POPULAR HERBACEOUS PERENNIALS
Modern Varieties are Best
The most popular and at the same time the most difficult feature in the garden is the herbaceous border. Perennial plants are like true friends, not here to-day and gone to-morrow, but always with us, and becoming more and more valuable as time passes. It can be taken as a general rule that a single perennial plant set in the border and liberally treated, will make at least half a dozen plants at the end of, say, two seasons. This does not apply to every inhabitant of the perennial border, but the majority can be increased as much as this, and some a good deal more. For this reason it pays the amateur gardener to grow only the best varieties in his border and to be ruthless in scrapping old worthless kinds in preference of new ones.
Certainly the new garden owner should make a rule not to include in any of his schemes anything of inferior quality. Modern hybrids are so vastly superior to the types known to our grandparents, that anyone who has seen the two together would not think twice about which to use in a garden. Take for instance the, which is popularly regarded as the King of the Flower Border. Modern types reach a height of ten feet and bear enormous flowers in every shade of blue and mauve. They are hardly recognizable as of the same family as the small insignificant blue-flowered Delphinium that was known to Shakespeare. But even the finest of modern types of border flowers cannot be grown to perfection without care over preparation and general cultivation.
The preparation of the herbaceous border will be on the following lines: that is to say, the soil will be deeply dug, leaving the most fertile spit at the surface. The texture of the soil will also be improved. For instance, if it is of stiff clay, sand, road grit, leaves, dry manure and any ashes that are available will be mixed with it during digging. If it is sandy soil, cow and pig manure (if obtainable), leaves, decayed grass clippings and otherwill be worked into it. It is not sufficient just to dig the top spit of soil, as not only do plants root deeply, but they take a considerable quantity of moisture from the soil during the growing season. Only a very deeply-dug soil, well broken below, can hold sufficient moisture to satisfy the plant roots when the weather is dry and warm.
Bone-meal is one of the most popular and best fertilizers for the herbaceous border. It is slow acting, and its effect is, therefore, felt all the time the plants are growing. Perennial plants, as a rule, are left in position without disturbance for somewhere about three years, and during that period very little can be done to improve the fertility of the soil. If the border to be planted withis one in which the top soil has become a little exhausted, it is good practice to work up a very little of the under layer into the top soil as the digging is done. Heavy dressings of bone-meal can be used, and lime will of course be dusted over the surface. With such preparation the border will need no other treatment for three seasons, except that, during the winter, the soil between the plants will be forked over, and during the summer the hoe will be kept going constantly in order to keep the top friable.
Painting the Picture
A bare border is like an empty canvas. We can paint upon it what colours we will, and we can paint them to last three succeeding seasons. There are to-day almost innumerable goodwhich can be used, and which flower at different times throughout the year. The planting of a perennial border is rather like solving a jig-saw puzzle. You have to fit in the various plants in such a manner that the border will be colourful from early summer to the time the frosts arrive. You have also to arrange the colours so that they do not clash, and you have to arrange the plants so that each is seen to best advantage, which means that you must not hide dwarf plants behind tall ones and also that you must more or less camouflage the unsightly base of the stems of tall plants such as Hollyhocks.
A very common mistake amongst new gardeners is that of planting the mixed border in too formal a fashion. Plants are purchased by the dozen or half dozen and set at regular intervals all along the border. Heights are arranged with uncompromising regularity, dwarf plants in the front, medium plants behind them, tall plants in the back row. A slight variation of these forms makes a much more pleasing picture. For instance, there is no reason why a medium-sized, bushy plant should not here and there approach the front row of the border. It breaks the view of the border seen from one end, and impels the visitor to pass along its whole length in order to appreciate its beauties.