In the early years of the 20th century the herbaceous border was an essential feature of the larger garden. It was long and narrow with a backcloth of a wall or clipped hedge. Border perennials were used in tiers, with tall-growing varieties at the back and clumps of low-growing plants at the front.

MIXED BORDER The mixed border has taken over from the herbaceous border as the most popular way of growing border perennials. Gone are most of the slavish rules, and the flowering season has been extended by including other types of plants. Like all borders it is designed to be viewed from 2 or 3 sides and not from all angles, and the shape is often irregular and no longer strictly rectangular. The usual pattern is a framework of flowering shrubs and decorative evergreens. Roses and border perennials form large and colourful patches and close to the front a number of pockets are left to be filled with bulbs and annuals.



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The island bed is a modern variation of the traditional herbaceous border. Like its illustrious predecessor it is designed for border perennials, with the tallest at the centre and the shortest around the edge. Like all beds it is designed to be seen from all sides and the shape is often irregular.

SPECIMEN PLANT A specimen plant is grown to be admired on its own as distinct from being grouped with other plants – its role is to serve as a focal point. Obviously great care must be taken in itsselection and maintenance, and the usual choice is a shrub or tree. Several border perennials make excellent specimen plants – examples are Agapanthus, Cortaderia and Paeonia.

BED A bed is a planted area which is designed to be viewed from all sides. The flower bed is the traditional home for annuals, biennials, bulbs and hobby plants – the occupants are usually planted (’bedded out’) in autumn for a spring display and in late spring for a summer show.


A raised bed is similar in use to an ordinary flower bed but the sides are made up by a retaining wall and the space within filled with free-draining soil. The raised bed is particularly useful where the drainage of the garden soil is poor or where age or infirmity makes stooping by the gardener difficult.

PEAT BED A peat bed is a variation of the raised bed. The retaining wall is made up of peat blocks and the in-fill is a compost in which the peat content is greater than the soil fraction. An excellent home for lime-hating plants – grow alpines or ferns in the cracks between the blocks.

TUB A useful way of growing showy annuals or bulbs close to the house. Alternatively use it for a bold specimen plant. If you have a greenhouse or conservatory, tubs can be used for half hardy or tender perennials – the containers are moved indoors in October and brought out again in June. Remember that tubs require regular watering.

SINK GARDEN A sink garden is made from an old stone sink in which the drainage hole has been covered with perforated zinc and which has been filled with a free-draining compost. Glazed sinks should have the outer surface covered with a more natural-looking coating. It is used for growing miniature rockery perennials, dwarf conifers and miniature bulbs. PATIO OR PATHWAY A pathway is a hard-surface area which leads somewhere. A patio doesn’t – it is basically an outdoor extension of the living room. Cracks between the stones can be filled with a variety of mat-forming rockery perennials.

ROCKERY A rockery or rock garden is a planted area devoted to rockery perennials, dwarf conifers and bulbs. Low growing annuals are frequently used to supplement the summer display. Ideally it should imitate a natural stone outcrop.

Popular herbaceous perennials for borders

English: Herbaceous border at Coolaught

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Make use of nursery catalogues to help choose from the many plants available. Among those specially recommended are:

Achillea filipendidina ‘Coronation Gold’ or ‘Gold Plate’. Height 90-120 cm (3-4 ft). Large heads of yellow flowers, which can be cut and dried tor flower arranging. June to August.

Achilleaptarmica ‘The Pearl’. Height 6c cm (2 ft). Quite different from the above, with small white flowers, which can be cut and dried for flower arranging. June to August.

Agapanthus Headbourne Hybrids (African lily). Height 60-75 cm (2-2.5 ft). Blue flowers. July to August.

Anemone ‘September Charm’. Height 45 cm (1.5 ft). Pink flowers from August to October. Dislikes being disturbed too often.

Aruncus dioiens, syn. A. Sylvester. Height 1.2-I.J m (4-5 ft). Produces white plumes and is good for shady and moist positions. June to July.

‘Kneiffii’ is similar, but only 60-90 cm (2-3 ft) high.

Bergenia ‘Ballawley’. Height 30 cm (1 ft). Has large evergreen leaves and red flowers. Forms good ground cover. April to May.

Dicentra spectahilis (bleeding heart). Height 60 cm (2 ft). Red and pale pink flowers. May to June.

Doronicumplantagineum’Mks Mason’, single-flowered, or ‘Spring Beauty’, double-flowered, both yellow. Height 30-45 cm (1-1 Vi ft). Good choice for an early display. April to May. Geranium pratense’Joimson’s Blue’ (crane’s-bill). Height 30 cm (1 ft). May to August. G.

‘Russell Prichard’, pink flowers. June to September. Will grow quite well in dry soil and in shade.

Hemerocallis (day lily). Height 60 cm (2 ft). Many good cultivars, ‘Golden Chimes’ being more compact than most. June to August.

Hosta (plantain lily). Height up to 90 cm (3 ft). There are numerous species and cultivars from which to choose, the foliage usually being more attractive than the flowers. Best grown in moist soil, with some shade.

Phlox paniculata. Height 60-90 cm (2-3 ft). There are many good cultivars, all needing reasonably heavy soil with good water retention. Many shades, mostly white, pink, red, lavender and purple. July to September.

Polygonum bistorta ‘Superbum’. Height 60-90 cm (2-3 ft). Pink flowers. May to August.

Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’ (cone flower).

Height 60 cm (2 ft). Golden, black-eyed flowers. July to October.

English: Herbaceous border, Bodnant Gardens

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Schizostylis coccinea ‘Sunrise’ (kaffir lily).

Height about 60 cm (2 ft). Star-shaped flowers carried on spikes in October and

November. Only for the south of

England, and may need protection even there.

Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ (ice plant). Height 45-60 cm (1 V2-2 ft). Fleshy foliage good throughout the summer. Pink or red flowers. Best in a sunny position and attractive to butterflies. August to


Solidago (golden rod). Height 30-135 cm (1-4.5 ft). The modern cultivars are a vast improvement, all in varying shades of yellow and flowering July to September.


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