Planning a Mixed Border for Interest All Year Round
Mixed borders contain a bit of everything – trees, shrubs, roses, evergreens, flowers and bulbs – so that they remain colourful all year round. You need quite a large area to fit in so many different plants, but in ayou can make a smaller mixed border without the trees and use only small shrubs. One way of planning the border is to cut out pictures in catalogues to see what the plants look like with various companions. Another way is to photograph groups of plants which take your fancy in other gardens. When buying plants, try arranging them in groups before you buy. Some of the most successful border combinations, however, come about by pure accident, and it’s not always the colour-coordinated, tapestry effects that give the ‘wow’ factor. When planning a border, try to choose plants that will give interest at different times of year. The best ones are those that have more than one attribute, for example new growth colour and spring flowers, or summer flowers and autumn leaf colour. Alternatively, choose some plants for the different seasons, for example bulbs for spring interest planted with summer flowering perennials.
You don’t have to choose a traditional mixed border. By varying the mixture of plants used, you can create a particular style to suit your taste. Here are some suggestions.
A traditional blend of summer-flowering perennials, such as, gypsophila, lupins, phlox and stachys. Traditional are less popular in modern gardens than they used to be, but you can grow them imaginatively. don’t have to be too polite. Tall plants growing in groups make a striking display against a brick wall or a backdrop of evergreen shrubs, which works well, even in a small garden. The advantage of using perennials is that once you’ve bought or acquired the plants you don’t have to restock every year, and as the plants spread, they provide good to keep down the . Some perennials, such as Geranium endressi, die down in the winter. If you want evergreen cover, try bergenias or epimediums. If possible, leave a narrow access path along the back of the border.
Tender or exotic-looking plants, such as canna,, castor oil plant, gazania, phygelius and shrubby salvias. Tropical beds are very showy; but most of the plants aren’t hardy. This means that you will need somewhere safe to keep them throughout the winter to protect them from frost damage.
COTTAGE GARDEN BORDER
Old-fashioned flowers (including hardysuch as nasturtiums), herbs, campanula, Canterbury bells, foxgloves, lavender, roses, sweet Williams. In a cottage-style border small spreading and self-seeding plants such as diascia, eschscholzia, geranium and nepeta, are encouraged to grow into each other to create a colourful tapestry that looks good, even in a small garden. This is a money-saving border, where saved seeds can be used for annuals.
Standard, bush, compact and patio roses with contrasting underplanting of foliage or flowers. The problem with rose beds is that you don’t get all round colour from the roses, which are the main feature.
ANATOMY OF A BORDER
TALLEST AT THE BACK, PLEASE
When planning your side bed, obviously the taller plants need to be nearer the back as a general rule. There are some exceptions, where tall, fine-leaved or delicate plants such as grasses can look good in front of more dense shrubs or perennials. Traditional beds have the very tallest centre back, with successively shorter plants to create a tiered effect. Stand in the area you are going to plant and think of the plants’ heights compared with your height.
• SHOULDER HIGH AND ABOVE
• Choose standard trees that have a bare trunk to at least 1.2-1.5 m (4-5 ft), so that the crown is raised well up above smaller plants.
• WAIST TO SHOULDER HEIGHT
• Choose shrubs with a mixture of foliage colours (including variegated leaves), different flowering times and naturally tidy shapes that will slot in under trees. A sprinkling of evergreens provides winter interest, but don’t go overboard. Shrubs that tolerate light shade are best for planting right underneath trees.
• KNEE TO WAIST HIGH – HERBACEOUS FLOWERS
• Choose kinds that are happy to grow in light shade, because at various times of day they will be in dappled shade cast by bigger plants. This means all but the real sunlovers.
• ANKLE TO KNEE HIGH – ANNUALS AND CARPETING PLANTS
• Choose plants that naturally sprawl or make low compact mounds to fill gaps in the bottom floor of the border between other plants. Alternatively, grow masses of spring bulbs to give the same effect early in the year before perennials have grown up again.
WHAT SHAPE OF BORDER? A TRADITIONAL BORDER
This runs round the edge of the garden, just in front of a wall, fence or hedge; it is usually quite wide. A formal border has a straight edge, an informal border has a curved one that looks much more natural. Traditional borders help to define the shape of the garden. With tall trees or shrubs around the edge of the garden, it is more sheltered and private. On the down side they can be a lot of work, as weeds grow through from the garden next door, and plants get drawn up by lack of light at the back of the border. This means that you will need to stake many of the plants to keep them upright.
These go in the middle of a lawn, where you can see them from all round. They are less work because plants grow shorter and stronger due to the better light. Only the tallest will need staking. The beds are easier to weed because you can get at them from all round but they take up more room in a small garden, and can make mowing more of a faff.
These can run along either side of a path, or along the edge of a feature such as a patio. Keep to smaller plants here, or the garden will start to look closed in and oppressive. They help to shape the garden and add colour and interest, but too many small borders can make a garden look fussy and create a lot of extra work.