Summer border M Lane 1 of 5
By Mark Lane

There is nothing better than seeing and enjoying a summer border in full flower, but if you have limited mobility the design, planting and maintenance can be somewhat daunting.

But, with some careful planning you can have fun at every stage.

First, you need to think about where in the garden your border is going to be. Ideally, it needs to be in full sun for most of the day, but some early or late shade in the day is just as good.

Summer border M Lane 4 of 5

When you visit public gardens, borders are often very long and wide, which may look wonderful, especially with lots of colour and structure, but unless you have a team of gardeners such a border is not possible. So, think about the dimensions from the start.

Make it easier

A good place to start is to look at what you can do on an everyday basis, for example, how far you can reach, whether you need support when walking or getting up and down from a seated or kneeling position, and whether you can twist your wrist or if you have dexterity problems. Then, you can design your border with all of this in mind.

If you can kneel but need some help getting up and down then perhaps use a kneeling pad with supporting arms. If you are in a wheelchair, like me, and can twist your torso then consider how far you can reach.

Long-handled tools are great for this as you can dig holes, turn over soil, prune and maintain your border regularly.

If you have limited mobility then think about having a summer border that is raised, perhaps in a raised bed/table/manger or in a collection of large containers.

The right lengths

Pruning can be difficult, especially if you cannot twist your wrist or have dexterity problems, so think about the plants you want to include. Something like roses, while beautiful, will need a lot of maintenance, regular pruning, and if thorny will need some manual dexterity to avoid the thorns.

Of course, a summer border can be any length, but perhaps think smaller scale to start, such as 1m x 60-80cm wide. This can be either in-ground or in a raised bed/table/manger. 60-80cm is wide enough for a lot of people with arms outstretched, which means you can get to every part of the border.

You want to aim for taller plants at the back and diminishing in size the closer to the front of the border. However, some taller plants, that you can see through, such as ornamental grasses or Verbena bonariensis, look great at the front of the border.

Summer border M Lane 3 of 5
Verbena bonariensis

Next, you want to think about texture, shape and form of the individual plants. You want to position different textures next to each other and have a good mix of vertical and mound-forming plants. A good selection of flowering and scented shrubs and perennials will make the best summer border.

Also, flowering shrubs require little ongoing maintenance, especially if you select smaller flowered forms, which will require no deadheading, such as Abelia x grandiflora or Cistus x purpureus. Both are great for beneficial pollinators, too.


Finally, think about wildlife. Bee and butterfly-friendly plants are essential for your garden. Also, try to avoid planting the whole border with the same plant, otherwise known as monoculture.

Summer border M Lane 5 of 5

You want to aim for a good mix of plants which will help with biodiversity. Open flowers or trumpet-shaped flowers, rather than doubles, are also better for beneficial pollinators.

And, you want the summer border to look great for at least 4-5 months (June-October), and this can be achieved with a vibrant mix of shrubs, perennials, ornamental grasses and summer-flowering bulbs.


Mark’s top 5 shrubs:

  • Abelia x grandiflora,
  • Cistus spp.,
  • Escallonia ‘Apple Blossom’,
  • Fuchsia ‘Mrs Popple’
  • Lavandula angustifolia ‘Hidcote’

Mark’s top 5 perennials:

  • Achillea millefolium ‘Cerise Queen’,
  • Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’,
  • Helenium ‘Moerheim Beauty’,
  • Penstemon ‘Husker’s Red’
  • Salvia x sylvestris ‘Viola Klose’

Mark’s top 5 ornamental grasses:

  • Anemanthele lessoniana,
  • Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’,
  • Deschampsia cespitosa ‘Goldtau’,
  • Pennisetum villosum
  • Stipa tenuissima

Mark’s top 5 summer-flowering bulbs:

  • Crocosmia x crocosmiifolia ‘George Davison’,
  • Dahlia ‘Bishop of Auckland’,
  • Eucomis comosa ‘Sparkling Burgundy’,
  • Gladiolus ‘Plum Tart’
  • Lilium speciosum var. rubrum