My first "garden design job": my own mixed border

We've had a few hardy (and mostly evergreen) shrubs in our tiny garden border almost since we moved in. If you don't know much about gardens, and want value for money, one or more long-lasting shrubs are obviously ideal. Mahonias and pyracantha also provide extra autumn and winter colour through flowers or berries. So we planted one of each, to accompany the euonymous and almost-dead Hebe buxifolia in our 1x3m patch, and I've slowly been training a honeysuckle over the euonymous to give it height.

This year, as I've been bitten by the gardening bug, we decided to go a step further. A holiday in May meant it was tricky to get any seeds in place for a lot of what I wanted, so instead I "cheated" and bought some in. I've put "cheated" in inverted commas there, as to my mind the only real cheating in gardening is paving over everything and putting a car on it!

With some ideas of what I wanted, we laid out a clearer scheme at the garden centre. There wasn't a lot of space around the existing shrubs to work with, but here's what we had:

  1. Square end of border, full depth (1m) but 50–80cm width, optionally bleeding out right at the front and back.
  2. Triangular space under Mahonia, perhaps 60cm on each side, quite shady and a bit damp.

The first patch was arranged as follows:

  • Spikes at the back, to also blend in with some tall wildflowers outside the bed. Foxgloves, lupins and delphiniums were all available; we decided on foxgloves.
  • Ground cover of dahlias, giving way to Hutchinsia "Crystal carpet" at the front.
  • Spikes of tall-growing Anthemis tinctoria "Sauce Hollandaise" punctuating this cover.

The second patch was based around a Heuchera "Sweet Tea", another A. tinctoria and more Hutchinsia. We also had a "by hook or by crook" plant: some upright Iberis sempervirens "Masterpiece". It just looked so jaunty, and its smell was so weird: somewhere between a delicate rose and robust Parmesan cheese! Each to their own, right?

Here's what all our purchases looked like on the kitchen table when we'd brought them home:


There were some petunias and violas bulking that out, by the way, for filling a couple of rectangular containers. And here's how it looked when it was finally planted out:


I think they neatly fit in around the honeysuckle, euonymous and mahonia, and add so much colour and leafiness to where the daffodils had being slowly flopping over, leaf by leaf.

If I were to do something again, it would be to buy more! And to buy taller. You can't see it from that angle, but there's gaps there, that maybe low- and medium-height plants would cover. The anthemis and heuchera have relaxed and settled in nicely to fill the space, but it's not quite enough on the left. The dahlias also looked a bit stranded from closer up. Worse! they've since been almost completely eaten by pests: some of them are mere ribs and stalks. So I would definitely either pre-water with nematode solution, or consider a different plant entirely.

Otherwise, I'm please with what I've been able to do within the very strict constraints that such a small space placed upon me. And that's the main thing about any amateur gardening project, right?


Hey J-P, I only just came across this post so a bit late, but here's a comment. I think the border is looking great. Do hold off for a while before you add anything else, as these plants will fill out once they have bedded themselves in. If you really feel the urge to fill the gaps in the short term, try annuals, like Cosmos, which give colour & height. Also, the foxgloves will self-seed.

Yep, doing what you can with the space you have, that's gardening.