Herbaceous Borders and Shrubs

In its original form, a herbaceous border was a garden feature planted exclusively with herbaceous perennials (plants that normally die down each winter but spring up again from the base the following year).

The present trend, however, is to include only perennials that are relatively trouble-free and undemanding, requiring minimum tying, staking, dividing up and replanting. Their display can be supplemented with other similarly labour-saving plants, such as summer-flowering bulbs, together with shrubs of compact habit, ground cover plants and a selection of the old-fashioned shrub roses.

Columbine (Aquilegia)

Columbine (Aquilegia) (Photo credit: bill barber)

It will save a considerable amount of work in the long run if the site for the border is carefully prepared, since most of the plants that will be growing there will be of a permanent or semi-permanent nature. The ground should be dug over to a spade’s depth, after which the subsoil is loosened with a fork and as many weeds as possible removed in the process. At this stage, well-rotted manure, compost or other humus-rich material should be dug in. A week or so before planting out the border, a dressing of bonemeal, at the rate of 120 g/m2 (4oz/sq yd) should be forked in.

Most perennials and shrubs can be planted at any time during autumn and winter as long as the soil is in a suitable condition – neither waterlogged nor frozen rock-hard. The exceptions, in the main, are grey- and silver-leafed shrubs, such as lavender, cotton lavender, phlomis and helichrysum, which are best planted in early spring. Conifers, too, seem to settle in more quickly when planted either in late autumn or late spring. Container-grown plants can be used for filling in gaps at any time of the year.

To obtain the best effect, the plants should be planted in groups rather than singly, with the exception of very large shrubs or those used as focal plantings. As a rough guide, groups of three of the same type of shrubs and the larger perennials, and up to six of the smaller varieties, will look attractive, helping to avoid a ‘spotty’ appearance.

A well-planned mixed border will be full of colour from late spring to mid-autumn. The display can be extended by including winter flowering shrubs like Witch-hazel, wintersweet and Viburnum fragrans, and perennials such as bergenias and the Christmas and Lenten roses, Helleborus niger and H. orientalis.

The smaller and more compact varieties of favourite border plants such as dwarf Michaelmas daisies and golden rod, are virtually self-supporting. Other plants will need only a few twiggy sticks for support. These should be inserted round them when growth starts in spring. By the time the plants reach the flowering stage, the sticks will be completely hidden by the foliage.

For taller border plants that need support, for example Michaelmas daisies, dahlias, border chrysanthemums and the taller delphiniums, you can buy metal plant rings.

27. February 2012 by Dave Pinkney
Categories: Gardening Ideas, Time Saving | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Herbaceous Borders and Shrubs


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