Building a herbaceous border. Pt. 1.

With a 200ft garden, I decided I had space to cut it up into four segments. Each segment would perform a different function. My choices for these sections was heavily dictated by the bizarre levels present in this garden. Around a third of the way up the garden, there is an alarming natural terrace where the terrain slopes rapidly upwards by about two feet, then levels out, then slopes upward again after 40 feet or so. I decided that this central, flat area was best left as the main lawn. (Lawn spaces should ideally be as flat as possible, with few lumps and bumps.) Whilst part of my aim with this new garden was to make the most of all the space available to grow fruit, veg or low-maintenance plants, I also wanted a decent patch of lawn. If you have young children, the reason for this will be obvious. I, however, have a German Shepherd. Dogs need a bit of lawn to run about on and follow the call of nature! The 40 ft x 25 ft square of level lawn is now dubbed Flame’s Lawn, after my dog.

For the first section, I wanted impact. I wanted maturity, lushness, colour and a sense of formality. How nice to walk into a garden and be instantly assaulted by colour and scent, and a strong impression of design. I wanted to create the illusion of this first section being the garden in its entirety. A neat trick, in my opinion, is to present a full garden of colourful herbaceous borders on either side of a formal path, with a screen of mature shrubs at its end and a rose arch which promises the potential of more beyond.

The screen of shrubs at the end of this section is very important. Originally, I had planned for some formal trellis panels, installed as a screen, but whilst attractive this would be expensive. Instead, I opted for larger evergreens and year-round interest shrubs as partial obstructions to the views of the larger garden beyond. I chose Viburnum x carlcephalumCeanothus ‘Silver Surprise’ (Californian lilac), Cytisus scoparius (yellow broom), Coprosma ‘Pacific Sunset’ and Cornus alba ‘Kesselringii’ (a dogwood with impressively dark winter stems). On one side of the trellised rose arch that intersects this screen would be a white climbing rose (undecided on cultivar yet), and on the other side I wanted to grow one of the more attractive varieties of honeysuckle, so I opted for Lonicera henryi and another evergreen climber, Trachleospermum jasminoides variegata (star jasmine). All of these plants perform more than one function – that is, they are flowering and/or evergreen and/or have winter interest and/or have high scent value. I’m a firm believer in plants working for their keep.

These two formal herbaceous beds on either side of the first section of path measure around 10 ft wide by 25 ft in length. One border is slightly shorter to accommodate an area of paving slabs on which stands the new shed. That kind of space demands a lot of plants. One of the few advantages of working in horticultural retail is the bargains. Oh, so many bargains. As a result, I’ve been collecting plants for some time now. At one stage, the patio looked like a plant nursery. Now, it’s time to put these plants in the ground.

I decided on graduations of flower and leaf colour. Putting that into practice has been less easy than typing it, as I already had the majority of the plants before making that decision! The right-hand bed was the first to be dug out. We used a turf stripper to slice off a thick layer of turf, and over a ton of topsoil was dug into the already very loamy soil we found lurking under the turf. A great start. I sorted the plants into colour. On the right-hand side, as you walk down the path, I wanted graduations of blues, purples and whites. Here’s the bed in early Spring (the rest of the garden is untouched), and here’s the full plant list for the right-hand herbaceous bed.

April 2014

Looks pretty uninspiring, huh?

  • Rosmarinus officinalis
  • Mentha (common mint)
  • Lavandula angustifolia
  • Melissa officinalis (Lemon Balm)
  • Hosta ‘Wedgewood Blue’
  • Thyme x citridoris ‘Aureus’
  • Lilium longiflorum (Easter Lilly; Tree Lily)
  • Geranium somobor ‘Mourning Widow’
  • Geranium ‘Espresso’
  • Geranium alba
  • Pulmonaria ‘Sissinghurst White’
  • Pieris japonica ‘Flaming Silver’
  • Hesperis matronalis var. albiflora (sweet rocket)
  • Delphinium ‘King Arthur’
  • Aquilega ‘Blue Barlow’
  • Salvia nemorosa ‘Ostfriesland’ x 2
  • Acanthus spinosus (Bear’s Breeches)
  • Carex ‘Ice Dance’ x 3
  • Cornus alba elegantissima x 2
  • Penstemon ‘Electric Blue’
  • Tradescantia ‘Sweet Kate’
  • Pittosporum tenuifolium
  • Geranium renardii
  • Alcaea (Hollyhock) – White
  • Chaenomeles speciosa ‘Nivalis’
  • Philadelphus ‘Belle Etoile’
  • Dianthus ‘Grenadin White’
  • Lupinus ‘Gallery White’
  • Dicentra spectabilis ‘Gold Heart’
  • Pulmonaria longifolia ‘Diane Clare’
  • Aquilega ‘Black Barlow’
  • Geranium ‘Hocus Pocus’
  • Fatsia japonica
  • Cornus alba elegantissima
  • Spirea arguta
  • Philadelphus maculatus ‘Sweet Clare’
  • Papaver ‘Checkers’

They are mostly blues and whites, with some variations on purples (lilacs and deeper purples). Once these plants have grown and spread a little, and merged slightly into each other, it should create a natural and pleasing effect using colour and texture, and varying heights in the border.


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