so there’s only so much advice that can be given on specific species.
The advice that can be given, though, focuses around choosing types of plant that are most likely to bring a garden border to life.
Part of this decision comes down to conditions in your garden. Is your soil acidic or alkaline, for example? And will your garden border spend most of its time in sunlight or shade?
As usual, the RHS has a fantastic resource on the best plants for a garden border. We recommend taking a look if you’re trying to find inspiration for specific plants to include.
Perennials are often favourite for garden borders because once planted, they’ll come back year after year.
3. Factor in flowering times
A great garden border will be in bloom for as much of the year as possible. By choosing plants with staggered flowering times, you can orchestrate different melodies of colour throughout the year.
Spring-flowering plants like snowdrops and tulips can give way to summer-flowering ones like poppies and delphinium. These, in turn, give way to autumn-flowering plants like chrysanthemums and echinacea.
Most herbaceous perennials – like achillea, centaurea, and papaver, to name three of literally hundreds – will die back completely in autumn and winter, which can detract from the vibrancy of your border.
Choosing plants that burst into action in the colder months is a great way to counteract this: Tall grasses and colourful shrubs, for example. Or perhaps a trained tree (more on that later)
Using the right plants in your border lets you maintain colour, texture, and interest for as much of the year as possible.
4. Think about balance
Although there are hundreds of flowers available that can be used to great effect in a garden border, we don’t recommend planting them all out at once!
The most effective and attractive garden borders use a few plants the look particularly good in combination. Whether you decide to base your design around colour – a collection of blue, purple, lavender, and mauve, perhaps – or around a thematic association like wildflowers, working with one idea will often yield better results than trying to combine a few.
The great thing about gardening is that you can change things over time. Plants can be added and removed depending on how the garden border looks – but it will always be easier to add something than to remove it.
If you’re not sure about whether a plant will work, or whether there’ll be enough space for everything once the plants in your border reach full size, why not wait a couple of years and see? Popping a plant into space and letting it grow into an otherwise-established border is a completely acceptable option.
5. Visualise what your border will look like before planting
When you’ve got a shortlist of plants, think about how you want them to look when they’re fully established. While planting willy-nilly will probably look OK, taking care to plant according to a clear vision will give you a better end result.
The key thing to think about here is the flow of your garden border. Ideally you want it to attract attention, and for the eye to be able to follow clear lines along its full length.
Plants grow to different shapes as well as sizes: Some grow into mounds that go inward as they get higher, while others grow outward. Factoring in the eventual shape of plants, as well as the lines they are planted in, gives you a lot of options to work with.
6. Play with height
In the same way that coordinating colour and theme is important in making your garden border aesthetically pleasing, you can also work with height and depth.
The picture below shows how combining low-level flowers like pansies with taller ones like lavender can create a layered effect. Each plant is able to shine to its fullest, and their colours work to complement each other, rather than detracting.
Different types of flowers can work really well together
Don’t feel like you’re restricted to two rows of colour, either. The flowers above could easily be backed up by a bush or shrub that lends another colour and texture to the visual palette.
7. Using fencing in garden borders
If your garden borders an open space rather than a neighbour’s garden – or, if you and your neighbour are happy to share a low fence – you can incorporate the fencing into your design.
We just spoke about playing with height: If you’re working with a tall fence, you could consider planting a trained tree to create interest way above the tops of the rest of the plants in your border. This type of tree has its growth restrained and curated, so that the branches and buds are much narrower than they would be otherwise.
A fence can also be integrated more directly into your garden border design. As an example, the picture below shows how the clean white lines of a low fence can interplay with the bright and confident colours of the plants forming the border it is marking:
A garden border with a stunning white fence and bright pink roses
8. Plant at the right time
When you initially plant your border, you need to do so at the right time of year to ensure the plants have the best chance of thriving.
As a rule, planting between September and March is your best bet. Obviously this will vary between species, so we recommend checking the RHS website for information on specific plants.
If you’re making your garden border plans in the spring, resist the temptation to plant everything out early. Planting in the advised seasons is the best way to ensure the health and ongoing vitality of your plants.
9. Plant in the right conditions
To boost your plants’ chances, add compost to your soil if you’ve not planted here before. Mixing in a couple of buckets per square meter of soil should do the trick, as well as layering a couple of centimetres on top once the planting is done.
This provides the fledgeling plants with the nutrients they need – another vital step in maximising their chances of taking.
10. Get rid of any weeds!
As with all aspects of gardening, weeds can play havoc with a garden border. Before planting, take good care to remove as many weeds as possible from the area you’ll be planting in.
This is probably the most physically demanding step of this process, especially if the area of the garden you’re planting into has been left unattended for a while. If this is the case, stay strong! Clearing established weeds is much harder than removing the odd ones that grow in a clear bed.
11. Keep your plants watered
During their first season, it’s important to stay vigilant and ensure your garden border plants get all the water they need. In the UK, planting between September and March usually guarantees them a thorough rinsing, but should unseasonably dry weather occur, pop outside with a hose or watering can and give a little extra.
12. Maintain your border
Once planted and established, a border needs to be maintained just as much as the rest of your garden. This involves things like deadheading plants after flowering, removing seed-heads to prevent self-seeding and overgrowth, and removing any dead plants.
Keeping an eye on the health of the plants in your garden border will highlight any potential issues they may be having. Taking steps to rectify these will often let you salvage the plants before any permanent damage is done.
5 Evergreen Herbs to edge your Flower Borders
There are, of course, more than five evergreen herbs that would make a decorative and scented edging to your flower borders. But five is a good number to start with as it allows us to look at some of the pros and cons of choosing particular herbs for this role.
Why Evergreen Herbs?
- Edging your flower borders with a run of the same low growing plant can add an air of gentle formality to your garden design.
- Formal because the plants are the same, and gentle due to the softness of planting when compared to a wooden raised bed or a brick raised bed, for example.
- These herbs, like other evergreen shrubs, can be used to create boundaries within the garden as well as around the limits of the garden.
- One of the benefits of using evergreen herbs is that they will provide you with both year round foliage and colour. But a further benefit is that the foliage will be aromatic, adding a further layer of interest to your senses and to your garden.
- The foliage is scented as it contains essential oils which give the herbs their fragrance. These volatile oils are released when the foliage is rubbed, so growing evergreen herbs as an edge to your flower border, especially where this adjoins a garden path, releases the fragrance as you brush past.
Rosemary is well known as a strongly scented culinary herb, frequently used to flavour lamb joints and casseroles. It also helps to stimulate memory, as Ophelia says in Shakespeare’s Hamlet –
“There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance pray, love, remember”
As an edging for a flower border rosemary should be chosen carefully, as it grows into a quite a tall shrub. The plants you have behind still need to be visible.
We used it in planting design for a front garden where it would grow to form a pungently scented small hedge around the border edges. As an evergreen herb it gave a formal air to the planting throughout the year. The bedding plants can be changed to give varying seasonal interest.
Rosemary responds well to being clipped so in time a dense hedge would be achieved.
Thyme is another heavily aromatic culinary herb. Like rosemary it is also an herbal remedy for coughs and colds.
It is a smaller shrub, and so potentially provides an easier edging to plant behind than rosemary, if height is an issue. It can be used as a mixed edging, where different upright varieties or cultivars of thyme are used together. As here, where Thymus vulgaris (common, or culinary thyme), Thymus citriodorus (lemon thyme) and Thymus ‘silver posie’ are all found.
Thyme is particularly pleasant herb to use in combination this way. The cook of the household has a range of flavours to choose from, but the flower border edge still maintains its coherence. Just be sure to use all upright forms of thyme if you’re mixing like this. Or indeed use all prostrate or creeping forms if an overflowing edge to your flower border or path is wanted.
If you do want a low growing edge then the marjoram or oregano evergreen herbs are the family you should be looking at. If you’re wondering about the whole ‘marjoram’ and ‘oregano’ naming, the botanical Latin name is Oregano, marjoram is the common or use name.
As with the thymes, there is a range of foliage colours which can be combined or used individually. As well as the green leaved form, there is golden marjoram and silver leaved marjoram.
I have found these especially attractive when used to edge a raised bed flower border or a raised vegetable bed. They will hang over the edge with a determined leafiness, unlike some trailing plants. Although the foliage is low growing, do be aware that the small white flowers during spring and summer are held on tall stems. The bees love the nectar rich flowers and I generally leave them on. But if you wanted to maintain a ground hugging herbal edge, you would need to cut off the flower spikes.
Lavender hedges and lavender edges to paths and flower borders are often used and work well in a sunny garden. Personally, I have found English lavender (Lavendula angustifolia) to be more amenable to this use than French lavender (Lavendula stoechas). But it depends on whether your intention is to have a close growing edge of evergreen herbs, or whether you’re happy for there to be gaps in between the plants.
Lavender ‘Hidcote’ is one of the more compact forms of English lavender that is particularly suitable for edging a border. These particular plants were bought as clones, ie they were all taken as cuttings from a stock plant. This is to ensure that the eventual height will be virtually the same. There are always minor differences, due to different levels of sunlight for example, but by using clones or cuttings there is greater uniformity.
We tend to firstly think of lavender flowers as being purple – lavender coloured even! It is worth remembering that pink and white flowers are also possible and may better suit your garden colour scheme.
If you aren’t keen on flowers at all, santolina may be the edging herb for you. With year round sweetly aromatic foliage, the sulphur yellow button flowers that Santolina chamaecyparissus produces in spring seem almost unnecessary.
Also known as cotton lavender, santolina makes an excellent low hedge or edging plant. If you do want to keep it neat, it is advisable to cut off those flowers and just enjoy the silver foliage.
However, if it is green foliage you would like as well as this particular scent then try Santolina rosmarinifolia. The pale primrose yellow flowers are pretty against the dark green leaves.
Hopefully this quick run through 5 evergreen herbs that would work as edging for your flower borders and paths has given you some ideas as to what might work in your own garden. If you’re in need of more help with those idea, you know where to come. And we can create planting designs for you long distance too.
But if you still have coffee in the pot to finish drinking, you may enjoy some of our other blogs to give you even more garden inspiration…