Inspiration for Designing Gorgeous Borders

Landscape designers Heather Davidson and Scott Freedman passed along some design and plant wisdom at a recent Winter Workshop, and for those who couldn’t attend, here are the highlights.  Both Heather and Scott are Marylanders through and through and design for Homestead’s landscaping division, so their suggestions are perfect for this region.  Photos are of gardens designed by Homestead.

First, they encourage us to think of more uses for borders – not just along property lines.  Borders soften all sorts of hardscape elements – fences, decks, patios, pools and driveways, or in the space between sidewalks and roadways (popularly known as the “hellstrip”).  And the most overlooked opportunities to create living borders are along the edges of woods, and waterfronts.

Perfect place for river birch.

Borders can be formal, traditionally using perfectly clipped boxwoods – Heather particularly likes the ‘Green Velvet’ variety.  Commercial sites usually employ formal design, like the symmetric groupings of annuals at Camden Yards.  In home gardens, the sturdy ‘Otto Luyken’ cherry laurel is a popular option in formal borders, but landscape roses like the disease-resistant ‘Knock-outs” are fabulous en masse and add color to the garden from May through November (at least).

Formal massing of annuals along the Bay.

Borders that Heather and Scott call “semi-formal” use edges that aren’t strict, more curving lines, and repeating elements (a trait they share with formal borders).  The essential element?  Good lines, something that our eye craves.  Most landscapes fall into this category.

Popular plants in semi-formal designs include ornamental grasses, perennials, as well as the evergreens used in formal designs.  Specific plants loved by these designers include: Pennisetum ‘Hameln’, Lavender ‘Grosso’, Daylilies, Japanese Barberry, ‘Gold Mop’ Falsecypress, and Miscanthus ‘Morning “Light”.

Semi-formal borders.

“Natural” borders use many of the same plants, but in more naturalistic sweeps, like the pink Astilbes in the photo below.  Other plants popular with Scott and Heather include Yarrows, Nepata ‘Walkers Low’, ‘Arnold’s Promise’ Witch Hazel, ‘Nelly Stevens’ hollies, daffodils and dogwoods.

Natural-style border of Astilbes and Hostas.

Q&A Time
Asked how to keep edges intact and looking good, Heather recommends using a flat-edge spade to cut into edge, and doing that yearly.  She also likes steel edging.

Yes, you CAN have a “responsible” annual bed, meaning one that isn’t a water-hog.  Just fill a few square feet rather than a large space.

What groundcover works well under trees?  Liriope works, and no it doesn’t necessarily have to be cut back every spring – only if it looks really ratty.

Favorite medium-sized holly?  ‘Dragon Lady’,  ‘Honey Maid’ and ‘Oakleaf’.

What to put in the center of a sunny circular driveway?  River rock or even better, boulders to keep the cars away.  For plants, spreading junipers are suggested.   To discover lots of options for hot spots, visit your local garden center in July or August and see what looks good even then.

When turning sod into planting beds, these designers recommend adding lots of Leafgro and pine fines to the soil before planting.

Scott’s favorite shrubs for shady woodland borders are Azaleas, Rhododendrons, Kalmia and Pieris Japonica.  Among the perennials, you can’t beat those Astilbe pictured above with Hostas.

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