When planning a flower bed, the most important step is to be able to visualize what it will look like in the future. Patience is key. While your flower bed might not look like much when it's first planted, in a few months it will be much fuller, taller, and more colorful – if that is what you want. The key is anticipating the heights, colors, textures, and mass of all the various plants.
The best flower bed ideas will typically have smaller more dainty plants at the front, medium height varieties in the middle, then tall plants and flowers at the back to ensure you get to enjoy the blooms in all of their glory.
1. Use flower beds to line a garden path
Whether planted in raised beds or straight into the ground, flower beds can make exceptional dividers for a garden path. This is especially the case when you bring tall, architectural plants into the mix.
Here, the 246-foot-long flower beds are full of lupins, inula, campanula and meadowsweet. The vivid hues add an extra dose of visual interest alongside a freshly mowed lawn.
It's a beautiful way to establish the boundary of a walkway. What's more, it will continue to offer color and structure throughout the seasons as the various plants take their turn in the spotlight.
2. Add interest with architectural plants
Not all flower beds need to about bright, bold blooms. Dramatic and elegant, architectural plants impart structure and provide a contemporary planting style that is easy to main and will give year-round interest.
In the design world, they are considered indispensable, relied upon to create sculptural beauty and to draw the eye to specific parts of the garden. Exactly what plant are regarded as ‘architectural’ is a matter of opinion, but most professional gardeners would agree that hardy evergreen exotics like palms, bamboo and Musa basjoo are the main players. Perennials with big leaves, such as rodgersia and rheum, and big, bold flowers like kniphofia and allium also qualify, as do topiary pyramids, spirals and spheres.
3. Grow fruit and vegetable in raised bed planters
Fruit and vegetables can be grown in amongst ornamentals in garden borders or raised beds. Opt for compact varieties, such as blackcurrant, colorful crops, such as the bright scarlet Goji berry, and bold versions of everyday plants, such as the gorgeous ‘All Gold’ raspberry, which has amber-gold fruit.
Choosing raised beds means you don’t have to step onto the earth to tend your crops, which saves you having to aerate the soil by digging. They can be attractive features in their own right, for instance when built out of old railway sleepers or used to edge a patio seating area.
- See: Garden edging ideas – for neat, tidy and decorative borders
4. Opt for traditional rectangular flower beds
There’s a timelessness as well as formality about both parterres and traditional potagers, with their decorative arrangement of rectangular beds filled with flowers, fruit, herbs or vegetables, separated by straight paths in grass, gravel or brick. Both provide versatile frameworks that can be shrunk or enlarged to adapt to varying sizes and shapes of garden, yet still work providing he proportions are maintained. Height is added to flower beds with clematis, roses or sweet peas trained up steel or wooden obelisks.
5. Create structure with a formal flower bed
A formal layout and structure looks good built from traditional materials such as flagstones, brick and timber in natural finishes that complement the plants. Flower beds can simply be contained by hard landscaping, or within crisply cut box hedges, a formal element that’s useful for binding together any informal planting within.
6. Add distinction with a standout feature – surrounded by beds
A central feature adds a hub around which the design flows. It could be as simple as a circular fountain enclosed by perennials, or as dramatic as life-sized topiary figures – birds, chess pieces and abstract shapes. Ornaments such as statues, spheres or birdbaths also create eye-catching focal points provided they are raised high enough on a plinth to be commanding, and embraced by plants.
Proportion is paramount and, while a feature should be large and elaborate enough to attract attention, it should not be so imposing as to overshadow everything else.
7. Plant a perennial flower bed
The great thing about perennials is exactly that: they’re perennial. They do their thing, filling the garden with fantastic flowers or long lasting colorful leaves – and then the next year they do it again, and again, and then the year after that. There are two ways to go about choosing perennials. You can decide which features are missing from your plantings and choose perennials that provide these qualities. Or you can simply choose perennials that you really like, that grab your attention, and then look around the garden and find homes for them.
Don’t be tied too rigidly by the old tall-at-the-back-short-at-the-front idea, clearly it makes sense but short early flowers like hellebores make impressive clumps at the back and like the shade of taller perennials later. Tall see-through perennials such as Verbena bonariensis can be set towards the front.
8. Plant ornamental grasses to contrast with summer flowers
The popularity currently enjoyed by ornamental grasses is well deserved. Ornamental grasses are useful both as flowering plants in the garden and as foliage plants, with many being strikingly variegated while other have waxy, glaucous leaves. If you are growing them principally for use as cut material, a spare plot out of sight will be suitable, allowing you to hack at will without qualms about the wreckage left behind. But those perennial grasses that are used in a border should not, I suggest, be segregated in beds of their own.
A collection of many grasses together looks messy. It is better to let them take their place in a mixed border where their foliage and habit contrast effectively with the broad leaves of hostas, for instance, or the bright color of tiger lilies, phloxes and other summer flowers.
9. Introduce a sensory element
Dial up the sensory appeal of your garden flower bed to make it a richer, more playful space. Sensory gardens use plants and features to engage all five senses and a joy for all, especially people who have sensory impairments. A flower bed of old-fashioned scented plants, like lily of the valley, can stimulate memory in older people and those with dementia. Edible plants will encourage children to explore using touch and taste. And textures and rustling leaves provide a great way for sight-impaired people to experience the garden.
10. Brighten a shaded spot with hostas
Surprisingly, flower beds can work wonderfully in the shade – you just have to make sure you pick the right plants.
Hostas are the perfect plant for a shaded garden. Lush, green and sculptural, these shade-loving plants add depth and drama to the garden. Be aware that hostas are slug magnets – but they don’t love all hostas. Some of the most popular hostas, such as ‘Halcyon’ and ‘Hadspen Blue’, are among those with the most dependable, bluish slug-proof leaves.
Browse our shade garden ideas for more advice on planting for a shaded spot.
How do you make a flower bed look nice?
The best flower beds have been carefully crafted to contain a collection of plants that offer diversity in height and structure, as well as tonal and seasonal variation. Above all, they include a range of plants that make excellent bedfellows, sitting happily together side-by-side.
By moving the plants around a little they can all be adapted to fit your own garden beds. As a general rule, you should keep taller plants towards the back of the flower beds – but avoid adhering to this too rigidly if you want a softer, more natural effect. And if you’re lucky enough to have large flower beds, simply increase the numbers, adding in more of your favorites.
What should I put in my flower bed?
There are so many plants you can put in a flower bed to make it bloom all-year round.
See: Rose garden ideas – for a colorful and sweetly scented outdoor space
It is worth keeping in mind that soft-stemmed herbaceous perennials (which usually die back each winter) tend to be faster-growing than shrubs. However shrubs – particularly evergreens – do provide interest throughout the year, so their value should not be ruled out.
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