There are some gorgeous quotes that I keep in mind as I work, and which serve as both inspiration and guiding principle. One of those is Gertrude Jekyll’s wisdom on what constitutes a good garden:
“The possession of a quantity of plants, however good the plants may be themselves and however ample their number, does not make a good garden; it only makes a collection. Having got the plants, the great thing is to use them with careful selection and definite intention.”
Gertrude is best known for mastering the art of the herbaceous border, famously graduating colours along their length during the 19th and early 20th centuries. I love to channel her passion and wisdom on landscaping projects. Particularly when those projects include herbaceous borders.
A sensational floral spectacle
Sometimes you want a garden that stops people in their tracks – to have them round a corner and be wowed. Herbaceous borders feature in many of my garden designs, where space will allow, as they are the perfect way to create a sensational floral spectacle.
One of my favourite herbaceous borders sat in the footprint of an old barn and had a particular focus on purple.
The area was already defined by the remnants of an old stone wall (part of the barn that once stood on that spot). The wall created a superb backdrop for the planting and gave a sense of a walled garden. A mature beech hedge continued where the wall ended, and to enclose the garden to the eastern edge a new beech hedge was planted.
The old farm stead is undergoing significant restoration and extension of its buildings. The border will eventually be viewed from a variety of angles – through the large glass wall in the kitchen living space, and from the balcony of the new master suite. Looking ahead in this way helped me consider the right landscaping and planting approach.
The area was raised up by two feet, which also allowed for a separation from the al-fresco dining area. The elevation of this space meant that the plants could be enjoyed from an elevated position, drawing the eye of those seated at the table into the space.
I set out to create the deepest border possible within the constraints of the space. It was important to consider rhythm, and this was created by repeating plants of similar height, shape, structure, texture and colour. The plants were also selected for successional flowering.
In the summer it will provide a spectacular visual treat from all areas, inviting exploration up the two steps and on to the small landing lawn. Here, visitors will be fully immersed in a rich, sensory environment.
A wild, heavenly, ecological garden vista
The ethos of eco-friendly gardens focuses on reinstating some of the balance lost by malignant human actions. Planting such rich, sustainable garden areas is a reconciliatory process. I’m committed to landscape design projects, in both residential and public spaces, that inspire thoughts of the delicate balance between built and natural environments.
This particular border contains about fifty different plant species and was designed to be attractive to pollinating insects. It’s a wonderful nectar-rich feeding ground for pollinators. The colours and scents of the chosen plant varieties, and their generous groupings make it a real magnet and haven for insects detecting nectar.
Ensuring the border is planted in full sun ensures the maximum number of pollinators can find it.
What exactly is an herbaceous border?
An herbaceous border is a mixed border of plants, most of which do not have woody stems. The term signifies a carefully planned border, which is more often than not the showpiece of the garden. It consists of plants which die down in the winter and re-grow the following spring ready to provide a display of flowering colour throughout the summer.
If planted well, the herbaceous border’s floral interest should last from late spring though to late Autumn – an everchanging masterpiece of colourful and showy planting design.
Sharing gardening secrets
For me, one of the secrets when designing an herbaceous border is to put plenty of plants into the scheme so there is little or no weeding.
Choosing to incorporate dark and light foliage within the design creates a sense of increased rhythm and depth.
You can use garden areas to great effect, assisting in the creation of a ‘room’ within the garden. These spaces deliberately have a very different feel to the rest of the garden.
It’s important to consider plants that have single flowers as opposed to double, tightly-packed petals. Single flowers make it easier for pollinators to gain access to the nectar.