Gardening: Borders of acceptability

A riot of colour awaits, writes David Overend.

Borders full of colour

A COUPLE of weeks ago, there was no garden. There was snow, and where there should have been the lawn, the low-growers and the sleeping herbaceous beds, there was nothing – just white.

I measured the depth during the blizzards of spring – in some spots, the tape disappeared to a depth of 38 inches, which is more than the eventual height of many an herbaceous plant in the midst of summer.

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So perhaps it’s a good thing that the herbaceous border is no longer a patch on what it was – great masses of colours, all shapes and sizes, guaranteed to catch the eye. They were the products of imagination, countless hours of hard labour.

The idea seemed to be to pack together as many species and as many colours as possible – but ensuring that they blended to form a oneness, a living mass of plants.

So there were roses, delphiniums, larkspur, clematis, red-hot pokers, iris, columbines and smaller plants to the front – heuchera, scabies, snow-in-summer, fuchsias. In fact, just about anything – as long as the overall result was stunning.

Yellows, oranges and reds gave way to blues and whites in the scheme of things. This was truly gardening on a grand scale, but the ideas – and some of the plants – can still be adapted to fit in to much smaller spaces.

But there has to be method in this sumptuous madness. The big herbaceous borders are designed to the last inch, planted like a military operation and maintained with an iron rod.

And so, too, can the small – as long as you plan and prepare before you plant. First choose your site – south-facing and sunny if you can. Then clear it, digging out every weed large and small.

Then improve the soil, incorporating plenty of good muck – old compost, well-rotted leafmould, manure...anything which will add heart and improve the drainage.

Deciding what to plant can be a hard task – but the rule of thumb is big plants to the back, smaller plants to the front.

Water them well to help them establish their root systems and then let the plants get on doing what they do best – growing and flowering. Within a few months, there should be flowers galore.

That is, of course, if the snow doesn’t pay yet another return visit...