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Get to Know Your Garden Intimately-part seven Preparing Herbaceous Borders

Updated on October 2, 2015

A well planted herbaceous border is a thing of beauty

A border in Copenhagen Denmark
A border in Copenhagen Denmark | Source


This series of articles get to Know Your Garden Intimately, is aimed principally for the beginner or gardeners who are not certain of which plants to plant where. Therefore the text will remain as simple as possible to understand. Here we are preparing and planting an herbaceous border. The characteristic feature of gardens,whether attached to a mansion or a humble cottage garden is the mixed hardy herbaceous border{s}. Planted correctly there is something of interest throughout the year. Almost every gardener,whose interest is not in 'showing' their plants,puts a great deal of time planting and admiring their herbaceous borders.

From the flowering of the early primrose and Snowdrop of the spring until the last of the Michaelmas daisies,there is no time when the flowers are absent from a well planted herbaceous border. Because we have planted them to our liking the plants come up season after season and becomes the character of the garden. We look each season at the spots we know will produce a certain species at a certain time.

Of course these borders need to thoroughly prepared before we start to select the plants we want to grow in the border. Once the plants are established there is little in the way of maintenance required thereafter,with the exception of keeping the weeds at bay, a periodic application of a general fertilizer,a little pruning,and replacement of plants here and there. The mixed herbaceous border also represents a place we can put any new plants we acquire during the season.

Even at seventy three Wilhelm Frediksson enjoyed digging his garden

Uploaded to Commons by Arildv
Uploaded to Commons by Arildv | Source

Wood engraving of a man working in a walled garden

Uploaded to Commons by Fae {talk}
Uploaded to Commons by Fae {talk} | Source

Preparing an herbaceous border.

The ideal way to prepare our herbaceous border is to dig deep and add manure or compost which needs to be thoroughly incorporated into the soil to the depth of at least a foot or even deeper if this is possible. depending of course, on our available space an ideal border is about three feet wide. It is prudent to point out at this point that most of us will be using muscles we have not used for a while when preparing our border. Do not overdo it, the task can be completed in a few days rather than trying do achieve the task in one day.

Once our border is prepared we can think about planting.Before purchasing plants we must consider where they are to be planted in the border for the best visual affect we are aiming to produce a floral extravaganza.

The back of our border should be planted with tall plants that are bold and striking with their beauty so as to draw the eye towards them. Whilst at the front we need to plant those of a lower growth. However, I have found that to avoid monotony the smaller plants should be allowed to ' run ' back here and there among the taller plants.

The effect we want to achieve in this border is 'during the summer at least, to have the ground practically hidden by foliage ,but at the same time allowing enough room for the individual plants to develop and ideally there should be no question of over-crowding.Until you gain experience you should always read the label on your plant to get an idea of the spread they will achieve at maturity.

We must also think about the border in spring,before most herbaceous perennials put on their new vigorous growth. The soil at this time can look a bit bare and dull.hence to brighten it up and to produce a floral display at this time we may make use of bulbs such as Crocus,Snowdrop,Aconite,Daffodil and Primrose. If we have roses in the border species such as Wood Anemone or Cyclamen may be utilized to give us a display before the rose foliage becomes to dense.

If we plan carefully the border may for the best part of the year produce blooming plants and our border will never be dull, uninteresting or flowerless. The best time to prepare our herbaceous border is the autumn. The majority of bulbs are better planted not much later than September and perennials can be divided or moved at this time,when the old growth has died back and the new growth has not started.

Flower border Birmingham city centre {England}

Originally posted to Flickr uploaded to Commons by Magnus Manske.
Originally posted to Flickr uploaded to Commons by Magnus Manske. | Source

Choosing our herbaceous perennials.

The choice of beautiful herbaceous perennials is almost infinite. Here I make a few selected suggestions for each stage of our border. Let us first think of the taller flowers we need to plant at the back of our border for the best effect.

Plants that attain the height of Four feet or taller.

Delphinium glaucum


Delphinium elatum

Taken in Berlin,Germany.
Taken in Berlin,Germany. | Source


Delphinium is a genus of perennials{ there are also annual varieties} grown for their spikes of irregularly or cup-shaped sometimes hooded,spurred flowers.they need a sunny position. Tall cultivars may need staking and they may also need watering and feeding during the summer.

Delphinium belladona, is an upright branching perennial which grows to the height of between four and five feet,making them ideal for the back of our borders. They have palmate divided leaves, This species produces loose spikes up to a foot long, of widely spaced single {occasionally semi-double} flowers which are sky blue and three quarters of an inch wide on freely branching spurs. They have the added bonus of making excellent cut flowers. other varieties include D.cardinale,D elatum and there are many more available to the gardener.


Rudbeckia lanciniata is another tall flowering plant reaching the height of over five feet and bears daisy-like double golden yellow flower heads with greeny brown centres,during late summer and autumn. The mid green foliage is divided into lance shaped leaflets which are also cut. they prefer well drained soils in a sunny aspect.

Rudbeckia laciniata


Kniphofia caulescens is a stately species



Kniphofia are a genus of perennials ,some of which are evergreen. They are full to half hardy species. Kniphofia are commonly referred to as Red Hot Pokers,or Torch Lily.they require full sun and well drained,but moist soil in summer.

Kniphofia caulescens is a stately evergreen,upright perennial with tufts of basal ,narrow,blue green foliage. The flowering stems are smooth and bear terminal spikes of reddish salmon flowers in the autumn.They attain the height of four feet or more and a spread of two feet. They require sunny well drained soil to achieve perfection.

Other plants to suit the back of our borders

Other plants include Thalictrum aquilegifolium and Hollyhocks will also be be suitable for the back of our border and there are literally hundreds of others at our disposal depending on individual taste and liking. Just Google tall perennials or enquire at the Garden centre or Nursery.

Aquilegia chysantha produce soft yellow flowers


Oriental poppy


Plants suitable for the next level.

In front of these taller plants we need species that are from two and a half feet to four feet in height to bring the height down a stage. here again I will give some examples that I hope will inspire.

Campanula is a genus of Spring and summer flowering plants collectively known as the Bell flowers. The variety That is perennial and tall enough for our next level is Campanula latifoia. this is a clump forming,spreading perennial which attains the height of four feet. It is fully hardy .The strong stems are adorned with many bell-shaped flowers which are a rich violet purple during the summer the foliage is wedge shaped .

The poppy Papavar orientale is another good sized species which meets our requirements. It grows to the height of three feet with spread of one to three feet. They produce single vermilion flowers with dark blotches at the base of the petals,during early summer. the foliage is mid green in colour,broadly lance shaped,toothed or cut and of a rough texture. There are other varieties to choose from such as 'Allegro viva', and ' Indian Chief' . They will tolerate semi shade as well as full sun.

Aquilegia is a genus of clump forming ,short lived perennials grown for their many spurred flowers in spring and summer. They prefer well drained soils in a sunny aspect. Aquilegia chrysantha is a vigorous clump forming perennial up to three to four feet in height. It bears semi-pendent, bell shaped, soft yellow flowers with long spurs,several per stem in early summer. They have fern-like divided mid green leaves.

There are many species of Iris which will suffice for this level Iris germanica and I.Pallida are good examples. Lupins will also be a good edition with there spikes of slipper like pea-shaped flowers.

A white variety of Campaula latifolia


Plants for the third of our four levels

The plants required for the next level the third of our four are plants between nine inches and two and a half feet tall. Of the many species available I will give a few examples in picture form

Trollius europeaus-The Globe flower

These beautiful globe shaped flowers shown here growing wild in Vesser Valley Germany are ideal for our purpose
These beautiful globe shaped flowers shown here growing wild in Vesser Valley Germany are ideal for our purpose | Source

Ranunculus amplexicaulis

Like the globe flower this is another member of the Buttercup family which will look great in our border
Like the globe flower this is another member of the Buttercup family which will look great in our border | Source

Carnations and pinks such as Dianthus caryophyllus are ideal for this level


Coreopsis lanceloata var 'Sterntaler'


Low growing plants for the front of the border

Now we must consider low growing species of perennials that do not exceed nine inches or so for the front of our floral display. Again the examples below are in image form.

Campanula isophylla variety alba

Other suitable varieties are turbinata
Other suitable varieties are turbinata | Source

Pulsatilla grandis

Other suitable varieties are P.palmata. P.cornaria. P.fulgens. P.nemorosa
Other suitable varieties are P.palmata. P.cornaria. P.fulgens. P.nemorosa | Source

Auricula. Primula x pubescens


Phlox adsurgens



Above are just some of our faithful friends that will flower year after year and give us so much enjoyment throughout the season. As previously mentioned these are only a few of the species available but it is my hope that it has inspired you to create a perennial herbaceous border in your garden. Happy gardening !


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    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Thank you Deb for your kind comments ,loyal support and for sharing. Best wishes to you.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Dave, these are wonderful. I can just see a beautiful English garden. I am going to send this article to a friend in Scotland, so she can get some ideas. She likes birds, too!


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