Getting your flowers in line

Published 10:45 pm Friday, March 30, 2018

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Kristi Hendricks

This is the second in a series of four articles on plant selection when planning the flower border. The first article focused on color and ways to combine them for attractiveness. The next will discuss mass, but let’s line ‘em up for now. By way of review, VCE’s four basics when choosing plants for a 4-season, mixed perennial border are line, mass, dependability and color.

Line is the silhouette of a plant often against a dramatic backdrop (VCE article 426-202.) A picket fence separating your lawn from the neighbor’s, an entranceway pillar, a decorative arbor or tool shed can easily serve in this role. Spikey flowering plants like ginger lily, canna or torch lily provide height to complement a taller structure.

But what to do if you don’t have such architectural background? In this setting, plan for a border using medium height perennials (blue salvia, liatris, Shasta daisies) to serve as the backdrop feature. Then place shorter annuals (blue mistflower, French marigolds, basket-of-gold) as frontage. If both sides of the border are visible, place on both.

Avoid straight bed lines unless you are laying out formal gardens like those of Colonial Williamsburg. Even a gentle curve draws the eye further along the border and deeper into the garden. This will create greater visual impact than a stark, linear line.

Consider using a dwarf cultivar (Japanese maple, rose of Sharon, miniature redbud) to curve the border line out into the lawn forming an extension. A birdbath, stone lantern or other functional lawn art can also be used as a featured highlight.

Border beds come in a variety of sizes. But choose a width to make the flower border best fit the overall size of your space. As a general rule, plant height should be limited to 2/3 that of the width of the border.

Use vertical space effectively, too. Start with the formal stair step design of stepping down the height of plants by half. Then opt for a more natural approach by letting some of the taller plants extend into the medium height plant area and medium into smallest plant section.

Break up the front of your border by using plants having the tendency to spill gently over the edging material like candytuft, ice plant or silver mound. This adds to the maintenance but is worth the effort for resulting landscape appeal.

As you line up your plants for the garden, choose plants well-suited to the location. Onsite planning is helpful while removing excess windblown leaves from beds, leaving enough to provide essential nutrients for the soil and retain moisture. Plant tags reveal sun, shade and water requirements to further aid with plant selection.

KRISTI HENDRICKS is a member of the Western Tidewater Master Gardeners. Contact her at