The sensible approach to any form of gardening is to decide first whether the piece of ground you have is suitable for the type of decorative plants you wish to grow. All plants have their limits of adaptability, and whilst Hardy Perennials are generally very adaptable, it is best to make sure that the soil and situation are suitable, if for instance a wide variety is intended. The soil does not need to be specially rich. What is most important is that it should be free of harmful perennial weeds, such as couch grass, ground elder, creeping thistle, marestail and creeping cress. Annual weeds, like groundsel, chickweed etc, matter much less because they are easily destroyed, but it would be asking for trouble to plant a bed or border already infested with perennial weeds.
Drainage is another essential. One cannot expect plants to flourish in soil that is wet and sticky over winter. Often such soils dry out in summer and bake hard in the sun. Plants need moisture only during their growing period between spring and autumn, and more plants die from excessive winter wet, when they are dormant, than in the driest of summers.
Heavy clay soils are the most difficult to cultivate, but they can be greatly improved by under-draining with pipes, coarse gravel, brickbats, laid in trenches about 2 feet deep and about 6 inches wide. Clay soil can also be improved by adding peat or sand mixed in when digging, but winter sogginess can only be overcome by, with an outlet to a ditch or sump.
Sandy or gravelly soils are almost always free draining. Because of this they are likely to dry out most in summer and are most likely to respond to enrichment with manure,or peat. If peat alone is used, some organic fertiliser should be used in conjunction with it. Peat is also ideal for chalky soils which not only lack humus but have excessive alkalinity. Some plants dislike lime, and though the majority of kinds are lime tolerant, it is worth the little trouble it takes, if in doubt, to have a lime test taken before investing in plants which dislike alkalinity. A neutral soil in this respect, with a 6.0 to 7.0 PH is ideal, because one can then grow almost anything.
Shade and moisture are less important factors. Moisture can usually be added by overhead, or from the overflow of a pool, if one wishes to grow moisture loving plants. Shade is less easy to contrive if no natural shade in a garden exists, though usually a wall, if not a tree, will be found to lessen harmful sunlight to shade loving plants. Some of the most choice and beautiful plants are happy only in shade where there is no real lack of moisture for long. These are natives of dampish woods, where dappled or broken shade comes from tall trees, and it should be said that not many kinds prefer the deep shade of close planted evergreens. The most difficult of all places to fill with a wide variety of Hardy Perennials, is dry shade, where low overhanging branches keep off the rain and where tree have first call on any existing moisture. Only a score or so of kinds exists that will tolerate such inhospitable conditions, yet in many gardens, such spots can be filled with trouble free ground coverers, if only their owners knew about them.
Ground covering perennials also have their uses amongst shrubs, as well as for those with problematical banks, verges etc. The sunnier the, the wider the selection becomes available to fill them, and the demand for ground covering plants these days indicates the need some people have of filling up garden space so as to reduce maintenance to the absolute minimum. There are all kinds of gardeners, just as there are all kinds of gardens and plants with which to fill them. But without any doubt, the greatest rewards in gardening come to those who are prepared to take some trouble in growing as well as possible the widest range of plants their garden will support. Given a common sense approach, one can expect not only a return comparable with the effort, but a bonus as well in terms of interest and satisfaction.
Haphazard gardeners seldom achieve much. One needs to be much more deliberate, to scheme and acquire knowledge well in advance, before embarking on any new project. Such knowledge will of itself create new interests, as well as to avoid the pitfalls of ignorance. The aim should therefore be to plan within the limitations imposed byspace, soil, climate and environmental situations, and then to select the kinds of plants which one can be reasonably sure will succeed under these conditions. This site is designed to help in various ways those who for lack of knowledge have either failed or been afraid to begin, as well as those who having begun, wish to raise their sights a little higher to the wealth of variety in beautiful,plants which they scarcely knew existed.
Improving an old border.
A decision with which some may be faced is how to improve an old existing ‘Herbaceous Border’ of the conventional onesided type.
It may have become a nuisance if not an eyesore because it is too narrow in relation to the tall, rank growing kinds it still contains. One should be pretty ruthless and treat the worst offenders (which have probably choked or over-run choicer, more worthy kinds) as if they were weeds. Along with any other weeds the old border may harbour, destroy all unwanted plants, dig over thoroughly and make a completely new beginning. -‘ ‘£**£
If the border is capable of being widened, even if this means taking in a strip of lawn, it will be worth the sacrifice. It would be no sacrifice at all to dig up a gravel path or old box edging, for the former is usually superfluous and the latter a harbour for slugs and snails. When it comes to replanting, having made a selection of worth while subjects, allow sufficient space at the rear for access and avoid the baneful effect a hedge so often has, bearing in mind that light and air are as necessary to strong reliable growth, as are moisture and sustenance.
Another possible decision is whether or not to use a given site or space, which is simply in need of filling. Such a space may be damp, shady or a dry impoverished slope. With all the variations there could be, on the score of soil and situation, it is impossible to make specific recommendations.
What matters most is to assess potentialities as well as the drawbacks of a given site, and be extra careful to make a selection which will grow there. This comes back to one of the guiding principles mentioned earlier—of choosing subjects most likely to succeed or adapt themselves to the prevailing circumstances. It is not so difficult as one might at first imagine, and this site provides recommended lists for a variety of situations.
A little more needs to be said about planning. This site gives one or two diagrams on the layout of both an Island Bed and Conventional Border. Some catalogues offer a free plan, with a price for the collection of plants it will hold. But such sterotyped plans can scarcely be applicable to every variation there could be in regard to soil and situation, and wherever possible it is preferable to do one’s own planning. It is not difficult and in the process one can learn a great deal of vital knowledge. The only need is for a sheet of graph paper and having chosen a site, translate its outline to a scale that will suit.
It is simply a matter of filling in the names of the plants you have selected, in their appropriate places. Having done so and having prepared the site, place marker sticks or labels (numbered if the names are too difficult), so that when planting times comes, they can be laid out and planted precisely as planned. If an error regarding placing occurs it will show up when flowering time comes, and in the following autumn or spring the necessary switch can safely be made. The guiding principles given in regard to preparation, planning and planting are applicable to any type of border or bed.
They also apply to shapes and sizes of beds and here it should be said that personal preferences can be given a large measure of freedom. If a geometric design, whether severely oblong or a free form border appeals then the choice is yours. The one-sided border has been the conventional shape, and if the garden lends itself only to this type, it would be wiser not to go in for a very irregular curving frontage to it. The Island Bed offers much more scope, and if any informal outlines exist already in the garden, then it is an easy matter to make a free form bed in keeping with a tree, shrubbery or any other feature. An Island Bed set in a rectangular lawn would however appear somewhat incongruous if it were not in keeping by having it of some free form irregular shape. In these circumstances an inner rectangle for the bed, or for that matter an oval or circular shape would fit in perfectly well.
The question of the size of the bed will depend almost entirely on the size of the garden, if not on the size or colour of one’s bank balance. In either case a midget border could be the solution. Perennials are so adaptable that a bed or border of no more than eight square yards, could be made to hold a very pleasing variety of plants. If one were restricted to thirty or forty plants, one of a kind, it would at least be a beginning.
Bearing in mind that even some so-called Rock Plants are but dwarfit is easy enough to make a selection to suit the size of the bed. The important thing is to restrict that selection, so far as heights are concerned, to suit the site—to avoid having kinds that grow too tall for the width of the bed or border. A midget bed or border of say 5 feet wide, should not contain anything more than about 2 ½ feet tall. There are hosts of beautiful plants that grow below that height. The only kinds one should avoid are the true Alpines which hug the ground, but for such small beds there is no lack of variety of Dwarf Perennials flowering at heights of about 6 inches upwards.
This is for a one-sided border of the conventional style with a backing of some kind—wall, hedge or shrubbery. The tallest kinds are at the rear, and if you wish to follow such a plan, remember to leave ample space between the plants and the backing. The effective width of the border is 12 feet, allowing for rearof up to 6 feet high when flowering. If you have only 9 feet width available, omit the back row of , and the next to it could also be omitted if your border can be no more than 6 feet wide. The four groups at each end are designed to grade down somewhat so that if a longer stretch of border is available, the plan can be elongated accordingly. This means that other kinds can be chosen to fill up the extra space, but you can use either of these four end groups to make the closure—reserving them for the ends.
It will be seen from the plan that the rear groups occupy rather more space than those near the front. Each group is designed to hold five plants of one kind to give a massing effect, but the taller and usually more robust kinds need more space than the shorter growing ones near the front. The irregular shapes of the groups need not be followed exactly. They merely indicate the need to avoid regimentation when planting, and the suggested position of each member plant of a group is indicated by a small x. These will also demonstrate the way in which greater space can be allowed between each group and the individual plants comprising a group. The border is planned to give a long, with the first appearing in April, and the last in October, but a different selection of plants could be made to provide more colour at any period between these months.
Although designed for a very small garden, this is typical of an Island Bed, regardless of size. It has all round access, and the tallest growing kinds are in the centre, where it will be noticed they occupy more spacious outlines than those around the perimeter. In this case some of the latter flower at only 9’ or so high but the tallest in the centre run up to 4 feet. As with Border A., flowering is from April to October and colour contrasting or blending has been studied carefully. The use of graph paper in each case makes Border planning easy, because the inch squares in heavy outline represent a scale of 1 ‘to 3 feet. There are approximately 18 square yards in the bed and thirty groups in three of a kind. For anyone wishing to vary the size or shape of such a bed to suit their own needs work on a average of five plants per square yard, but vary the area of groups according to height and spread. In this Midget, the outer groups are in some cases only 18’ wide so that the plants form a compact but irregular edging.
The ends of the bed are rounded, but actual shape can be varied to taste. For a much larger bed, this same plan can be used, if colour massing appeals merely by increasing the size of each group from its present average of three fifths of a square yard. The total area would thereby be doubled if say six plants of a kind were used.
These are a few pointers and hints to emphasise the advice given in the text and it is quite easy to design one’s own border. A larger bed could of course accommodate either a wider selection or larger groups, or both. It is purely a matter of choice, but there is no room for doubt that for effect, for ease of maintenance, the Island Bed form is far more satisfactory than the conventional one-sided border.