Popularised through their use in traditional cottage gardens throughout the 20th century, herbaceous borders have their origins in the Victorian era, yet they’ve remained a key component of many modern British gardens. In fact, it was Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932), who created around 400 gardens in the UK, Europe, and America (and was a senior figure within the RHS) that popularised the herbaceous border that we know today.
Jekyll’s huge herbaceous borders were famous for their unique take on colour, which schemes running from cold shades of white and blue, to warmer shades of orange and red, and back to cold again.
Consisting of perennial herbaceous plants (such as peonies, delphiniums, chrysanthemums, and many ferns) that are arranged in tall, wide borders and islands, herbaceous borders (as Jekyll demonstrates) are a great way of adding colour, interest, and a dramatic effect to your garden.
Herbaceous borders are also very versatile as you can plant a range of perennials, annuals, and bulbs; this gives you plenty of options to really get creative, as well as cater to the needs of your garden. For example, if the area is more shaded, you can opt for plants that thrive under these conditions.
Additionally, there are plenty of colour schemes to choose from, whether you decide to keep it more traditional with plenty of greens, yellows, reds, and baby pinks, or embrace an exotic feel with vibrant shades of purples and oranges.
Ready to get planting? Get inspired by a few of our favourite herbaceous borders from the UK…
Dirleton Castle, East Lothian
Clocking in at an impressive 215-metres (705 feet) in length, this herbaceous border is recorded as the world’s longest in the Guinness Book of Records, and it can be found in the Dirleton Castle grounds in East Lothian, Scotland.
Running alongside both sides of an immaculately mowed lawn, this herbaceous border is full of colour during this time of the year. Favouring a more traditional take on summer planting colours, the famous border contrasts delicate whites and blues with vibrant pinks, yellows, and purples.
Plants that make up this herbaceous border range from peonies, poppies, and geraniums, to bearded iris, scabious and sea holly. (source)
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
‘The Great Broad Walk Borders’ at the Royal Botanic Gardens is the world’s largest double herbaceous border at 320-metres long. It contains over 30,000 plants in total, and these bring various colours and textures to the border’s sections (which are separated by paths).
With each section of Kew Gardens’ double herbaceous border being designed with a different theme, there’s plenty of places to take inspiration from.
The Compositae themed section, which features a range of stunning plants from the daisy family, is a particularly interesting part of the borders with its golden Rudbeckia (coneflowers) being contrasted with the lighter, subtler shades of Symphoyotrichum ‘Little Carlow’ flowers. (source)
Arley Gardens, Cheshire
The double herbaceous border at Arley Gardens is world famous for its great beauty. It’s also thought to be one of the first of its kind to be planted in England.
Containing four pairs of flowerbeds that are backed by a 19th century wall and a yew hedge, the double herbaceous border at Arley Gardens is regarded as being one of the finest to exist today. It’s especially impressive in the summer months when it embraces bright, uplifting shades of red, yellow and cream.
Yews have also been pruned into decorative shapes between its sections to add further interest to the border.
Waterperry Gardens, Oxfordshire
Dating back to 1932 when Beatrix Hevergal opened her gardening school for young women, the 8 acre Waterperry Gardens are home to one of the finest purely herbaceous borders in the country.
Flowering continuously from May to October, the border has been cleverly planted to maximise colour without shrubs. Colourful Lupins, Anchusa, Geraniums, Pyrethrum and Veronica flower during the first display in May and June, while late October and early November give way to Goldenrod and Heleniums in uplifting shades of orange and yellow.
Delphinium, Achillea, Verbascum, and Phlox are also cultivated so that they reach their peak on Beatrix Hevergal’s birthday (7th July) each year. (source)