The Beauty of an Herbaceous Border

A Profusion of Blooms

A well-planned, colourful herbaceous border can be a focal point in the garden. With a sequence of perennials coming into flower, the border can be an ever-changing spectrum of beautiful shades.

Planning is key to creating a truly stunning herbaceous border – plants can be selected to offer interest in every season.

The herbaceous border is constantly changing. It is colourful and glowing in spring, when the bulbs dominate, lush with majestic flowers in summer and warm and rich with the colours of autumn. In winter, grasses and seedheads offer interest and beauty even on the coldest, frosty days, contrasting with the lawn, shrubs and trees.

The most effective combination is a mixture of perennials and bulbs. There should be something flowering at all times of year, and there will nearly always be some attractive perennial to admire.

A modestly-sized herbaceous border, with dimensions of 4m x 2.5m, can contain a mass of interesting plants. It should be in a spot where you can easily see it from the house or where it can be viewed from the drive or main path, so that you and your visitors have plenty of opportunity to enjoy it. A sunny situation and a well-nourished garden soil that is not too heavy are also essential.

Begin with Evergreen Structure

One of the main disadvantages of herbaceous perennials is that the majority of them die back in winter. While this may not be a problem in a larger garden, in small and medium garden, every border needs to work hard, offering interest throughout the seasons. One solution is to create an evergreen structure that will provide interest throughout the winter and also offer a backdrop for the brighter plants that emerge during the spring and summer. In the strictest terms, this creates a mixed border rather than a truly herbaceous one, but it is often a worthwile compromise. Hardy perennials such as Euphorbia amygdaloides and Helleborus orientalis can also be an invaluable addition.

Evergreen perennials come in all shapes and sizes with something suitable for most positions.

A Colourful Spring

With the end of severe weather, plants begin to stir in the border. When the first snowdrops poke through the bare brown soil it is a sign that spring is on it’s way. Anemones, crocuses and winter iris flower next, creating bright spots of colour to draw the eye. As the weather continues to warm, daffodils and then tulips begin to emerge, along with early perennials such as Pulmonaria and Bergenia.

A Summer Show

herbaceous-borders2Summer is the season when an herbaceous border really comes into its own, bursting with lush planting. The peony is among the first summer flowers to make its appearance and is a traditional favourite. Soon afterwards, delphiniums bloom in shades of blue, pink and white. Other summer favourites include Agapanthus, Astrantia major, Crambe cordifolia and the ever-reliable Geraniums. Deadheading regularly will help to encourage repeat flowering.

A Golden Autumn

Late-flowering perennials such as Aster frikartii ‘Monch’ can flower well into October, while plants such as Penstemon flower throughout the summer and early autumn. Sedum is one of the last flowers to appear, and the attractive seedheads, which look even better when dusted with frost, can be left throughout the winter. This is the time of year when grasses and seedheads really come into their own.

Care of the Border

In spring, remove withered flowers from the bulbs. The leaves should be left until they have died down, at which time they can be cut back.

Water the border regularly and liberally throughout summer. Removing withered blooms not only encourages flowering, but keeps the border tidier.

No further care is required until autumn, when the perennials should be prepared for winter. Applying a mulch of leafmould or compost will help to protect the crown rom penetrating winter frost and will also keep the soil moist and encourage root development. Some gardeners advocate cutting back all dead flower stems, which both looks neater and avoids the risk of damaging young plants as they emerge in spring. Other gardeners prefer to leave the seed heads to provide additional interest during winter and a source of food for birds.

Pruning and rejuvenating by division every few years are important for several plants in the border. You can also dig well-rotted compost into the bed in autumn to replenish its store of nutrients.

Planning the Herbaceous Border

Herbaceous borders may vary considerably in mood and form. They may be designed around a single colour, for instance, a blue or white border, or to work with difficult site or soil conditions. Examples are shown below:

Choices for a blue border:

Campanula ‘E.K. Toogood’
Echinops bannaticus ‘Blue Globe’
Echinops ritro ‘Veitch’s Blue’
Eryngium bourgatii ‘Oxford Blue’
Geranium wallichianum ‘Buxton’s Variety’
Geranium ‘Johnson’s Blue’
Linum harbonense ‘Heavenly Blue’
Veronica austriaca subsp. teucrium ‘Crater Lake Blue’

Choices for a shade border:

Aconitum hemsleyanum (aconite)
Alchemilla mollis (lady’s mantle)
Aruncus dioicus (goatsbeard)
Asarm europaeum (wild ginger)
Astilbe hybrids
Astrania spp. (masterwort)
Bergenia (elephant’s ears)
Cimicifuga racemosa (black snake root)
Digitalis spp. (foxglove)
Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae
Geranium phaeum (dusky cranesbill)
Helleborus foetidus (stinking hellebore)
Helleborus argutifolius (Corsican hellebore)
Lamium galeobdolon (yellow archangel)
Lamium maculatum (dead nettle)
Omphalodes cappadocica (navelwort)
Tiarella cordifolia (foam flower)

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