What to plant in a narrow border

Most gardens that I visit have a few borders which are really narrow and this can often pose a planting dilemma. This post explores some solutions...

Plants, Plan Your Garden

There are a number of examples where I often find narrow borders – some perhaps just 30cm to 45cm:

  • In small gardens, where clients need to maximize their lawn area, resulting in a narrow border between the lawn and the fence.
  • The narrow strip of border often found in front gardens between the drive and the boundary fence.
  • The narrow planting gaps next to house walls or by a section of trellis put up to screen a shed.

The Challenge

The challenge is to find plants that will cover an area up to a certain height (for example to soften a boring run of fence), but without those plants growing out too far horizontally all over the lawn or drive.

Most people automatically look to climbing plants such as Clematis or Honeysuckle as a solution to this planting dilemma. The problem with this is that many climbers don’t actually give a very good coverage. They also need quite a bit of water to thrive – and many narrow borders, particularly by house walls, can be very dry.

Some Ideas to Explore

In my experience, often the best solution is to plant suitable wall shrubs, and train them as required. Yes, the plants may need a bit more maintaining, but no more than a climber needs, and the results can be stunning.

Here are some simple wall shrub ideas to consider. (For all of these, you can simply prune them, to keep them the right size and shape):

  • Viburnum x burkwoodii
  • Osmanthus x burkwoodi
  • Rhamnus alaterna ‘Argenteo Variegata’,
  • Choisya

Shrubs that need a bit more maintenance:

  • Large leaved  evergreen Cotoneasters such as ‘Cornubia’ and ‘Exburyensis’
  • Garrya elliptica
  • Euonymus japonicus

These shrubs will need a few anchor points to help them stay close to the fence. Or better still, you can grow them as informal fans or espaliers (with wires on the fence if needed), which will highlight their attractive leaves and showcase their berries or tassels in winter. Some plants can be purchased already part-trained on frames or trellis (e.g. Garrya, Euonymus japonicus), although plants like the Cotoneasters grow quite fast, so there is no need to go to the expense of buying one on a frame.


Another option is to plant a hedge and keep it narrow. Plants such as Beech and Hornbeam can be kept very narrow, although of course, you do need to remember to trim them. If there is space, a few Cyclamen or Hellebores could be planted at the base of the hedge. Some plants are just naturally upright and narrow (fastigiate) e.g. Juniperus ‘Skyrocket’ and some Pittosporums. If you really want climbers, well how about letting a Clematis viticella scramble through and be supported by a Viburnum or Pittosporum.

And lastly, of course, plants are not the only possible solution.  Boundary and house walls and fences can be all adorned with ornamental trellis, wall features, or indeed water features.

So, whilst narrow borders by walls and fences can require a bit of thinking, there are in fact plenty of planting options to make the most of the available space. And the results can be stunning!

Image credits:

MartinThoma, Wikimedia; Wouter Hagens, Wikimedia; Myrabella, Wikimedia; “Choisya Aztec Pearl” by peganum is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0; “cotoneaster horizontalis” by M. Martin Vicente is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0; “Japanese Spindle (Euonymus japonicus) cultivar leaves…” by mauro halpern is licensed under CC BY 2.0; Garrya, Salix, Wikimedia; “Pittosporum hedge” by wallygrom is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0; “Eastern Redcedar” by PSNH is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0; Beech Hedge, Derek Harper, Geograph; “‘Clematis viticella’ Étoile Violette in Nuthurst, West Sussex, England” by Acabashi is licensed under CC BY 2.0; “Green Hellebore (Helleborus viridis)” by Peter O’Connor aka anemoneprojectors is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0; “Cyclamen hederifolium” by wallygrom is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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