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How to plant a flower bed: 3 Top Design Tips

Flower beds and borders are the staple of any garden and they come in all shapes and sizes! I get asked all the time for help when it comes to garden designing and planting flower beds. Given there are endless opportunities it can seem overwhelming as to where to start?

My top 3 flower bed design tricks apply to any style or size of flower bed you may be working with. So whether you have a tiny garden or huge acreage to play with this flower bed design guide can take your average flower beds and make them awesome!

Tip 1: Layering your flower beds

The first tip to successfully planting up flower beds is to layer your plants. Time and time again I see people lining up plants in neat rows. All the plants and flowers are the same ‘below the knee’ height. They get planting up with equal spacing and left awkwardly to grow uniform in isolation to each other.

If you’ve planted in this way you may be familiar with the lacklustre and uninspired result you get when you plant your garden in this way. Then you cram more plants in but it still looks the same. This is where most frustrated gardeners sadly give up.

Layering is going to be your secret weapon for flower border success!

Layering is going to completely change up your garden styling! Layering involves grouping your plants from the smaller ground cover to the mid-layer and the up to the taller specimens. Think of it as 1, 2 & 3.

The reason why layering garden plants in a flower bed works is that it draws your eye from the ground up and through the flower bed. It also slows down your journey and view of the garden as it guides your eye.

Ground Cover Layer 1:

These are your low to the ground specimens. They will be low to the ground and also know as ‘Ground cover plants’. Examples would be Erigeron, Pachysandra, Alpines, Bedding plants or even herbaceous Lamium. They are the warm-up to the flower bed!

Herbaceous Flowering Mid Layer 2:

This is where you want to start to bring the eye up into the mid-layer such as knee-high to waist-high plants such as Geraniums, Salvias, Heleniums, Daliahs or Asters. The real flowering sweet spot of the border.

Shrubs, Grasses and Trees Top Layer 3:

This is where most people fall short. It’s where all the drama and action happens! This is for taller plants maybe 1-2m tall. Think tall Grasses, Shrubs, Hydrangeas, Shrub Roses or tall herbaceous perennials. By the time you get to this layer, you should be almost grinning with anticipation!

Here’s an example of the three layers in this small flower bed. Look how detailed and exciting it looks compared to everything being of similar height.

Tip 2: Colour Choice in Flower Bed Design

Colour is one of the most important parts of all garden design. It can change the mood of a garden from one of excitement to calm, drama to tranquillity. One of the major hurdles that new gardeners face is falling into the trap of ‘Pick & Mix’ planting. When in the midst of eager excitement you end up with every colour under the sun.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with a riot of colour in a garden, but it must be controlled or have some thought behind it. If you don’t pay much attention to colour then your garden can soon become an awkward mix of clashing colours or unsettling combinations.

Colour is one of the most powerful design tools we have. So give it some thought to get the ultimate impact!

There are two main colour combinations in garden planting (I’m really abbreviating here so I apologise to colourists everywhere):

  • Monochromatic (using shades of one colour hue)
  • Contrasting (picking colours that contrast or bounce off each other)
This is a monochromatic flower bed – all within the purple hue on the colour wheel.

The main tip here is to make sure there’s some rhyme or reason to your colour choices. Clashing mish mashes of colour are harder to pull off than you think. By having a unified colour scheme it will help bring a real sense of intent to your garden borders!

Yellow & Purple causes a contrast in this border, they make each other brighter when combined

Tip 3: Repetition in the Garden

I don’t need to repeat myself with this one, but repetition is your best friend when it comes to designing flower beds. A bit like Tip 2 with colour, having plants repeat throughout the flower bed will help provide a bold planting scheme.

If you pick and mix plant then your border will run the risk of looking really disjointed and lacklustre. You don’t necessarily have to have the exact same species but if for example, you’re using Geraniums as ground cover then make sure you use a few of them, even different cultivars to help add a bit of variety. Don’t just plonk one in and expect it to revive your garden borders. Add 3 or 5 and all of a sudden you start to see cohesion!

I prefer a more relaxed planting pattern, triangles and drifts of 3 or 5 plants work really well when combined with layering.

You can even repeat colours or patterns within flower beds to help improve their impact. Another top tip is to layout plants in 3’s or 5’s and in a triangle formation if unsure. You may be tempted to plant in long straight lines but unless you’re going for a formal high maintenance garden a more relaxed set of plants usually works better.

Save ruler-straight lines of plants for very formal designs

That’s really all you need to know to start creating absolutely wonderful flower beds in your garden. Saving you from falling into the trap of boring uninspired displays. You don’t even need to rush out and buy hundreds of more plants. Why not have a go at just rearranging the plants you already have?

  • Grouping colours together more rather than them being scattered around
  • Relocate plants together to form more impact
  • Layering the heights of your border plants for more visual interest

I’d love to hear from you on your flower bed dramas and success stories. Once you’ve tried the above it would be great to show my readers your before and afters! So let’s get cracking with our flower bed redesigns!


You can Tweet, Facebook or Instagram me. You can also follow me on Youtube where I’ve got plenty of garden guide vlogs! Happy gardening!

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