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How to avoid bare soil between plants

Could someone explain how the borders in country house /RHS gardens always manage to be so packed with plants that you can hardly see any bare soil in between? If I space my plants as instructed there are gaps (even when mature) and if I pack them in, they get leggy. What am I doing wrong? 


  • pansyfacepansyface Posts: 22,314
    edited December 2018
    Are we talking annuals or shrubs or something else?

    Leggy plants suggest lack of light. 
    Apophthegm -  a big word for a small thought.
    If you live in Derbyshire, as I do.
  • Cottage garden type border. Perennials mixed with annuals. Tried to fill the gaps with the annuals which then got leggy but even the perennials don't really get bushy. Or am I too impatient? Most plants had 2 summers now, interspersed with some older perennials
  • pansyfacepansyface Posts: 22,314
    Annuals are greedy plants, designed to grow, set seed and die within a few months.  They need perfect conditions in which to flourish during their short lives. Good food adminstered on a regular basis, plenty water, lots of sun, no droughts, drying winds or disturbance to their roots. 

    Perennials have slightly different needs. Not so much food necessarily, depending on the plant, and they don’t care so much about root disturbance or the odd short spell of dry weather. They aren’t such greedy feeders either.

    The gardens that you visit have a small army of gardeners all working away behind the scenes to ensure that things get tied up, fed, watered, dead headed, cut down and split up at just the right moment. Unless you are out in your garden everyday you just don’t have the necessary time and effort to maintain these artificial conditions.
    Apophthegm -  a big word for a small thought.
    If you live in Derbyshire, as I do.
  • DovefromaboveDovefromabove Posts: 86,101
    edited December 2018
    Pinching out both the annuals and perennials several times early-ish in the season will help them bulk out a bit. That should help.  :)

    Gardening in Central Norfolk on improved gritty moraine over chalk ... free-draining.

  • FairygirlFairygirl Posts: 53,966
    Also - most [not all] annuals like the sun, so if they're a bit crowded by other plants and foliage, they'll just try and reach for the sky to get some light and sun.
    Most like light even if they don't need sun.  :)
    It's a place where beautiful isn't enough of a word....

    I live in west central Scotland - not where that photo is...
  • Busy-LizzieBusy-Lizzie Posts: 22,631

    Your perennials may not be mature enough yet. I don't know what size they were when you bought them but if they were small 2 years isn't that long. When they get big enough to divide then you can lift them and replant a group together so you have a group of 5 or 3 plants instead of 1. Some perennials, as Dove says, can be pinched out. There is something called "the Chelsea chop" that you do in May around the time of the Chelsea flower show. It can make the plants bushier and prolong flowering.

    Dordogne and Norfolk. Clay in Dordogne, sandy in Norfolk.
  • hogweedhogweed Posts: 4,053
    A lot of these lush borders are maintained rigorously by full time gardeners who whip things out when they are over and replace them with almost full grown flowers just coming into bloom. Think of the number of times we see Monty adding plants to his borders over the space of a season. And if you are looking at photographs of these borders, the images can be very deceiving. Good camera angles hide a lot of 'sins'.
    'Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement' - Helen Keller
  • PosyPosy Posts: 3,601
    I have often wondered about this and I think high maintenance  is the answer. For example, when a fine stand of delphiniums is over, and especially poppies, most of us get a rather miserable clump of dying stems and leaves, but you never see this in a 'proper' garden. I imagine other plants have been brought on at just the right moment to hide the gap. I don't have the skill or the time - wish I did!
  • We also had this issue with our borders and flower beds, they looked half empty.  So I now pinch out to bulk up the plants, but we also use bags of wood chip/mulch, so although there are gaps between the plants, there is no bare soil, just the wood chip which helps to mulch the existing plants, suppress weeds, retains moisture and looks far more attractive (to me) than bare soil.
  • BorderlineBorderline Posts: 4,700
    edited December 2018
    It's usually a mixture of understanding times of a plant's peak, their leaves, whether they are part of the interest even when not in flower and knowing where to 'dot plant' plants that tend to have un-interesting basal leaves, which could be planted against more leafy plants.

    The other part is scale to your border size. Often, show borders are around 12 feet deep and this usually means planting in groups of 5 to 7s, creating large blocks that have invisible support. This can be scaled down for smaller plots.

    Look for plants that suit the border size. If you don't mind working in the garden a lot, then planting more closer is not really an issue. The guides are loosely for a gardener that waits for three years. Look at your soil type and the plants you choose, as some may take time to establish, whilst others can take off in ideal conditions.
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