The Ever-Popular Herbaceous Border

The herbaceous border is the most popular of all types of flower borders. It is so called because it is planted with herbaceous perennials, although today other types of plants such as bulbs, are often included and so the border could easily be given a name as the Hardy Plant Border.

Such a border should be designed to cover as long a period of flowering as possible. The situation must be light and airy and away from the drip of trees. A southern aspect on the whole is best, though a northern aspect is quite possible. There must be protection from wind. If it is backed by a hedge – and such a background is excellent, then it is a good plan to have the border a little distance away. Use a hedge that will not compete with the flowers, one that has a quiet all-over tone like yew, Lonicera nidita or Thuya lobeii. A laurel hedge is bad, for the leaves are too big. It is often possible to use such a flower border to give an impression of length to the garden, especially where two borders run parallel side by side with, say, a 1.5 m (5 ft) width of grass lawn between.

The aspect of the border is important. It is such a nuisance to have planted the border and then find that the flowers solemnly turn their heads towards the sun and away from the house or path down which you walk. Remember that a newly planted border always looks a bit thin the first year but you cannot help that. You can always fill up the spaces the first season by sowing a few annuals in : the spring.


It has already been said that a southern aspect is best but, generally speaking, the herbaceous border will have to be fitted into the general layout of the garden, and as it will be planned in a long wide strip it should always be used to I give an impression of length to the garden. This impression can be increased if a double herbaceous border with a wide grass path in between can be arranged. It is important to see that the borders and paths are in proportion in width and length. For instance, in a big garden the border if 180 m (200 yds) long would look odd if it was only 2 m (6 ft) wide. Under such circumstances it should be 4.5 m (15 ft) wide. It is only in small gardens that a border can be as narrow as 1 m (4 ft) and even then it is very difficult to make it look effective during all the summer months. A border 15 m (50 ft) long should be 2.7 m (9 ft) wide; 7.5 m (25 ft) long should be 1.5 m (5 ft) wide; 30 m (100 ft) long, 3.5 m (12 ft) wide, and so on.

Sometimes there is a double-fronted border – the herbaceous border with a grass verge or crazy paving on > either side of it. The width of such a border again will depend on the size of the garden and its length, and it will have to balance with the width of the path. Never make a border bigger than can be easily looked after. A well-kept herbaceous border is far more pleasurable than one which j is not cared for properly even though it may be wider and j longer.

Shape, Shelter and Background

A wall or hedge at the back of a herbaceous border gives the necessary shelter and background. A tall wall will, of course, give too much shade to a north border. On the other hand a south border with a wall behind is ideal, for the wall can be covered with the less rampant climbers, such as clematis and honeysuckle, and the general beauty is increased. A selection of clematis can ensure colour from May to October with the advantage that the roots are not soil robbers.

Normally hedges are used, especially evergreen ones, such as yew, a slow grower, and Lonicera nidita, a fast grower, which unfortunately may suffer from a hard winter in an exposed situation. Another good hedging plant : for this purpose is Thuya lobbii. The difficulty here, however, is that the roots extend into the herbaceous border and rob it. For this reason some gardeners have taken the trouble to bury sheets of corrugated iron in the ground, perpendicularly, so as to restrict the roots to one side only.

The background, of course, might be a shrub border. It might consist of rambler roses trained on wires or a trellis.

It might be formed of an undulating line of evergreen and flowering shrubs planted in such a way that the very tall herbaceous plants grew in the ‘pockets’ or bays thus formed by them. It is when the background is undulating that the front of the border might have gentle curves also. If, how ever, it is backed by a straight wall or hedge, the front of the border should be as straight as a die also. Incident ally this always adds a feeling of length.


When the border has a grass path there will be no need to have a special edging. Each season the garden-line will be put down and the half-moon turfing iron used to ensure that it is absolutely straight. During the season a pair of long-handled shears will soon clip the edges. It is useful to have a 450-mm (18-in) wide paving stone path arranged between the lawn and the border or to use a number of bricks laid flat to this width, instead. It so much depends on the house, which type fits best into the picture. The advantages are twofold – (1) the wheel of the mower can run along the paving without injuring the plants and so keep the lawn cut right to its edge and thus leave no untidiness. (2) The plants in the front of the border can tumble out naturally and thus break the hard lines without getting in the way of the mower or spoiling the grass. The latter trouble invariably occurs when the lawn goes right to the edge of the border.

Sometimes the path will be a gravel one or a modern bitumen one to give the same effect and in this case the edging will probably be brick or strips of concrete painted with ferrous sulphate to give them a weathered look.

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