Maintaining Borders

So far the creation of a border has been our subject. Let us now turn to the general routine to be carried out by the amateur gardener in order to maintain the border over a period of years.

At the end of the first season, it may be apparent that certain alterations in the relative positions of different plants should be made. On the other hand it is likely that many of the subjects have done very little towards making a fine border display this first season. Such plants as peonies, oriental poppies, and others with fleshy roots, resent a move so much that they frequently produce few and insignificant flowers the first season. It would be a mistake to lift such plants the first autumn.


The border, however, should be cleaned up generally. Some part of the dead tops can be cleared away; yet here, too, it is well not to be in a hurry. Nepeta mussinii, for instance, may have a fine tangle of stems over the resting crowns, and, especially in exposed gardens, it is just as well to leave these stems. They serve as a slight protection during the winter. When the over-tidy gardener takes them all away, the result is sometimes disastrous. Old stems of Michaelmas daisies, selenium, and other coarse, strong growths, can, of course, be removed without harm, and vigorous growers of this kind may also be lifted and divided if the clumps have grown well.

herbaceous borders

A point that puzzles many beginners is that gardening books generally recommend autumn renovation of the border, to take place in September or October. They find, however, that Michaelmas daisies, and perhaps many other plants, are only just in their full beauty by this season.

This is where some discretion must be exercised. The practice in large estates is for spring borders, summer borders, and autumn borders to be more or less kept apart. The early herbaceous border, or one that has mainly lupins, irises, and oriental poppies in it. Would naturally be renovated, and the plants lifted and divided when necessary, in the autumn. The late-flowering herbaceous plants would be left undisturbed until the spring.


Where a single border includes plants of all seasons, the first year autumn clean up will be merely a matter of removing such plant tops as are completely dead, except for those retained for merely protective reasons, and of forking over the border surface to bury small weeds and rubbish. At the same time a few groups of spring flowering bulbs will be set in place of any annuals that have withered.

The herbaceous plants still in flower will be left until later. Michaelmas daisies can be attended to at any time during winter, so long as there is no frost in the soil. The roots will then be lifted out entirely, the best, outer pieces of new growth selected and replanted, and the remainder consigned to the bonfire. But for the majority of the border plants nothing apart from the forking of the soil is necessary.

In spring, a repetition of this treatment will be advisable, i.e., the forking of the soil surface between the plants—not too deep forking, but just sufficient to keep the surface open and friable. Opportunity will be taken of the forking to dress the soil with lime or some other fertilizer, according to its suitability to the nature of the soil in the garden.


Once every three years the border should be given a much more thorough renovation. The time for this operation may be decided by the owner, partly according to his own free time, partly according to the weather, and partly according to the type of plants that predominate in the border. It does no plants much harm to be lifted from the border if their roots are kept surrounded by soil, and even oriental poppies can be moved occasionally in this manner if necessary. A spade should be used for the task, so that the ball of soil is kept intact.

Any plants that can conveniently be left undisturbed, or that would be likely to resent disturbance, such as peonies, may be dug round, but often it is convenient to move everything from the border at once. Plants so lifted should be set on to sacks or newspapers, not on to the lawn, where they leave dirt and stones. While they are out of the soil their roots must be kept moist and free from frost.

The border is then dug from end to end, and the plants reset in position, just as if it were a new border. Manuring, the use of lime and bonemeal, etc., must be carried out during these triennial renovations.

Borders treated in this way should gain in beauty from year to year, for every renovation means some improvement in the quality or arrangement of the plants.

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