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Planning Old-fashioned Perennial borders for Modern Gardens.

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James Kilkelly
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 04, 2007 1:39 am    Post subject: Planning Old-fashioned Perennial borders for Modern Gardens. Reply with quote

Planning Old-fashioned Perennial borders for Modern Gardens.

If I say herbaceous border or perennial border to you, what comes to mind?
To many people this conjures up images of gardens filled with colourful blooms all summer, only to become empty and barren of flower or leaf during autumn and winter. Many more of you will think of landlord's estate grounds, staffed by teams of subservient garden workers, who look after the all the deadheading, pruning, staking, mulching, feeding, watering and division.

Now those impressions may have been the way perennial borders were thought of in the past, today however, perennial borders are somewhat different. They are actually seeing a bit of a mini revival. Homeowners who have become tired of the never-ending cycle of feeding, weeding and mowing lawns, have decided to decrease the size of these green areas. Instead, they replant them with colourful perennial or herbaceous plants.

This solution is suitable for a lawn that has become devoid of playing children, now mature and all done with lawn games. Or for the homeowner who becomes sick of having the same mirror image lawn as his neighbour; I can tell you there is nothing like a perennial border to change that situation.

Little lawn, lots of flowers, photo / pic / image.

Planting a new perennial border can really help improve your garden. The plants overall are much faster growing and softer in form than shrubs. It is also interesting to watch these new perennials grow and develop, often shedding their skin of last season foliage only to replenish it the following spring. As more and more of these perennial borders are finding their way into Irish gardens I have decided to show you step-by-step, just how to create your own border with drifts of colour.

The perennial border plan begins.
The first thing I would suggest when creating a perennial border is to become nosey. When out driving or walking, have a look into others gardens, you may see something you like or an idea you can borrow. Another good way to learn new planting ideas is to visit garden open days or gardening exhibitions.
When you have an idea of what perennial plants types you like, you can then select a point in your garden to position a border.

Try to determine how much sun or shade your chosen location gets. It is best not battle nature and force a sun-loving plant such as Michaelmas daisy to grow in an area that gets a lot of shade. On the shape of your border, try not to create a perennial area that is very narrow, as a wide border will be easier to maintain and look far more awash with lush planting.

Just like the need to select the correct position for your perennial border, the shape of this area is also worth giving quite some thought to as well. For example, go gentle on the curves, we all like a curving border, but please avoid a very fussy serpentine shape. Also, try to make the border lengthy; in this way, you will be able to accommodate many different-sized plants with a variety of blooms.

When you come close to deciding on how your border should look, you can use a long length of hosepipe or heavy rope to mark out this shape on the ground. This method allows you to adjust away until you achieve a comfortable shape, then you can mark the ground with line marker spray or simply by scratching with a stick. Follow this by spraying off or digging out and disposing of any existing grass and weeds.

Use length of hosepipe (with helper) to mark the shape of the border, photo / pic / image.

Preparing your soil for perennials.
Most new garden beds and borders benefit from additional organic material being added to it and dug in. This is especially true of the perennial border. So to begin, dig over the ground thoroughly and remove all traces of perennial weeds and large stones, leave the small stones as they aid drainage and help to regulate the soils temperature.

Dig or till in lots of organic matter to improve the soil for your perennials at this stage as well. If you have a good back and you feel up to it, this organic matter is most effective if dug in to a depth of 12 inches. Choose from the following source of organic matter... garden compost, leaf mould, well-rotted farmyard manure, spent mushroom compost, garden centre soil enricher. An ideal situation would be to have half you soil made up of organic matter, a great reserve of plant food.

I would advise adding grit at this stage as well, if your soil is very heavy, sticky or poorly drained. Digging in a good quantity of sand grit or gravel will open up your soil and allow channels for drainage.

The final part of the soil preparation is to fork into the soil around 10 to 20 grammes of 7-6-17 fertiliser per metre squared. If 7-6-17 is not available, then any general-purpose fertiliser applied at the rates stated on its pack will do. After all this is done, you must allow the soil to and its amendments to settle for around a week or two before planting.

This gives you ample opportunity to select and source the plants you would like to inhabit your newly created border.
And that is what we will look at next, perennial selection for colour, form and purpose.

Pointers for selecting your perennials.
For the gardeners who have put the hard labour into preparing their perennial border by providing it with the requisite quantities of plant food and drainage grit, they can go about selecting their plants safe in the knowledge that future growth is assured. However it is worth bearing in mind a few pointers as you go about selecting your perennials for colour, form and purpose.

Phormiums are useful for adding year round structure, photo / pic / image.

My first piece of advice to gardeners selecting perennial plants is to let your mind "drift". Groupings of plants that weave and interlock with other groupings of plants within the same bed are known as "drifts". One cluster of plants begins where another cluster ends and the groups have a flowing effect as they grow to bloom.

The shapes that these drifts create should be irregular, weaving through your perennial border and wrapping around other plants. Planting in drifts creates a sense of movement, which in turn will make your garden look alive, full and lush.

Select plants with interesting and contrasting textures, planting fine leaved perennials with bold leaved specimens. Also, select different flower forms and shapes, select from tubular, loose, flat, round, pendulous spiked etc. Never be afraid to include some non-perennials as well. Plants like Phormium, Cordyline, ornamental conifers and grasses all add structure and body to the perennial border.

When selecting colours be guided by the following....
Drifts of light or pastel coloured flowers tend to fade into the background, so the quantities of these colours should be larger than the drifts of vivid colours. If you find yourself having colour clashes (red / pink), try creating buffers between these colours with massed plantings of ornamental grasses or plain green leaved plants.

Perennial planting rules.
To ensure rapid establishment and growth of a perennial or herbaceous border it is important to follow a few simple planting rules. One of the most important is to water your perennial even before planting. Immerse the pots in water-filled containers for about 10 minutes before planting is the best method, after this time remove them and allow the surplus water to drain away.
Remove the pot and if the plant roots are wrapped tightly you should gently tease some free. This will cause new roots to branch out into new soil instead of continually encircling themselves.

When creating a planting hole, the ideal situation would be to make it twice as wide and deep as the pot, don't forget to break up the soil as you dig. The planting depth is extremely important with some perennials, certain varieties will refuse to bloom or thrive if planted at an incorrect level. I find a good rule of thumb to follow is to never plant any higher or deeper than the existing compost level on the pot.

Sometimes when it comes to following a specific tried and tested horticultural rule, some beginner gardeners become a tad hesitant. A prime example of this is the practise of cutting back certain perennials before planting. A person new to gardening will often be star-struck by the blooms of the wondrous plant they have just purchased, and be loath to cut it back, loosing flowers in the process.

But if gardening teaches you anything, it teaches you to think about the long view, how today's correct actions become tomorrows spectacular blooms. As certain perennials are quite tall upon purchase, I would advise you to reduce these in height to prevent plant failure due to wind rock. Bringing certain lanky perennials down by half their height upon planting, could mean the difference between plant flourish or plant failure.

Coreopsis grandiflora "Early sunrise", worthy of topping, photo / pic / image.

One of the perennials I found I had to trim down in this manner when planting this summer was Coreopsis grandiflora "Early sunrise". Commonly known as Tickseed, this plant hails from the South-eastern and Central areas of the USA, and because of this is very drought tolerant. This Coreopsis has a real cottage garden look to it, catching my eye with its gently swaying yellow pom-pom like flowers.

Very attractive to butterflies, these blooms are perched atop narrow slightly hairy green stems. The plants leaves are similarly, green and hairy providing the perfect foil for its June to August flowers. Coreopsis grandiflora "Early sunrise" grows to around 30cm (1ft), with the long stalked blooms adding a further 30cm when they arrive.

A suitable position for this beauty is in full sun to partial shade, with a free draining soil about its roots. Pay heed to the free draining soil especially, as the plant will not survive more than two seasons in heavy soil. If you happen to have such an unfortunate sticky soil in your beds and borders, you can always grow the plant quite easily in a pot or container backfilled with light compost.

In my case, I positioned my Coreopsis grandiflora in a planting pit, which I prepared specially beforehand with a gritty soil mix to increase the speed of water drainage. I then carefully backfilled the plant with an equally free draining soil, all about its roots. Then came the cruellest cut, where I reduced the plants height by half, all the while telling myself that it was for the plants own good.

If like me, you carry out some of your planting during the summer, you should water your plants thoroughly and deeply afterwards, even if you think rain is on its way. Then continue watering twice weekly for a few months to aid establishment.

Although bark mulch is not a traditional material used on herbaceous borders, I find that the addition of it to soil around your perennial plants will save weeding and retain valuable moisture. A 5 to 8cm (2 - 3in) layer of bark is sufficient for this purpose.

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PostPosted: Fri Oct 12, 2007 7:59 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

What a wonderful artical it would make anyone want to garden, I also like your friend with the garden hose.
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michelle M
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 03, 2009 9:43 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I've just been reading back on this article and I'm presuming that the preperation for a mixed border of tree's shrubs and perennials is the same as for a perennial border. Or is there anything extra that I need to do?
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PostPosted: Sun May 01, 2011 8:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

excellent information here and i love the photos...hopefully if i follow this advice, i will have some colour like above!!!
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