Garden Design

Mixed Borders in Your Garden

We all wish for a garden that has interest all year, but may be unsure of how to achieve this. A great way is to add a mixed border. By using some of your favorite plants with different shapes, sizes, colors in flower or foliage, and textures you can create a beautiful garden year round.

First start with the structure, or framework of the border. The space available will help you to determine how many plants you can realistically use. If you would like to incorporate a small tree or two, space permitting, chose the best possible placement to allow for growth. Small trees for sun to part sun in my garden, include:

Dogwoods – ‘Spring Glow’ Cornelian Cherry Dogwood with yellow winter blooms, height 25 ft. ‘Venus’ Hybrid Dogwood with six-inch white spring flowers and red fall foliage, height 25 ft.

Redbuds – ‘Don Egolf’ Chinese Redbud with lavender spring flowers and no seed pods, height 10-12 ft.

Japanese Maples – ‘Red Pygmy’ featuring red strap-like leaves that turn gold in fall, height 10-12 ft. ‘Rhode Island Red’ with dwarf red palmate leaves, height 4-6 ft.

In larger gardens, tall screening plants help frame the border and give privacy. Good evergreen plants in my border are:

– ‘Teddy Bear’ Southern Magnolia with bold green foliage and brown velvet backs, height 20 ft-plus.
– ‘Dee Runk’ Boxwood and its conical form with small foliage, height 8 ft x 3 ft.
– ‘Gyokruya’ Japanese Cedar, a fast-growing evergreen pyramidal conifer, height 15-20 ft.

Seasonal Interest
Next, decide on some intermediate size evergreen shrubs that can provide form in the winter when other plants are dormant. Repetition of the same shrub will give your garden continuity and flow. ‘Bordeaux’ Yaupon Holly (sun to part sun) and boxwoods (part sun to shade) are both great small foliaged structure plants.

Broad-leafed evergreen shrubs such as ‘Crown Jewel’ Gardenia and Woodland Ruby’ Illicium (part sun to shade) and many conifers such as ‘Globosa Nana’ Japanese Cedar (sun to part sun) or ‘Duke Gardens’ Japanese Plum Yew (part sun to shade) provide contrasting foliage texture.

Deciduous shrubs that have colorful blooms or leaves provide interest in other seasons. Two examples for full sun include ‘Ogon’ Spirea with late winter white blooms and gold spring-summer foliage and ‘Snow Fairy’ Caryopteris with variegated foliage and late-summer blue blooms. For part sun to shade, variegated plants ‘Goshiki’ Osmanthus or ‘Flaming Silver’ Pieris are nice evergreens that brighten a shade garden.

Front of the Border
The front of your border can be a mixture of low evergreens, such as dwarf conifer or yucca (sun to part sun.) Two exciting new Junipers are ‘All Gold’ Shore Juniper a spreading soft gold conifer 1-2ft x 4ft, and Lemon Pfizz PPAF, a striking yellow and green Juniper maturing at 4-6ft, great towards the middle of the border.

Color and Texture
Mixed in with the shrubs or in the foreground, use some of your favorite perennials and annuals for colorful blooms and contrast in foliage texture. Hellebores are great in shade for winter blooms. In summer bananas provide a bold foliage and structure. Grasses of varying heights can be used for their form, interesting seed heads and movement. Don’t forget bulbs. Daffodils can extend interest from winter into spring. Summer blooming bulbs like cannas and dahlia give color during the hot season.

By using plants with different sizes, textures, colors and bloom times you can create a beautiful mixed border to enjoy all year.

Joann Currier gardens near Chapel Hill and is the owner of The Unique Plant, a specialty nursery.  You can reach her at

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