Curiously enough no two people seem to agree and it is a good thing therefore that no one knows who is right! It is largely a question of taste. You may have two very good artists and they will dislike one another’s work, so do not decry your own efforts at planning. It is your gar den and you can have the border as you will. Let me, how ever, help you by mentioning one or two snags to look out for, and by making one or two suggestions which I think are worth following.


In the general herbaceous border for the ordinary garden, care should be taken to ensure that when one drift or clump of flowers fades, another one is coming along to take its place. If it can be arranged that this later flowering group is in front of the earlier flowering one, the cutdown stems of the latter will be hidden. When planning, think of times of flowering.


Remember that some herbaceous flowers will grow about 2 m (6 ft) high and some only 225 mm (9 in). The general rule will be to keep the taller plants at the back of the border and the dwarf ones towards the front. In a long border this arrangement looks too formal if carried on right the way through, and it is better every now and then to allow a taller drift to come right to the front of the border and thus break up the monotony.


Generally speaking, puce pinks should not be planted next to bright reds. It is useful if plants with little colour, those with greyish foliage and creamish flowers, like Arte-mesia lactiflora for instance, can find themselves next to the more dominant colours like red or bright blue. It is useful if, in the drifts that are arranged, the lighter blues can merge into the darker blues and on to the mauvy blues at the back of the border. This quiet progression, from one shade to another, delights the eye.

The garden artist will carry out the same kind of technique with the border as a whole, and will start for example with the softer colours at one end of the border and the brighter colours at the other end, or he may start with softer colours at either end of the border and come to a climax in the middle.

Other hints with regard to colour are: the mauve-pinks do not like the bronzes; greys are always useful in that they throw the brighter colours into relief. Blues and mauves prefer contrasts and look well next to yellows and pale pinks; oranges like to be near other orange coloured flowers to look at their best. Strong yellows look well with canopy bronzes and orange shades; while the Ught yellows may be worked up well into oranges, scarlet and crimson at the back of the border.


Some plants fall naturally into what I call the spiky or spiry group like, for instance, delphiniums. Others come into the bushy group, growing more like a big round ball, like the feathery Gypsophila. Do not have all the spiky ones together, nor equally, all the bushy ones in one place. The plants will look at their best when they are mixed together in their various shapes and forms. How important it is to know as much as possible not only of the colour and height but of the way the plant grows also. Much can be learned from catalogues but more can be learned from going to a good park and seeing the plants growing, visiting one of gardens that are opened in aid of the Queen’s Nursing Funds like, for instance, Arkley Manor, Arkley, near Barnet, Herts.

Grouping or Drifting

There is nothing worse than having a border with different plants dotted about singly like lone sentinels. The narrow border should have clumps, or drifts as I prefer to call them, of 3 or 4, the wider border should have drifts of 6 or 7 plants, and the very wide 4 m (14 ft) border may even have bigger groups than that. Don’t plant so that the 4 or 5 lupins you put in are separated. Arrange for them to be in one group together, spaced at the right distance apart. You will be able to judge this by the height of the plant. Each of the lupins you plant will be of the same colour and shape and instead of planting them in a round or square clump you will arrange for them to be in a drift. They look more natural this way.

Prepare the border on paper first to make quite sure you are doing the right thing. I always use squared paper for the purpose and this makes it easier for me to work out the right distance apart the plants should be. You can then put little crosses on your plan showing where each plant is to grow and you can surround the drift of each particular variety of plant with a pencil ring so that you see where you are going to as the plan proceeds, and so that you separate your groups and make it easier for you to transpose the plan on to the ground itself when planting time comes.

The Seasonal Border

It is possible to plan a herbaceous border for the spring only, say, to give you a show during March, April and May. This will have in it, for instance, doronicums and paeonies.

You can have a summer border which aims mainly to give a good show in June and July, especially if you take your holidays in August. The main features here would be lupins, iris and phlox. You may prefer to try an autumn border which is at its best in September and October and in this case you can concentrate on chrysanthemums, various types of Michaelmas daisies, dahlias and so on.

Single and Dual-coloured Borders

There are some folk who like a one-colour border and this is quite a possibility. Plant if you like, the all-blue border, the all-white border (which is particularly lovely at night). Then there are pastel shades – creamy-whites, pale yellows, feathery-whites with perhaps a touch of pink here and there. There are dual-coloured borders like red and yellow, or what might be called tripartite borders, such as blue, yellow and white. Normally, the beginner would do well to start with a mixed border which can look very beautiful at almost all times of the year.

In such a mixed border it is possible – though not advisable – to have a few roses, particularly China roses. Do not use rambler roses as a background for the border as they seldom fit it, particularly the pinks. If you must use a climber as a background to cover a trellis or whatever it may be, use ornamental vine which give colour in the autumn or various types of clematis.

If you are going to have bulbs in the border, plant them close to such plants as paeonies to avoid spearing them when you fork over the border in the late autumn or winter. Plant the bulbs deeply also for the same reasons, i.e. about 285 mm (9 in) deep.


Again I emphasize these points: (1) Think of flower shape contrasts – the featheriness of the gypsophila and the spiky tallness of the delphinium. (2) Remember the grey foliage plants. Pay attention to the appearance of plants in winter. (3) Don’t forget the length of flowering period of each perennial you plant. (4) There is much to be said for the beauty of foliage as well as beauty of flower. (5) Some plants such as pa;onies do not like being disturbed, and it is better to leave them down for 8 or 9 years; so plant them in a spot where they can remain even though the rest of the border is destined to be dug up and replanted p.very three years. (6) Some plants such as pyrethrum will flower twice a year. Remember to cut these down early so that they will flower again in the autumn. Make a note of this when you are planning. (7) Remember that blue gives an effect of distance, while reds and oranges and even bright yellows tend to bring things close. Therefore plant the blues away from the nearest viewpoint.

It is not a simple matter to plan out a border, but the reader will realize that (a) no two people have the same taste and (b) what is poison to one is meat to another. Bear the points in mind that have been mentioned and then plan out your border boldly; as long as it satisfies you that is all that really matters. Suggestions have been given, and by studying catalogues and above all, by seeing what other people have done in their herbaceous borders you will be able to plant the border of your dreams.

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