Glory days in the herbaceous border

By Andrew Collyer - Practical Gardening

Published 11/08/2015 | 00:00

Herbaceous borders provide a little opportunity to show off in a most respectable way.
Herbaceous borders provide a little opportunity to show off in a most respectable way.

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Despite the inclement weather this year our garden plants have still been going about their business of flowering, regardless of the skies above, in an attempt to cheer us up.

At this time of year there are few more uplifting sights than a herbaceous border in full flower. A well planted herbaceous border will resemble a large vase of flowers, with tightly packed blooms set out in graded heights, high to the back and low to the front, and be bursting with colour.

A herbaceous border is a collection of plants that live for two years or more and are soft stemmed. This means they do not form a woody overwintering branch structure like you get with trees and shrubs. Collectively they are known as herbaceous perennials, some may lose their leaves in winter, deciduous, other are evergreen keeping their foliage right through the year.

Herbaceous borders have been popular and fashionable since the 19th century where they were found in large country house and castle gardens. Still today many of these types of property whether state or privately owned pride themselves on a show piece herbaceous border. They can be the height of gardening excellence in my opinion which is why they are so coveted. They also provide a little opportunity to show off in a most respectable way.

Traditionally these borders would be long, 30, 40, 50 metres even. They would usually be backed with a wall or hedge to provide protection for some of the taller growing varieties of plants and often edged to the front with a gravel or grass path. This path would provide easy accessibility to appreciate the border in full. Often the pathway would have matching borders either side in mirror image of each other creating a valley of colour during the summer.

You don't need to garden on that scale to create your own herbaceous border, a two metre by 1.5 metre bed will suffice. Usually when planning a plant border we look to create interest at different times of the year but with a herbaceous border I'm all in favour of going for broke and planting something that will provide a colour punch to knock you out for a six week summer period, mid July to late August.

To stop the border falling completely flat at other times of the year incorporate some evergreen herbaceous plants and grasses like Agapanthus, Penstemon, Stipa gigantica and Phormium. A tall flowering Lavendula x intermedia 'Vera' will also provide some evergreen foliage as well as flower without spoiling the integrity of the herbaceous feel.

Before you plant make sure you have eradicated any troublesome perennial weeds that have a running root system. Plants like spear grass, groundelder, coltsfoot and bindweed can be an awful nuisance once they infiltrate a perennials root system with spraying not being an option. Select your plants not only for their flowering times but also for their heights.

Ideally you want at least three levels of plant height in your border. 2-1.5 metres at the back 1.2-0.8 metres in the middle and 0.6 to ground level at the front. If you can afford too plant in at least groups of three to give a big impact of tightly packed flower.

Alternatively most herbaceous perennials divide easily in the winter so plant singly in spring and by the following winter you should have a plant large enough to lift and divide into three to replant.

Wexford People

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