My Favorite Plants to Use for Borders

Nasturtiums provide lovely bouquet blooms and spicy foliage.

By P. Allen Smith | Photography by Mark Fonville and Jane Colclasure

I like to structure gardens so that there’s something eye-catching on each level. I find that it’s often easy to forget about the plants right at your feet. So when you’re planning your garden, consider these plants for forming borders, either in a bed or along a path. Some of these do really well in containers too!

Lemon ball stonecrops work wonders in any garden.

Tricolor Sage

This perennial herb is just gorgeous! It’s edible as well as ornamental. The leaves have the same sage flavor you know and love, but they feature a white edge with pink and purple coloring. In the summer, its lavender-blue blooms will bring butterflies to the garden!
Tricolor sage reaches about 18 inches tall and grows best in full sun. It prefers drier, sandy soil.


I plant plenty of nasturtiums every year. I love a small bouquet of the blooms, and the spicy foliage is great in salads and cream cheese dip. On a more practical level, nasturtiums will protect tomatoes from aphids and whiteflies. Plant nasturtiums around the base of fruit trees to help repel insects.
These little beauties are so easy to grow. They need partial to full sun, and the only soil requirement is that it’s well-drained. Once you plant nasturtiums, just let them be!

Moss Phlox

Moss phlox is such a low-maintenance plant. It’s drought-tolerant and fills in spaces really nicely, which is why you may hear it referred to as “creeping phlox.” It can grow to 6 inches tall and can spread a couple of feet out. Moss phlox bursts into bloom in April and May and is perfect for a butterfly garden.
Moss phlox thrives in well-drained soil in full sun and can tolerate sandy and rocky soil.

Laguna™ Sky Blue Lobelia

I’m not one to pick favorites, but I do love the color blue. This has to be the best heat-tolerant lobelia on the market. In my very Southern garden, I can grow this gorgeous sky blue flower. These lobelias are so perky and bright. I like to plant extras of these to make sure the blue color shines through all summer, and they’re a magnet for butterflies.

This lobelia can grow to be a foot tall and 1 to 2 feet wide. Plant in partial to full sun in well-drained soil.

Goldilocks Rocks® Bidens

This annual belongs to the aster family. This particular variety is compact and features bright golden yellow flowers. These bidens can grow up to 14 inches and are great as edging or as a groundcover. These bidens are also heat- and drought-tolerant.

Plant in full sun in average soil.

Sweet Alyssum

Also known as Lobularia, sweet alyssum gets its name from its fragrant blooms. It thrives in a variety of climates and is both heat- and drought-tolerant. Some varieties will stop blooming if the summer heat gets really high. Some varieties, like ‘Snow Princess,’ have been developed to keep blooming through the summer heat waves.

Plant sweet alyssum in well-drained soil with moderate moisture. If you have mild summers, plant sweet alyssum in full sun. Here in the South where summers can be intense, I plant mine in part sun.

Lemon Ball Stonecrop

Look at the gorgeous foliage on this plant! Lemon ball stonecrop, also known as Sedum mexicanum, is a beautiful succulent that does wonders in the garden. Because it’s drought- and heat-tolerant, its chartreuse foliage will give your garden bold color through the season and you’ll be treated to yellow blooms in summer.

Plant in average, dry soil and partial to full sun. Stonecrop also can tolerate rocky and sandy soil if there’s good drainage.

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