Time to plan a summer border
If winter has left you feeling starved of flowers, let your imagination run riot and plan a colourful summer border, writes Alice Spenser-higgs
AUGUST is the time when the garden is at its most bare. The roses are pruned, many perennials have gone to ground and deciduous trees and shrubs have lost their leaves.
It may sound uninspiring but this almost empty palette makes it easier to plan the summer garden, and in particular the summer border.
Having visited England’s summer gardens, I have come back inspired by their flowering herbaceous borders.
They are magnificent, and there is no reason why they can’t be recreated here, using both indigenous and exotic plants that grow well in our own areas.
The English borders I saw were in both formal gardens and informal gardens as well as in large herb and vegetable gardens where they provided colour against boundary walls. In some cases the borders were 6m to 7m or, in smaller gardens, about 3.5m wide.
What was so appealing was the colour that they brought into the garden and the variety of garden flowers, many of them planted to attract butterflies and bees.
The artistry of a border lies in its use of colour and although colour schemes are a matter of personal taste there are combinations that just seem to work.
Mauve or soft blue, yellow, silvery grey and white, sometimes with a splash of orange or red is one of these. Another brighter combination is blue, mauve, yellow and pink or a gentler combination of blue, pink and silvery white with the slightest hints of pale lemon.
At Great Dixter, where the rules are consistently broken, pink and orange were used together although separated by shades of blue and pale yellow.
English garden writer Alan Titchmarsh advises that the border should be in proportion to the size of the garden although deeper rather than narrow borders are more effective.
Once the colour scheme is decided, the fun part is deciding on the plants.
When drawing up a planting plan for his borders, Titchmarsh starts from the back and works to the front. This means knowing the height of plants and making sure the tallest are at the back and working in descending order to the lowest in front. Not always as simple as it sounds but mistakes can always be moved.
Besides choosing plants for their colour, one needs to consider contrasting forms and textures.
There are three basic forms; tall and upright, which includes the spikes and spires, domed or rounded and bushy or spreading. Good advice from Titchmarsh is to work in triangles, putting contrasting shapes, sizes and textures together. The triangles should be different sizes and can overlap. Even though the grown plants will blur the triangles this gives the bed an understated structure.
When checking with Kirchhoff’s Marlaen Straathof for effective border plants she suggested starting with the ‘in between’ plants to provide early summer colour while the midsummer annuals and perennials are getting ready for a later show.
The Cape daisy (Osteospermum) makes a wonderful spring show and the Serenity range of colours includes lavender, dark purple, lemon and honey yellow, pink, white, cream and sunset (pinky yellow).
Another spring flowering daisy is the argyranthemum and the Madeira range includes some hot pinks as well as the simple white with yellow centre. Later these can be replaced by Shasta daisies or Michaelmas daisies.
Dianthus is an all rounder with the dwarf varieties suitable for the front of the border while the taller Amazon (60cm) is a good, midsized border plant.
Amazon Neon Cherry, Purple and Rose Magic have vibrantly coloured blooms that make a statement in a border especially if contrasted with other drought tolerant annuals or perennials like blue salvia or the yellow flowering gaillardia Mesa (45cm), rudbeckia “Prairie sun” (80cm), and Verbascum “Southern Charm” (75cm).
A good selection of blue’s for the border includes delphiniums (90cm to 1,1m) for the back of the border, Felicia “Pinwheel” (60cm), Lavandula angustifolia “Hidcote blue” (45cm), Penstemon “Electric Blue” ( 45 cm), Salvia Victoria Blue (30cm), Salvia “Mystic Spires” (60cm)and Salvia Black and Blue ( 75cm).
Two airy plants that lighten the texture of a border are gaura and the new Euphorbia “Breathless”, both being available in shades of white and pink. Both are quick growing fillers with the Euphorbia being the more compact plant with a height of about 30cm and spread of about 60cm.
Finally, don’t forget about ornamental grasses like Carex or the fleshy grey green or blue green leaves of sedums for textured foliage as a buffer between colours.
To bring bright pink into a border use early spring flowering Dianthus Amazon which are taller enough for the middle of the border.
To recreate this border consider using white Osteospermum 'Serenity', Argyranthemum or shasta daisies, blue Salvia 'Mystic Spires', yellow gaillardia 'Mesa' and blue/grey Senecio 'Blue Chalk'.
This colourful border at Chartwell, the home of Sir Winston Churchill, shows how beautiful delphiniums are as a border plant.