Lesley created this border in 1997 when she wanted to grow a self-supporting herbaceous border but one that grew in shade. The border was also home to a poplar that not only cast a fair bit of shade but also took the lion's share of nutrients and moisture from the ground beneath it. The first part to be planted was under the tree and the plant colours were to be from the cooler end of the colour spectrum. It included plants such as Alchemilla mollis, Nepeta 'Six Hills Giant' and Geranium sanguineum 'Album', all with pale coloured flowers.
Moving down the border Lesley chose plants that were warmer in colour and finally ending up at the bottom of the border, and into sizzling hot colours. These include Crocosmia 'Lucifer', Geum 'Mrs Bradshaw' and Solidago 'Golden Baby'.
Over the next few years however it became obvious that the poplar was getting a bit too big for its boots and adventurous; its roots were found in the ericaceous border on the other side of the stream, many feet away. Whilst this doesn't sound too worrying, when we realised it might puncture the membrane that was lining the stream. If this happened and we started to lose water, then we would have to dig up the stream bed, remove the poplar roots and repair the liner and then rebuild the stream, which was a horrible thought.
The decision was taken in 2002 to have the tree removed. We started at the end of September lifting all the plants out of the herbaceous border and dividing them and then lining them out in the trials area. It was a little early to do this, but we thought it was an important change to the garden and something we wanted to show on the programme. Then we invited along Roy Cowie's team of arboriculturists who took the tree down in record time. They left the stump and the gardeners dug that out over that winter. There were masses of roots to dig out too. This really took its toll on the soil and lots of organic material was dug in to bulk up the soil and improve drainage.
In 2003 Lesley redesigned the border and started to replant it, using some of the original plants that we had over wintered in the trials area but also adding new plants. She also planted a new tree, Prunus 'Shirotae' a specimen that is guaranteed to stay put and relatively small.
Herbaceous borders need to be looked after on a regular basis. While Lesley does try to pick plants that are fairly low maintenance, there are always jobs such as deadheading in summer and cutting back in autumn/winter and even transplanting or adding new plants to fill gaps. In 2008, Lesley added a selection of new plants to the border to satisfy her penchant for purple. These included Polemonium caeruleum, Anthriscus sylvestris 'Ravenswing' and Actaea 'James Compton'.
Creating and growing a herbaceous border is very fulfilling and can enhance any garden. Such a border can be formal or informal depending on what fits with the rest of the garden. There is such a wide range of plants available and it can be quite low maintenance once it's established.
Below are a few tips on creating your own herbaceous border:
As with any new garden, a border should be well dug over with homemade compost, spent mushroom compost or farmyard manure added to help enrich the soil. Remember that a good border demands lush growth and colourful flowers from the plants, so the soil needs to be full of nutrients to support the plants for years to come.
It doesn't have to be expensive to create a herbaceous border. Many popular herbaceous plants such as aquilegia, lupin and digitalis can be grown from seed. In fact once you have a few plants they seed themselves. Other plants such as geranium, poppy and achillea divide very easily, so again you can multiply your plant stock quickly.
Plant in groups
It is always a good idea to plant in odd numbered groups, so keep that in mind when buying and planting. Not only do odd numbered plant groups help with the flow of the border, but multiple plants make a better statement than just one plant. Eventually the plants will probably grow to form one large group, but again that helps with the impact of the flower or foliage colour. Also, mix the number of plants per group.
Fill in the Gaps
Any border can have gaps, especially while establishing, so don't restrict yourself to herbaceous perennials. Use annuals such as marigolds, cosmos, bedding petunias or dwarf sunflowers to fill in gaps while perennials bulk up. You can even leave intentional gaps in the border for bedding if you like to have something a bit different every year. Also, plant spring flowering bulbs throughout the border to provide early colour. If you want colour through the winter, consider evergreen shrubs that will also add height and texture to the border or evergreen climbers if the border is against a wall or fence.
Like any other border, a herbaceous border needs to be mulched and watered after planting and regularly checked while the plants are establishing. The plants do best if cut back in the autumn or winter, before any new growth starts in the spring. A top up of mulch will help after being cut back as well, but do not bury the plants. Tall or floppy plants can be staked in the spring if necessary.
For even more information, why not search our Factsheets - try herbaceous border or herbaceous trial.