Horticulture Magazine

4 Best Plants For Small & Narrow Garden Borders

blue salvia in a small garden border with miniature fence

Regardless of the size of your garden, most gardeners have to deal with small or narrow borders, and if you have a particularly small garden, this problem can feel like a particularly big challenge.

Trying to find the best plants to fit in these tricky spaces is hard enough, and the last thing you want to do is over-stuff that space and create confusion.

As with any garden, big or small, the goal is to create harmony and allow the plants you have chosen to complement each other.

If you are struggling to know what to plant in small and narrow borders, then this article is for you. We understand that small garden spaces might make you feel like your options are limited but, with a little planning, creativity, and boldness, you can make those little spaces become one of the big focal points of your garden.

Up against the fence

There are many reasons why we may find ourselves with small and narrow borders. Often it’s because the border is next to a path, alongside your garage, close to the front of the house or right up against a fence. That said, regardless of the reason, the solutions for planting are predominantly the same.

flower bed next to pavement in the UK
Small and narrow garden borders can be tricky customers!

It can be very tempting to just fill the space with as many pretty flowers and shrubs as possible, and be done with it. As with all gardening, though, patience is a virtue, and jumbling plants together is never a fix. That’s why we’ve put together a list of the best plants to make your small and narrow borders not only thrive, but make a real statement.

Preempt problems

The first thing you need to consider is what challenges your little border poses. As mentioned, most small and narrow borders are designed that way because they’re aligned with a larger structure such as a wall, fence or paved path. For this reason, it’s essential to preempt problems before you start planting.

Shallow soil

It’s common for smaller borders to have shallower soil and, if close to paths or the front of the house, high content of rubble and general debris. Before you begin the process of introducing plants, you must remove anything that will disrupt the growth of your plants and then add an extra layer of topsoil.


A less open bed may be prone to what’s known as “rainshadow” meaning that, due to the borders close proximity to a wall or a fence, the soil is likely to be much drier. If this is a factor for your border, we recommend opting for plants that tolerate drier conditions.

Most wall or fence-side borders will also benefit from having organic matter dug in and, once your chosen plants are established, you can apply mulch.

Avoid spreading plants

This may seem to go without saying, but it’s particularly important if your border is next to your garden path. Not only will the plants that grow broadly and spread out dominate the border, but they will quickly take over the path as well.

So, naturally,  recommend choosing plants that won’t compromise both the space for other plants as well as the access to your house.

Best plants for small and narrow borders

Now that you’ve sussed out any difficulties you might be up against when it comes to planting in small and narrow borders, the next step is to find the plants that will not only grow well but thrive and accentuate the space.

We have put together a list of our favourite plants and top tips to help you perfect even the smallest or narrowest of borders.

Sometimes the only way is up

If your borders are next to a wall or fence, then growing vertically is the place to start. Do bear in mind, however, that you still need to choose plants that won’t grow out of hand and encroach on the limited space that you have. 

1. Espalier training trees

Not only are espalier training trees a great way to save space thanks to their propensity to grow vertically, flat against the wall but, once established, they can also reward you with beautiful foliage, flowers and fruit.

If your tricky border is next to a wall or a fence then training trees upwards that produce pears, peaches, apples and apricots are the perfect solutions. They are low maintenance, and, with the help of wires or trellises, will flourish and add a new dimension to your garden.

2. Furnish with ferns

Sometimes it’s best to keep things simple. Adding some lush greenery can be all it takes to really spice up that little space. With little effort, you can breathe life into your narrow border and give it a new lease of life.

An assortment of ferns is ideal for small, dry and shady spots. They are beautiful foliage plants that can not only bring texture and structure to borders but also bring softness. With their varying shapes and sizes, it’s straightforward to find a suitable fern that will give your small or narrow border a real presence.

subtropical lush green ferns
Ferns are a great way to add texture and structure

3. Flower power

Mixing some flowers into your small and narrow border will complete the look and bring a splash of colour to the area. In this case, less is definitely more, so only choose one or two flowering plants to make sure it doesn’t look too busy.

Choosing the right flowers can have a game-changing impact on your border and bring it up to the next level. Try to choose flowering plants that will complement the shrubs and ferns you have selected, and this will give your borders a nice, well-rounded finish.

4. Libertia

Libertia is an elegant, clump-forming perennial which grows with grass-like foliage and produces beautiful sprays of white or blue flowers.

close up of white flowers from libertia (New Zealand satin flower)
Libertia is perfect for adding splashes of colour

We recommend planting in a sunny spot in moist, well-drained soil. Growing up to a metre in height, libertia is easy to care for and just needs a little pruning by removing flower stalks after flowering.

Nice things come in small packages

Hopefully, you’re now feeling fully equipped with all the information you need to create small and narrow garden borders which display balance and cohesion.

It may seem a bit daunting, and you may worry about overcrowding, but all you need to do is just take your time and add your plants one by one. Remember, you can always plant more if required.

With patience and care you will soon realise that these tricky little spots are not nearly as challenging as you thought and you can prove once and for all that nice things really do come in small packages!

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