Planting a mixed herbaceous border

A very pleasing feature of many gardens, and in particular those found in Britain, is the herbaceous border. This consists of a varied selection of hardy plants grouped together to give an effective display of colour throughout the flowering season. Herbaceous plants are those which die down to the ground at the end of each year and begin completely new growth in the following spring.

It is of course likely that friends or relatives who already have well stocked borders of this kind will be only too pleased to pass on roots of perennials when they are dividing up overgrown clumps. It is quite surprising how quickly a border can be stocked in this way, and together with a few particular plants bought from one of the nurseries who specialise in border stock, a very satisfactory show can be achieved in a remarkably short time.

The main thing to remember when planning the border is to carefully draw out the available space onto a piece of paper, dividing this into sections each of which represents one type of flower. These sections can be coloured with crayons and in this way the best variation of colour can be sorted out before actual planting begins. The height of each plant and the blooming period should also be taken into consideration at this stage for when a border runs for instance down the side of the garden it would be more effective to plant the tallest varieties at the back of the bed and graduate them clown to the very smallest at the front. There are of course cases where borders are seen from all sides and these should be designed to have the tallest plants right in the centre, working out in each direction with the smaller ones.

When herbaceous plants have begun to grow in the spring it will be necessary to make preparations for supporting them against high winds and rain which can soon spoil the effect and make the border look very untidy. It is most important to look after this matter early in the growing period as once the plants have blown down or bent it is much more difficult to tie them up again neatly.

For medium height plants it will simply be necessary to push in some twiggy sticks at intervals around the clump, bending them over at the top to form a sort of tent over the plant. In a very short time the plant will have grown up through the supports almost camouflaging the sticks. It will also help to tie a piece of garden string loosely round the whole clump to keep it tidy. It is important that tying should be done loosely as nothing looks worse than a plant tied together in a tight bundle. There are a few plants such as the large headed dahlias which will need more substantial support, and this should be done with good stout bamboo canes or stakes which have been driven into the ground near to the plant, taking care that no damage is done to roots. At intervals the stem should be tied to the cane, again not too tightly.

When beginning to plant a new herbaceous border it is a good idea to plant far enough apart to allow the plants to spread. It would be a mistake to fill the bed with perennials so that it looks full the first year as it will soon become evident the following summer that far too much had been planted. The answer is to intersperse the plants with patches of annuals which have been raised in the seed bed and transplanted, or alternatively planted as seed directly into the border in the position where they will eventually flower. Select the spaces which need some temporary filling and rake the soil lightly to one side, sprinkle the seed, and finally cover with a thin layer of soil. Be sure to mark the patch with either some small wooden twigs or a circle of stones so that it will not be disturbed, and label clearly with the name and colour of the flowers sown. Antirrhinums, clarkias, asters and stocks are all useful for this type of use and will help to give the border a well-stocked look even during its first season.

During the flowering period all that will be needed is a weekly look along the border, hoeing the odd weeds from between the plants, attending to the tying up and keeping the dead flower heads removed.

It is during the winter months that the transplanting or dividing of overgrown clumps should be done. With a well stocked border it will be necessary every three or four years to dig up each clump and if too big, divide it either by carefully pulling the plants apart or by inserting two garden forks back to back into a large clump and forcing the handles together. The leverage from this should easily break down the toughest roots. The latter method should be used for Michaelmas Daisies etc. The centre part should be put onto the compost heap and selected younger parts from the outside of the clump replanted. This treatment will ensure that the flowers will not become weak and small.

One of the main advantages of a perennial border is that once the main expense of buying plants has been borne, the border will go on for many years with only routine maintenance and little trouble from pests and diseases.

The following plants would grow under most conditions and are very suitable for inclusion in the herbaceous border.


These plants have bright yellow flowers and silvery grey foliage. They grow to about 4-5 ft. and begin to flower in July going on well into October. These should be planted towards the back of the border.

Aconitum (Monkshood)

Attractive spikes of blue or violet flowers with deep green foliage. Flowers August onwards and very useful for autumn colour in the border.


Very free flowering with vivid blue or sky blue blooms. Begins flowering in June and continues for at least three months. Height 3- 4 ft.

Aquilegia (Columbine)

Ideal for the centre part of the border as these plants grow 2-½ – 3 ft. Delightful mixed colours growing from very pretty foliage. Flower well from June to late August.

Campanula (Bell Flower)

As the name suggests these bell-shaped flowers grow in various shades of blue and lavender and sometimes white and pink.

Height 3-4 ft. and flower vigorously during June, July and August.


Beautiful whites and yellows, these border chrysanthemums grow to 2-1/2 – 3 ft. Blooms can be either double or single and flower well from July to September.


Rich golden flowers held on long stiff stems. They are ideal for cutting for the house. Grow to approximately 3 ft. and flower well from July to September.


One of the most spectacular flowers for the border, having long spikes of flowers and are now grown in every possible blue from pale blue to the deepest purple. Most varieties grow to 5/6 ft. and are best planted well to the back of the border. These plants flower for a large part of the season and are excellent for cutting.

Dicentra (Bleeding Heart)

Arching stems bearing heart shaped flowers of deep pink or crimson. Flower early from May onwards and grow to 1-½ – 2 ft.


Easy to grow and well flowering, these plants flower like small Michaelmas daisies, have straight stems and blooms of lilac, violet and rose pink. They grow to 2 ft. and are again ideal for cutting for the house.


Tall spikes, 4/5 ft., with trumpet like blooms surrounding the stem Flower well during July and August and look well towards the back of the border with their pink, lemon, apricot and buff flowers.


Like huge rich yellow daisies with a centre of rich red. These make a spectacular show and bloom continually from June to October. Height 2 ft.


Bright scarlet and yellow flowers make these very attractive additions to the border. Delicate foliage and grow 1-½ ft., flower non-stop from spring to autumn. Last well indoors.


Daisy-like flowers in many colours including orange, crimson and brown-red. Approximately 3 ft. high and flower from July to the end of the summer.


Having long sprays of crimson flowers not unlike London Pride, these make good plants for the front of the border. Height 1-1/2 ft. and begin flowering in May.


These give wonderful height to a border as they grow to 6/8 ft. A very wide variety of colour is available and the long flower spikes make a wonderful show during July and August.

Border Iris

Grown in a wide range of colours, these irises grow to about 3 ft. They particularly like a sunny position and are more successful if grown in well drained ground. Flowering period May/June.

Kniphofia (Red Hot Poker)

Flowers of orange or scarlet resembling flaming torches, these plants give a superb dash of colour to the border and grow to between 2-½ and 4 ft.


A great favourite with most gardeners, lupins are grown in a very wide range of rich colours. Their long spikes of colour begin flowering in May and are valuable for giving the border early colour. Height 3 ft.


One of the most beautiful flowers to plant in a border, it has kingfisher blue flowers and downy foliage. Will grow to about 3 ft. and flower during July and August.

Michaelmas Daisy

These have for a long time been popular with gardeners as they are invaluable for adding colour to the border late into autumn when other plants have finished blooming. During recent years new varieties have been developed giving larger blooms and a greater range of colour. Height varies from 2-¼ ft. and they flower vigorously from August to the end of October. Recently dwarf varieties have been introduced which grow to only 1 ft. These make a wonderful show of colour at the front of a border during September and October.


Magnificent plants for the border. Huge flowers of pink, white or red colour on attractive foliage which are very good for cut flowers. Paeonies should be planted in soil which has been well fed with manure and once planted should, if possible, be left undisturbed as they resent transplanting. Flowering time May and June.


One of the most imposing of border plants the flowers of which are in a wide range of colours, these grow to 3/3£ ft. and will be smothered in bloom from June to September. Apart from giving a most spectacular display of colour, Phlox also have an attractive perfume.

Oriental Poppies

These flowers of dazzling salmon pink or scarlet give a grand splash of colour to a border. They grow from 2/3 ft. and will bloom in June and July.


Early flowering marguerite-like flowers in pink, crimson and scarlet. Particularly good for cutting these plants grow 2-½ ft. high and will bloom freely during May and June.

Trollius (Globe Flower)

These beautiful flowers of rich golden yellow bloom very early during April and May. Their main dislike is dry soil but in favourable conditions will make a sparkling display in the border. The plants grow 1-/1/2 – 2 ft. high.

Veronica (Speedwell)

This pretty blue flower grows well at the front of the border. 2 ft. high and early flowering during April and May.

The above selection of plants suggested for a herbaceous border is of course in no way complete. The varieties have been chosen as a basis on which to begin a border, bearing in mind colour, height and time of flowering. None of these plants would be difficult to obtain from a good nursery and none of them need special care beyond reasonably well cared for soil and some watering during dry periods.


Anyone who has walked through a public park or along the sea front during the summer months must surely have seen the dazzling displays of Geraniums in all their wonderfully varied colours. There are many reasons why these flowers have become so popular but the two important ones are certainly that they are so very easily grown and flower in great abundance during the whole of the summer, only giving up when the frost arrives.

One point, however, must be made clear from the start. The real name for what we call Geranimus is in fact “Pelargoniums” but as these plants are so well known there is very little likelihood that anyone will be confused if we continue to call them by their nickname.

There are many interesting varieties of this plant, the most often seen being those with round leaves on which can be seen circular markings in greens and browns. (Zonal Pelargoniums). Others belonging to this family are the Regal Pelargoniums which are usually seen as greenhouse displays, and the very attractive Ivy-leaved Geraniums which are more often than not used in window boxes or hanging baskets.

All these types can be very easily increased by taking cuttings which root quickly without a great deal of trouble.

The method is quite simple and all the tools that are necessary are a sharp knife and a pencil sized stick. Each cutting should be taken from one of the main stems of the parent plant and are usually about three inches long with, if possible, three buds along the length. They should be trimmed immediately below a pair of leaves which are then removed and planted round the edge of a 3” pot of well drained soil. About an inch of the cutting should be below the surface of the soil which although moist must not be kept too wet. In about a fortnight the cuttings may be examined for roots which should by this time be well away and at this stage they may be planted in separate pots.

The “little and often” method of watering should be avoided with geraniums and whenever necessary they should be well soaked, left to drain and not watered again until the soil is almost dry.

When the young plants have reached a height of about six inches the tip of the growing stem should be pinched out to encourage the plants to bush out.

Cuttings may be taken at most times of the year but are usually taken during August or September or any time during the spring.

24. August 2013 by admin
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