Creating a Beautiful Perennial Border

<div style=”float:left; margin:0 15px 10px 0″><img src=”” width=”235″ height=”166″></div> By Guest Author: Peter Gordon

These are the steps I take in preparing and creating a genuine herbaceous border that is purely dedicated to herbaceous plants and does not include the planting of shrubs, but can include using bulbs or annuals to help with all year-round colour.

Before starting work it is important to plan the overall size of the border; one tip – if anything, go for as much width as possible, because one must try to imagine what the border will look in three years; and trust me, there will never be enough space! The more depth to a border the more luxurious it will be. When it has matured, the large open spaces you started with will have gone and you will find yourself having to remove some of the original plants to make room for exiting new acquisitions. Of course, this is why we do it, to provide a template on which to experiment with new plants and planting schemes. The perennial border will start off as a project and very quickly become an obssesion. Remember when choosing the plants for the border, think about foliage and form. Visit some of our great gardens. Kew for example, has a perennial border half a mile long and twenty feet deep. If that doesn’t give you inspiration I don’t know what will!

Step one Eradicate all perennial weeds and really do make sure the soil is totally free of them. Most are easily removed but if you are unlucky and have infestations of bindweed or horsetails, then you will have to dig them out or they will probably return with a vengeance.

Step two Double dig the ground to give a good depth of topsoil for the plants roots. Before digging starts add some well-rotted manure mixed with the fertilizer of your choice (blood fish and bone is my favourite). if you are using a plot for the first time then fertiliser may not be necessary, but simply top-dress (and work into the surface) once a year in the spring, once the bed is established.

Step three There have been many books written about the planting plan, so I won’t say too much here. Just that it’s a good idea to mix it up a bit, don’t have it looking to regimented ie. tall at the back – short at the front. Use plants that you can look through, tall ones that will sway in the wind, these you can use at the front of the border as well as at the back. Think about flowering times. Plant in groups of three or five. Give enough room for each group to expand into, and don’t make it look too crowded. Use bulbs in between the big clumping perennials, which will flower and be finished before the main growing season starts, and at the front you can add annuals to give a bit of early colour. Getting the colour scheme right seems to terrify people but my advise is this. It’s your creation so make it reflect your tastes not what you think others would like. As far as I’m concerned that’s the fun bit.

Step four There are two main jobs throughout the season (apart from weeding of course) and they are staking and dead-heading. With staking just make sure you do it early as the plants come up, that way there will be minimal damage to the stems. After the flowering has finished, cut back, but it’s sometimes a good idea to cut half back and leave some foliage, so you don’t leave a gap in the border.

So, there are a few ideas to get started with and to get the juices flowing! When I can drag myself away from my own garden I will be writing about some of the main perennial plants and how to grow them and the best way to use them in the border.

Peter Gordon trained in Agriculture but for the last 25 years has been a horticulturalist and began a business growing chrysanthemums as cut flowers but now runs a nursery that grows unusual perennial plants. If you would like to read about some of the plants you can use for your perennial border, visit his website at

Leave a Reply