From ‘The Great Broad Walk Borders’ in Kew Gardens (which is the world’s largest double herbaceous border) to the beautiful double border at Arley Gardens (which is thought to be the first of its kind to be planted in England), there are plenty of places to find inspiration to create your own border.
With their roots tracing back to the Victorian era, the herbaceous border first burst into popularity in 1809 when Gertrude Jekyll designed Charles Holme’s Manor House at Upton Grey. Here, she featured beautiful, attention-grabbing herbaceous borders with colour schemes running from colder shades of white and blue, to warmer shades of orange and red.
Today, the herbaceous border is still a key feature of the garden; and when planted right, they can be the perfect way to add colour and interest to your grounds. As well as planting herbaceous perennials (which flower for most of the year), you can also incorporate annuals and shrubs when they die down in the colder months. This ensures you have a beautiful display all year round!
Here are our top tips for creating a herbaceous border…
Choosing your flowers
When creating your herbaceous border, you can choose from perennials, annuals, biennials, and bulbs in a range of colours and heights, though you’ll also need to consider the year-round value of whatever you plant in your borders. This is because although herbaceous perennials are the preferred option as they can be strategically planted to make the most of their flowering periods, they tend to die down in the autumn and winter which needs to be planned for.
To ensure an interesting, eye-catching display throughout the year, mix your perennials with biennials and annuals, as well as planting grasses and shrubs to extend the colour of the warmer seasons.
When it comes to herbaceous perennials, there’s a wide variety of flowers to choose from, and these all flower during different months of the year. However, when choosing which ones to include in your herbaceous border, remember to mix plants that flower at different times of the year so that no spot is left bare. Although the RHS website and Saga Magazine have great lists, here are some of the options you can consider:
- Spring: tulips, periwinkles, daffodils, primrose, gold basket, heart-leaf bergenia, snowdrops, flowering sea kale, foxtail lily, hellebore, Solomon’s seal, great burnet and tumbling Ted.
- Summer: lupin, poppies, dahlias, Peruvian lily, purple-flowered dittany, Gibson’s Scarlet, delphinium, white bell agapanthus, begonias, alliums, armed bear’s breech, penstemon and crocosmia.
- Autumn: helenium, chrysanthemum, big blue lilyturf, New England aster, echinacea, Bowden lily and Rudbeckia.
When choosing plants for your herbaceous border, another factor to keep in mind is the conditions of the location. For example, is the area in direct sunlight or is it more shaded? Is the shade dry or moist?
Below are some of the most suitable herbaceous perennials for these conditions:
- Moist shade: Chilean rhubarb, umbrella plant, Christmas rose, lady’s mantle, ‘Darjeeling Red’, plantain lily ‘Royal Standard’, Przewalski’s golden ray and bergamot ‘Cambridge Scarlet’.
- Dry shade: spotted deadnettle, goat’s beard, elephant’s ears ‘Purpurea’, Siberian bugloss, Balkan clary Ostfriesland’, Siberian bugloss and big blue lilyturf.
- Dry sites in full sun: bearded iris, lamb’s ear, ice plant, Achillea, triple nerved pearly everlasting, armed bear’s breech, Kniphofia, viola ‘Huntercombe Purple’ and montbretia ‘Lucifer’.
Planting your flowers
Although it’s your choice how you design your herbaceous border, some of the most admired borders follow the rule of not being too structured in their design. This can be easily achieved by avoiding using taller plants in the back, and shorter ones towards the front for a more graduated effect.
Remember, a herbaceous border should add interest and variety to the garden, and this should really be reflected in the design. For a less structured feel, we’d recommend putting taller plants (which are also referred to as ‘verticals’) in the front of the border to create a veil, or using verticals to break up any particularly ‘blocky’ areas of the border’s design.
When it comes to planting your flowers, one thing to bear in mind is that herbaceous perennials flower during various seasons (and will therefore reach their peak height) at different times of the year. This is something that you’ll need to plan for when deciding where to plant what. We’d recommend having one spectacular flower as the main point of focus each season, and these can be strategically planted to ensure they take over from the last. This way, you can make an impact all year round.
An additional tip is to make sure plants aren’t placed too closely together; this is because their growth will be affected as they compete for light and water. It should be relatively simple to find the predicted spread or width for most plants (the RHS Find a Plant tool is a good place to start), so do take this into consideration!
Before you start planting a new border, you should also double dig the ground; this involves removing the top layer of soil, and re-adding it with the addition of compost or fertilisers. This is beneficial as it increases soil drainage and helps root penetration.
More information on double digging can be found at the Rodale’s Organic Life website.
As so much care is needed to create a herbaceous border that adds colour and interest to the garden throughout the year, consider using a specialist company to help you with designing and planting your herbaceous border.
Maintaining your flowers
Once you’ve planted a herbaceous border, it’s important that it receives regular maintenance to keep your flowers looking their best. For example, to extend the life of your perennials, certain types should be deadheaded to encourage further flowering.
Though the list is extensive, Heleniums, Penstemon, Delphiniums, Petunias and Achillea are just some of the perennials that benefit from deadheading.
Another important thing to remember is to change your plants throughout the seasons; this will easily help to ensure you get the most from your display. For example, strategically plant tulips, periwinkles and primrose in the spring, and poppies, dahlias, and begonias as you head into summer.
In autumn, you can then extend colour and interest by opting for Helenium, echinacea and Rudbeckia.
Additionally, you should remember to cut down any dead stems that are left behind from the previous year. This needs to be done in time for new growth to begin again (usually in Spring) as it ensures your border gets the best chance to reach its full potential.