Arrangements Using Herbaceous Plants

There are still certain gardens which are expressly designed to have a herbaceous border as their focal point, but today in England the number is decreasing. The reason for this may be that most gardens have to be run more economically and herbaceous plants do require an extra amount of care in the matter of weeding, feeding, staking and cutting back. This, however, applies only to the conventional herbaceous planting, which need no longer be carried out to the letter. It is quite possible now to include many other types of plants in a border which are not strictly herbaceous.

Let us read what Miss Jekyll had to say on this subject over sixty years ago in her books Wood and Garden and Colour Schemes for the Flower Garden: ‘I have a large mixed border of hardy flowers. It is not quite so hopelessly mixed as one generally sees and the flowers are not all hardy …’ Later she mentions the difficulty, if not the impossibility of keeping ‘it in beauty throughout the summer’.

One notices that Miss Jekyll did not in any way restrict her planting in the ‘mixed’ border only to herbaceous plants, but included a variety of shrubs and flowers such as half hardy lilies (sunk into the ground in their pots to fill up disastrous gaps which appear even in the best regulated borders), golden privet, hydrangeas and hollyhocks. There is no doubt that, from the cutting point of view, it is valuable if one has a garden to put in some herbaceous plants for use during the summer months. Shrubs grown amongst herbaceous material will give it support, keep out the draughts, and keep down the weeds. In this way quite a lot of useful cutting plants can be grown together in a smallish space.Arrangements Using Herbaceous Plants

Perhaps the first herbaceous material that springs to mind for cutting is the delphinium. These are now available in magnificent colours and for state occasions there is an elegant white. Growing close to the blue delphiniums I always like to think of the yellow meadow rue (Thalictrum) and the pale lemon cephalaria.

There are those who regard both the meadow rue and the delphinium with suspicion from the cutting point of view. Both will drop, certainly, after a period of time and unless they are cut while still in bud may drop the day after they have been arranged. Try cutting them before they show much colour and then have the pleasure of watching them come out in water, appreciating the fact that one does not have to clear away thousands of yellow stamens or hundreds of blue petals. For tall arrangements, when either of these colours are required — in the case of delphiniums, also white, there is little to compare with them for beauty.

Cephalarias (giant scabious) are useful for bringing the rounded shape and appearance of the scabious into a group in a soft yellow colouring.

Sage (Salvia) comes in many colours and types, and one of the prettiest is perhaps Salvia turkestanica, with pale lilac grey spires. This is magnificent for tall arrangements but it does have one drawback and that is its scent. There are people who dislike it intensely, and so, like other flowers with debatable perfumes, sage should be used in large arrangements at some distance from the public where they can give the least offence. Blanket flowers (Gaillardias), cone flowers (Rudbeckias) and the yellow daisy flower (Anthemis tinctoria) are all good growers, they last well for cutting, are daisy like in shape and come into the yellow flower group.

The clear yellow of the last named is especially useful for colour contrasts. It flourishes not only through the summer months but also well into the autumn.

Phlox are herbaceous plants, but apart from growing in a border they like having their roots in damp soil and so they also thrive near a stream or in partial shade where the soil does not get sun baked. These again are sometimes regarded suspiciously on account of dropping quickly, but, again, if they are cut while still in bud and if one has the patience and time to take off any of the small flowers from the cluster when they have died, one will find that the buds come out and the general lasting qualities of the plant are lengthened. There is nothing that quite introduces the same brilliant note of cerise into a mixed group as the commonly grown bright pink phlox.Arrangements Using Herbaceous Plants 2

Marguerites must be included in this list of herbaceous plants. Invaluable on so many occasions and with so many different flowers, they are especially good with delphiniums and dark red polyantha roses such as Frensham or Moulin Rouge, or with the clear cerise-pink of Zephirine Drouhin. They also look enchanting cut quite short, so that one can see well into their faces, with some good green foliage such as the Lenten rose (Helleborus orientalis) and bergenia, or the blue green of rue. Marguerites last almost as well as their wild sisters, the ox-eye daisies, and more than that one cannot say for them.

Lupins are one of the first herbaceous plants to come out. They can add useful notes of colour to a mixed arrangement if cut when still in bud, but they do sometimes tend to curve their stems into quite opposite directions which may be confusing or attractive as one’s taste goes. Finally they drop perhaps more quickly than almost any other flower.

Cornflowers are reliable, come in a good colour, and may be grown with short or long stems, according to one’s requirements. Mignonette, one of the most delectable of all the flowers, lasts well, and goes on growing and developing after it is put into water, giving off its sweet perfume as a gift to the room in which it finds itself.

Alliums are another reliable flower for cutting and also most decorative in the border, coming in a variety of types, colourings and sizes. Michaelmas daisies are often grown in separate beds to have a display of mauves, pinks, and blue such as only Michaelmas daisies can provide, but a few in the border will make a good show if the colours are chosen carefully. For cutting they are invaluable and provide height at a time when material for tall arrangements would be getting difficult to find. The white Michaelmas daisies are not only especially charming, but also useful for harvest festival decorations where the white flowers with their golden centres tone in well with the other autumn colourings of yellow, red and bronze.

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