Flowing lines: 12 steps for using a garden hose to design curvy plant borders

Follow these 12 steps for creating a plant border with harmonious contour.

Designing the shape of a plant border can be a bit of a challenge, especially if you want to create a natural and flowing look. One easy way to do this is to use a garden hose to outline the border and experiment with different shapes, sizes and contours. It can be a great way to add interest and definition to your landscape. In this post, I will explain my DIY approach and review with photos the case study of one border I designed in the Fall of 2022.

The English garden style

The style of borders in an English garden with curvy lines is characterized by flowing and organic shapes. These borders often feature gracefully undulating pathways and planting beds, creating a sense of natural movement and a more relaxed, informal aesthetic. The curvy lines add a touch of whimsy and elegance, allowing for a harmonious blend between the cultivated and the wild, while still maintaining a sense of order and structure.

The 12 steps to help you design a plant border with a hose

1. Choose the location for your plant border

This may be along the edge of a garden bed, a pathway, or a fence. Have you already decided which style of border and the plants you want to grow? Is the new border part of a larger ensemble? Consider the amount of sunlight and water the plants will receive, as well as the soil conditions. You may also want to consider the overall design of your landscape and how the plant border will fit into it.

2. Gather materials

Gather a garden hose, some stakes, and a measuring tape. A square garden spade and a wheelbarrow will be helpful.

3. Determine the shape

Use the garden hose to experiment with different shapes and contours for your plant border. You may want to create a flowing, natural look, or a more structured and formal design. Step back to vizualize the future border in the landscape and its relation with the other borders.

4. Mark the shape

Once you have determined the shape and contour of your plant border, use the stakes to mark the corners and curves of the border. Use the measuring tape to check if the size corresponds to your need. Ensure that the border is even and symmetrical if needed. You may also use a garden spade all along the garden hose.

5. Clean the topsoil and prepare the soil

Remove the sod if the border is replacing lawn. Prepare the soil for your plant border by removing roots, weeds, rocks or debris. Some gardeners prefer installing cardboard or geotextile to prevent further weeds. Add any necessary amendments, such as garden soil, compost, peat moss and lime.

6. Install edging

If desired, you can install a barrier along the border, using materials such as plastic strips, bricks, rocks or paving. I do not install edging in most of my borders. Therefore, regular manual edging of the border is necessary to prevent grass invasiveness. This has to be taken into account for maintenance.

7. Choose the plants

Select plants that will thrive in the location of your plant border. Consider the height, color, and texture of the plants, as well as their maintenance requirements. You may also want to choose plants that are native to your area, as they will be well-adapted to the local climate and require less maintenance. Avoid invasive perennials, particularly if they are not recommended for your area. For the border illustrated below, I planned a mix of peonies of different types and blooming season. I also included many perennials which are great companions plants to peonies, such as daylilies, Siberian irises and lilies.

8. Plan the layout

Sketch out a rough plan for the layout of your plant border. Consider the right spacing of the plants and how they will look together. Take into account the seasonal display or displays you want to obtain with the various bloom time or fall foliage. You may want to create a focal point with a particular plant or group of plants. I use bamboo sticks to indicate the proposed location of each plant.

9. Plant the plants

Dig holes for each plant, making sure to space them according to your plan and the planting period. Add compost while planting under the roots. Plant the plants, being careful not to damage the roots. Water the plants well after planting. Think about plant labeling.

10. Add mulch

Add a layer of mulch around the plants to help retain moisture and suppress weeds. Note that some plants, like peonies, do not tolerate mulch around the roots.

11. Maintain the plant border

Keep your plant border well-maintained during the year by watering, fertilizing, edging, deadheading and pruning as necessary. Fine tuning is expected, such as moving plants and adding new ones, particularly if some specimens expend. Regular maintenance will help ensure that your plant border remains healthy and beautiful.

12. Revisit the shape

After a few weeks, months or years, it may be wise to revisit the contour of the border. Does the lawn mower has difficulty to go around all the edges because the angles are too acute or too tight? Are some plants overflowing the border? Or you would like to expand it on one side? This happens to me often… meaning it’s time to get the hose again!!

Case study: a peony border in progress

Below is a case study with 12 photos and a sketch of a border created in the spring 2022, intended to be filled with peony plants in the following fall and filled with dahlias in between.

Sketch of peony plantation for the Fall 2022
Preliminary sketch of peony planting in the fall of 2022

This mixed-border featuring mainly peonies will be evolving in the upcoming year. Stay posted!!

Using a garden hose to design the contour of your plant border can be a great way to experiment with different shapes and create a natural and flowing look. By following these steps, you can create a beautiful and functional plant border that will add interest and definition to your landscape.

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