The daunt­ing herba­ceous bor­der

Bray People - - LIFESTYLE - AN­DREW COLLY ER’ S An­drew Col­lyer pro­vides a gar­den de­sign, con­sul­tancy and plant­ing ser­vice. Con­tact An­drew at an­drew­col­lyer@eir­com.net

Of­ten seen as the pin­na­cle of gardening achieve­ment, the much vaunted herba­ceous bor­der leaves many gar­den­ers, if you’ll for­give me, rather daunted.

The highly prized high sum­mer flow­er­ing bo­nanza with a pomp and cir­cum­stance the like of which is un­ri­valled at any other time in the gardening year can seem chal­leng­ing all right.

This is par­tic­u­larly true when your bench­mark can be seen in some of the mag­nif­i­cent gar­dens around the coun­try pea­cock­ing their 40m dual borders astride im­mac­u­late lawn walk­ways.

It is true that the plant com­bi­na­tions used, height, colour, form and the skill and tech­ni­cal­ity in­volved are never more con­sid­ered than on show here but it is also true that for most of us the scale and in­tri­ca­cies of these borders bear lit­tle re­la­tion to what we hope to repli­cate in our own gar­dens.

The his­tory of the herba­ceous bor­der dates back need­less to say to those Vic­to­ri­ans and in par­tic­u­lar a man named Wil­liam Robin­son.

Tired of the end­less bed­ding plant dis­plays and on the back of the many new species be­ing brought back from around the world at the time, he took in­spi­ra­tion from the tra­di­tional cot­tage gar­dens and cham­pi­oned a new style of plant­ing.

Need­less to say this be­came the de rigueur and the rest, as they say, is his­tory.

The herba­ceous bor­der is broadly planted with soft stemmed plants that are peren­nial, mean­ing they come back ev­ery year, but many of which die back to ground level ev­ery year.

This is op­posed to shrub borders planted with woody stemmed plants and mixed bor­der that com­bine both. Iron­i­cally I find the herba­ceous bor­der a lit­tle too flow­ery for my tastes and in many gar­dens the mixed bor­der is the more prac­ti­cal for a whole host of rea­sons.

This doesn’t stop me en­joy­ing herba­ceous borders but I am glad I can take them away as a mem­ory, walk away and leave them be­hind.

My gen­eral peren­nial piece of gardening ad­vice to any­one who is pre­pared to lis­ten is: don’t try to start too big and if you like it then it’s not wrong. This is never more true than with herba­ceous borders.

When se­lect­ing a lo­ca­tion for your bor­der ide­ally site it in a sunny shel­tered po­si­tion. Also im­por­tant is that it doesn’t con­tain nasty peren­nial weed types that send run­ner roots un­der the soil.

Horse or mare’s tail, bindweed, ground el­der, scutch or couch grass and colts foot are clas­sic ex­am­ples of weeds you don’t want in your herba­ceous bor­der as they in­vade the root sys­tem of the plants and are vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble to get out.

The only hope you have is to lift the plant in the win­ter and lit­er­ally pick out the plant from the weed roots, some­times wash­ing all of the soil away to do this.

Reg­u­lar hand weed­ing is also a good idea as spray­ing near herba­ceous plants can be dis­as­trous as they are much more sus­cep­ti­ble to spray drift than a shrub.

Herba­ceous plants in par­tic­u­lar like an open soft soil so cul­ti­vate well when plant­ing in­cor­po­rat­ing plenty of or­ganic mat­ter.

Try to stay off the ground when wet to re­duce sur­face com­paction. An or­ganic mulch spread af­ter plant­ing will help with this also. Feed ev­ery year with a gen­eral gar­den fer­tiliser by top dress­ing.

For an easy herba­ceous bor­der select plants that don’t re­quire stak­ing, are not in­va­sive, are long flow­er­ing and don’t re­quire reg­u­lar lift­ing and di­vid­ing. Bear in mind heights as you want tall plants to the back slop­ing down to lower plants to­wards the front. As for colours ? like I said you can’t be wrong.

Some sugges­tions. For some tall fo­liage im­pact and flow­ers, Melianthus ma­jor, Solanum la­cina­tum, Ma­cleaya ‘Kel­ways co­ral plume’ and Ligu­laria prze­wal­skii.

For grassy fo­liage and flow­ers Aga­pan­thus va­ri­eties, Dierama pul­cher­ri­mum and He­me­ro­cal­lis. Daisy flow­ers, Rud­beckia, He­le­nium and An­themis. Trans­par­ent plants, Ver­bena bonar­ien­sis, Gaura ‘Whirling But­ter­flies’ and Stipa gi­gan­tica.

Roses and Dahlias work well within the herba­ceous bor­der as do Pen­ste­mon, Scabiosa and re­peat flower gera­ni­ums.

Woody laven­der can also be used dispite not be­ing herba­ceous, you don’t have to be strict any­way, L. an­gus­ti­fo­lia is short and a good edg­ing plant L. X In­ter­me­dia is much taller and can be worked in among the medium-sized plants.

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