Flower Bed Design - How to Design a Garden Bed (2022)

Learn the basic design principles, styles and plant layouts for garden beds.

Gardens should always be considered highly personal works of art. As in any kind of art, taste will vary greatly with every person having a different opinion of what constitutes beauty. I think understanding basic design principles, is important for two reasons. First, if you know the rules you can break them in an intelligent way. Second, it helps give you a comfort level that what you design won't be a complete disaster. However, in the end the only thing that really matters is that you love your garden - your opinion is the most important one.

There are two basic types of garden beds; island beds and borders and two basic styles of gardens; formal and informal. We will start by covering the two types of beds and then move onto the two styles.

A border is anchored by a backdrop and I think these beds are easier to visualize than island beds, at least for me, since the background will help define the size of your new bed. The backdrop might be a house, a hedge row, a fence, or anything else that gives you a fairly solid background. Borders are viewed from only one side.

A flower border is generally, but not always, long and narrow. How deep your bed needs to be will partially depend on how long the bed is. The proportions of the bed are important. A short bed doesn't need to be as deep, a 3 foot by 8 foot bed will look right at home. A longer bed will need more depth, if possible. A 12 foot by 100 foot bed will look proportional.

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Most home gardens are more likely to have beds that fall between 5 and 50 feet long. In this case depth should range between 3 and 6 to 8 feet deep. Any bed that is deeper than 4 feet (you can only reach so far) will need to have access to the interior of the bed for weeding and other maintenance purposes. Paths or stepping stones are common ways to provide access. Here are some examples of borders:

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The photo on the left shows a narrow border at the Missouri Botanic Garden, in the center is a border along my front porch, and on the right is a great orange-toned border.

Island beds, on the other hand, are not anchored by a backdrop and can be viewed from all sides. They often have a center anchor. This anchor isn't necessarily right in the middle. It can be offset to one side for an asymmetrical look. Center anchors can be anything from a tree, shrub or large perennial to a piece of statuary or a large container, even a bench or trellis/arbor can work as a center anchor.

Island beds tend to be more round, square, rectangular or amorphous. They are rarely long and skinny. As with borders, their length and width needs to be somewhat proportional, so longer beds need to also be wider. Island beds can be small, a mailbox planting for instance, but are more often large. Since island beds can be reached from all sides; only beds larger than 6 to 8 feet across will need access for maintenance. Here are some examples of island beds:

Flower Bed Design - How to Design a Garden Bed (4) Flower Bed Design - How to Design a Garden Bed (5) Flower Bed Design - How to Design a Garden Bed (6)

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The photo on the left shows an island bed with a tree as the anchor, the structure on the right is open so you can see this bed from all sides. The photo was taken at the Boerner Botanic Garden in Hales Corner, Wisconsin; a great garden if you get a chance to visit. In the center is a butterfly wing shaped bed taken at the Michigan State Children's Garden. The photo on the right shows a series of small island beds that use mailboxes as their anchor. The photo was taken at the Missouri Botanic Garden.

In general, plants in borders are arranged with tall plants (taller than 2 to 3 feet) placed in the back, mid-size plants (10 inches to 2 to 3 feet tall) in the middle, and short plants (less than 10 inches) in the front of the bed. It is best to use groupings or drifts of plants for a natural feel. Look at the border planting plan below. Tall plants are in brown, medium-tall plants are in blue, medium-short plants are in teal, and short plants are in dark green. Note that the plants are grouped rather than in rows.

*

The other thing to consider when planning your plant placement is that it is often best to use groupings of at least 3 of the same plant together. One plant alone often does not have enough impact, where a grouping of 3, 5, 7 or more will have good impact. Odd numbers tend to look better than even numbers. This is especially true of smaller plants where groups are necessary to have impact. Short plants can be used in long narrow plantings to create borders on the edge of a bed.

There is an exception to the plant 3 or more plants rule. In general, if a plant is large enough, think shrubs or large perennials, it can hold it's own without being grouped with other plants. Usually, only back of the border plants can stand alone. Scroll back up to see photos of borders.

Island beds work on the same principles as borders, but rather than having the taller plants in the back. The taller plants are in the middle of the bed or centered on the anchor plant. In the design below, the bright blue dot is the anchor, the brown are the tall plants, the pink are the medium plants, and the dark blue are the short plants.

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Flower Bed Design - How to Design a Garden Bed (8)*

You will note that the plants are grouped in drifts with the taller plants in the middle of the bed and then getting progressively shorter as you get toward the edge. Your design doesn't need to be rigid, you can see above that some medium sized plants come to the edge of the bed and some short plants are right next to tall plants. The tall to short progression is simply a rule of thumb, not a hard and fast rule. Scroll back up to see photos of island beds.

Let's talk now about the two styles of garden. Gardens generally are either formal or informal. Formal gardens tend to use distinct geometric shapes for their layout; circles, rectangles, triangles or long straight lines. Plant spacing, color, and layout are all very precise. Here are some examples of formal gardens:

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On the left is a circle knot garden, in the center is a formal garden with lots of color, but very geometric shapes, and on the right is a formal garden with a clipped boxwood hedge to create the form of the beds. All of these photos were taken at the Missouri Botanic Garden.

Informal gardens tend to use curves and free flowing forms. The color combinations are more relaxed and varying plant heights will mingle together. I think most home gardens tend to be this type. Here are some examples of informal gardens:

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The photo on the left is from the Ball Seed Company garden in West Chicago, Illinois and shows, more or less, a wildflower meadow. The center photo is from the Boerner Botanic Garden and shows a curving walkway bordered by colorful plantings. The photo on the right is from The Champaign County (Illinois) Master Gardener Demonstration Garden and shows a great informal garden using bright colors.

Learning the types and styles of gardens and the general principles of plant placement will help you design gardens for your own home. To learn about using color in your garden click here.Of course, once you design a bed you have to actually dig and prepare it. For more information on actually preparing your bed for planting, click here.

*Planting plans developed by the University of Missouri Cooperative Extension Master Gardener program.

Ask a Question or Give Feedback about this article.

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FAQs

How do I make a garden flower bed? ›

Work the soil when it is moist, but not wet. Turn the soil over to a depth of at least 12 inches. Add 2-3 inches of compost and turn it into the bed. Either cover the bed with a thick (3-4") layer of mulch or use a weed and feed to help keep weed seeds from germinating.

What are the basic steps of making a garden bed? ›

The basic steps for building a raised garden bed are:
  1. Choose an appropriate location. ...
  2. Decide on dimensions. ...
  3. Select your materials. ...
  4. Prepare the area. ...
  5. Gather the appropriate tools and materials. ...
  6. Construct your raised bed. ...
  7. Fill your bed with the appropriate soil mix. ...
  8. Set up an irrigation system.
7 Jun 2021

How do you make a good garden bed? ›

And perfect. So let me just mark this here. And then we're just going to cut it with a skill saw for

How do you design a flower bed? ›

In general, plants in borders are arranged with tall plants (taller than 2 to 3 feet) placed in the back, mid-size plants (10 inches to 2 to 3 feet tall) in the middle, and short plants (less than 10 inches) in the front of the bed. It is best to use groupings or drifts of plants for a natural feel.

What makes a good garden design? ›

Symmetry and balance are two of the most important dimensions in a formal garden, along with geometric shapes within a simple planting design. Decide on your shape and keep repeating this shape throughout the garden, whether it is flower beds, paths, water, or the space between these elements.

What is the best material to make a raised garden bed? ›

The traditional raised bed building material is wood, and for good reason. Wood results in an attractive raised bed that will blend in perfectly with the natural garden setting.

What is planting bed preparation? ›

Some of the key points include: eliminating perennial weeds before turning the soil; insuring a well drained soil yet having it retain enough moisture for good plant growth; providing for sufficient organic matter in the soil; and adding fertilizer as needed.

How do you plant a flower garden? ›

How to Plant a Flower Garden - YouTube

How do you calculate the area of a flower bed? ›

To determine the correct number of plants needed for a particular area it is necessary to know the area or square footage of the planting bed. For a rectangular bed, multiply its length by its width. This figure represents the area or square footage of your garden.

What is garden design elements? ›

There are five primary elements of design: mass, form, line, texture and color. Of these, mass, form and line are the main tools used to organize space in a landscape.

What is a garden design principle? ›

The garden design principles are the fundamental laws that garden designers keep in mind during any design project undertaken. With garden design being both an art and a science, there is room for flexibility in these rules to make a strong statement.

What shape should I make my flower bed? ›

A circle often considered a “perfect shape”. That is probably the reason why circular or oval flower beds are so popular. They look especially striking when placed in the middle of a well-maintained lawn.

How deep should flower beds be? ›

How deep you should dig a flower bed will ultimately depend on the types of flowers that will be planted. The minimum depth should be at least 6” as the majority of plants will need a depth of 6-12” deep. 12” is also a safe bet.

How do you edge a flower bed? ›

How to Edge a Garden Bed | This Old House - YouTube

How do you make a raised garden bed border? ›

How to Build a Raised Flower Bed - YouTube

How a flower garden is made paragraph? ›

At first I chose a place in front of the soil to prepare it with manures. Then I collected seeds and saplings f I sowed them properly as per the instruction months. I also provided fences around the plants to protect them from cattles and goats. After regular care for months the flowers bloomed at last in the winter.

How do you start a flower bed for beginners? ›

In a flower border, remove weeds and amend the soil. If this is a new bed, put down a layer of landscape fabric to block weeds and top with six inches or more of garden soil or top soil. In an existing bed, amend the soil with composted manure before planting. The ideal location will need adequate drainage.

What do I put on the bottom of a raised garden bed? ›

What do I put on the bottom of a raised garden bed? You can fill the bottom of a raised garden bed with a number of organic materials, including straw, grass clippings, wood chips, and leaves. Place cardboard – or any suitable weed barrier material – over this organic layer, weighing it down with a few bricks or pegs.

How do you start a garden from scratch for beginners? ›

How to Start a Backyard Garden
  1. Determine your climate zone. ...
  2. Decide what to grow. ...
  3. Choose the ideal garden location. ...
  4. Acquire basic gardening tools. ...
  5. Test your soil. ...
  6. Make your garden bed. ...
  7. Decide whether to grow from seed or transplant seedlings. ...
  8. Plant your seeds or seedlings with care.
7 Jun 2021

How do you layer a flower bed? ›

Plant height and width are key to good spatial layering, especially from front to back of the bed. The general rule (just like taking a group photo) is short stuff in the front, medium stuff in the middle, and tall stuff in the back. That way everything is visible.

How a flower garden is made paragraph? ›

At first I chose a place in front of the soil to prepare it with manures. Then I collected seeds and saplings f I sowed them properly as per the instruction months. I also provided fences around the plants to protect them from cattles and goats. After regular care for months the flowers bloomed at last in the winter.

How do you prepare the ground for planting flowers? ›

Before planting flowers, prepare the garden bed with a spade, working in at least 1-inch of organic matter. The soil should be loosened to a depth of at least 12-inches for annuals and 18-inches for perennials. Smooth the soil with a ground rake. Plant the flowers at the same soil level as they were in the container.

How deep should a garden bed be? ›

They should have at least 8 inches of soil depth to accommodate the root systems of plants, because the majority of plant roots require 6 – 8 inches of soil for healthy root growth. A depth of 8 – 12 inches will suffice for most gardening situations.

How do you layout a raised garden bed? ›

In your raised bed, you divide the space into a grid of 1- x 1-foot squares. Then you follow his plan for how many plants or seeds should be added to each square. The density is based on the plant size. So that might mean one tomato or several carrots.

What is the best base for a raised garden bed? ›

The most used materials for a raised garden bed liner are cardboard, mulch, concrete, fabric, and plastic. They serve as a barrier between your garden soil and the ground to stop the weeds from coming through and keep out toxins and other pests in the ground.

What is the best garden layout? ›

The most basic garden plan consists of a design with straight, long rows running north to south orientation. A north to south direction will ensure that the garden gets the best sun exposure and air circulation. A garden that runs east to west tends to get too shaded from the crops growing in the preceding row.

How can I make a simple garden at home? ›

3 Tips For Growing Plants | Gardening | Great Home Ideas - YouTube

How do you layer a small flower bed? ›

Create Depth with a Foreground, Middle-ground and Background

If you have the space, create a foreground, middle-ground and background. Tallest plants go in the back and the lowest growing plants go into the front of the garden bed. This is why you need so much depth in your garden beds.

How do I group flowers in my garden? ›

Install your plants in groups of 3 or 5 –odd numbers create the best look! And, group flowers based on bloom times. If you use flowers that bloom during different seasons, no areas will lack color when a particular plant is done blooming for the year.

Videos

1. How To Build Raised Garden Beds
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2. Enclosed Raised Bed Garden Design | Peggy Jones
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4. How to Design a Flower Bed
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