Digging the Herbaceous Border

Extra care should also be taken in the preparation of the soil. Humus should be used sparingly, and bonemeal and lime freely. The surface soil should be kept open by constant hoeing or stirring with a hand fork; and frequent border renovation is recommended to prevent souring of the soil. Other problems that arise in connection with herbaceous borders are their backgrounds and edgings. The former may be in the form of hedging, a fence concealed by climbing plants or a wall.

Now for the actual methods of planting. The border will first be well dug, usually by means of the bastard trenching method, unless trenching is necessary through the mistaken efforts of the builders. Whatever method of soil treatment is adopted it should result in an under-layer of well-broken soil, through which air and moisture will pass freely, with a surface-layer of at least 10 in. of good medium loam, porous, able to hold moisture, and at the same time well broken, so that it makes a congenial home for plant roots.

Digging the Herbaceous Border

There should be lime enough in the soil, and a sufficiency of other plant foods. One of the most useful fertilizers .for any herbaceous border is bonemeal, particularly, as already mentioned, for the border in partial shade. Bonemeal is phosphatic and encourages early flower production. Moreover, as it is only slightly soluble and is not wasted by seepage like the quick-acting fertilizers, its effect lasts for several years. I like myself to use half to a pound of bonemeal per square yard whenever the herbaceous border is remade. The results have always been most satisfactory.

When a border has been so prepared, and the plants have arrived. The surface should be raked over, partly to prepare a level bed, and partly so that any lumpiness in the top layer may be corrected. It makes planting and arranging easier if at this stage lines are drawn across the border marking it into yard squares or, on a small border, foot squares.

A further help is to prepare labels, each clearly marked with the name of the plant, and preferably also with the number in each group, date of panting, and any other useful details. White painted wooden labels, written with a garden pencil, or with any sharp. Tool while the paint is still wet, remain legible for a long time, and are generally satisfactory. There are a number of equally good or better labels on the market, but the ordinary wooden label lasts generally for as long as it will ever be needed in the border.

Set the labels out in the various positions where the plants are to go. Any necessary adjustments—for we all make mistakes, and errors in measurement are very common—can be made before planting is begun. Also, by setting out the labels first, you can plant each bundle as you open it, so that there is no opportunity for the plant roots to die through being left exposed to the air.

Always use either a spade or a trowel for planting. Make a hole large enough to take the plant roots comfortably, and if the roots are exposed and fibrous, spread them out well horizontally in all directions.

Of course, if a plant is sent out from the nursery with a good ball of soil round the roots, and this has been wrapped carefully in damp moss so that it arrives unbroken, take the tip from the grower, and plant with as little disturbance of the roots as possible. Press soil very carefully over and round the roots, but do not plant either too deep or too shallow. Try to plant at exactly the same level as the plant was in the nursery.

Peonies and similar plants with fleshy crowns resting just below the surface of the soil are planted with 1 or 2 in. of soil over the crown; but this soil should be of a very porous sandy nature, so that moisture will Dot collect and cause decay. A useful precaution here is to cover all such crowns with bonfire ash, or finely sifted coal ashes. The ash keeps away slugs, and prevents decay at the same time.

A further precaution when a border is planted in soil much troubled by slugs is to strew bran and Meta slug bait freely. This slug bait is merely bran with which a quantity of crushed Meta, the solid methylated spirit fuel for lamps, sold by all ironmongers, has been mixed. The Meta drugs the pests, which will be found in hundreds on the border surface the next day.

The operation of planting should be done on a mild day, preferably in autumn or spring, though many herbaceous perennials can be safely moved at any time during the winter so long as there is no frost in the soil. If the soil is too dry, planting should be postponed, or, if possible, a hose should be used to soak the border, and after it has been left for several hours for draining, planting can be done.

Evening or late afternoon is the best time to plant, as the night air is relatively damp, and there will be little evaporation from leaves during the hours of darkness. If warm dry weather follows, an occasional overhead bath from the hose or water can will help; but watering must not, of course, be done during frosty weather.


As soon as the warm days of spring arrive, most of the plants will begin to throw up stems that are to carry the flowers. When this occurs it is best to go carefully through the border, reducing the number of such stems and pulling out or cutting away unwanted growths. This will result in better quality flowers, and will also lessen the need for stakes, since a strong well-grown stem will stand unstaked, unless the border is very exposed; whereas several weaker stems must have some support.

The hoe should be used throughout the border at frequent intervals, up to the time when the soil is no longer visible on account of the smother of foliage and flowers. As the hoe passes out of use, the can of liquid manure takes its place, for as soon as plants are growing well and are on their way to flower production, it is safe to feed them. Liquid manure can be made in the old way by suspending a bag of animal manure, with soot, in a rain barrel, and using the liquid diluted to straw colour. This is watered on to the soil—not on to the foliage more than can be helped—after rainfall, or after the use of the hose. Feeding about once a fortnight should be ample for most plants in the border.


If preferred, artificial fertilizers can be used. The one-three-one mixture—one part sulphate of ammonia, three parts superphosphate of lime, one part sulphate of potash—recommended by the Ministry of Agriculture for general garden use, is quite satisfactory; a little can be scattered between the plants and watered well into the soil, or any of the general fertilizers sold by sundriesmen can be used. The rule of "little and often" should be kept, as plants can be severely damaged by an overdose of any fertilizer. Also, no fertilizers should ever be used on dried-out soil, but only after rainfall or watering.

As soon as flower stems run up, staking should be attended to. Staking is an art, and an art that pays handsomely. It would surprise the novice to know how many stakes are used in a good herbaceous border. These stakes are of several kinds and sizes, from thin bamboo canes for such plants as carnations, where one cane is used to a flower stem, to thick 6 or 8-ft. dahlia stakes for the tall heavy plants.

In staking, the aim should be to use enough stakes to stake out each stem, so that its beauty is fully seen. The novice is generally prone to draw in his stems, so that when they are tied to a stake, they resemble a truss of straw. In the case of a group of say fifteen Michaelmas daisy stems, the method should be to set three or four stakes round the group and to tie one stem to each, in front of the stake, so that the stakes are, or will be, hidden. Then a string can be run round the whole group and passed round each stem of the outer ring, while other strings can, if needed, be taken across and across.

Some of the plants in the herbaceous border are not amenable to this treatment. Oriental poppies, for instance, are sometimes better staked merely by pushing in twiggy stems among the developing flower stems. These twigs are completely hidden by the time the flowers open; but they serve their purpose, that of supporting the brittle growths of the poppy.

There are also numerous patent devices on the market for staking, mostly good and time saving, but these cost a little more.

Whatever staking methods are adopted, they should begin before the need seems apparent. A summer storm may easily ruin a whole border through delay in this matter.

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