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Planting a border for extended period of interest

Sorry about the title... I struggled for one as I do with the topic itself.

I have so little success with this.  My planting is cottage'y; mainly perenniels, shrub roses, some bienniels/annuals but with a number of ornamental grasses.  The long borders vary in depth from a couple of feet up to around 8' max.  It's pretty much bare in winter (save the still standing 'dead' growth on the grasses which I like) and that doesn't bother me.  But I would love to have more colour/interest during April/May (March is probably pushing it).

I always fail to get autumn planted bulbs in; there's still too much to trample/ruin in the process and trying not to damage existing plants' root systems.  I fail dismally with the concept 'this will look marvellous in the summer, gracefully concealing the then dying down early spring perennials'.  I just end up with overcrowded plants vying for space.

I do successfully manage to squeeze in a lot of cosmos and maybe a few foxgloves but that's about it.

Is it a knack I just don't have?  Or am I just expecting too much?   Is my current planting just too dense (at full growth) to allow for other seasonal interest?  Perhaps I should simply get rid of the lawn which, after all, is used for nothing other than getting from A to B.

How does everyone else achieve this please.. if at all?!


  • AnniDAnniD Posts: 11,445
    First questions from me - is it a sunny border, shaded ? What's the soil like ? What are the perennials that you grow ?
  • The soil is silty loam, quite free of stones and not a bit of clay however far you dig.  

    I struggle with the garden a bit due to the aspect(s).  It's approx 140' long but only 13' wide and faces directly west.  The left border is shaded for most of the day by the 6' fence; I've left ferns to get on with it and they look lovely in summer, along with with grasses that are shade tolerant and there are a couple of small but mature trees.  It's at least "green" but lacks oomph.

    The right hand border, facing due south, is the side I would really like to do something about.  Seen July-October, it's reasonably ok with the grasses, nepeta, few shrub roses, rudbeckia, echinacea and salvias.

    Reading that back to myself, I have obviously focused on mid/ late summer.  The grasses are all warm season grasses and even now are barely a foot above the ground...I guess it's no wonder it looks so grim from November all the way through to mid/late June.
  • AnniDAnniD Posts: 11,445
    I will give it some thought but must confess to watching the football at the moment ! It may be tomorrow but hopefully others will come up with some ideas  :)
  • Thank you so much!
  • I should have added that despite the reasonable soil it can be quite wet over the winter due our location and (I am told?) high water table.  I have lost countless perennials, carefully planted)tended but fail to reappear the following year...I am not sure if I am struggling with the full sun aspect of that side -v- the often wet soil over winter.
  • AnniDAnniD Posts: 11,445
    Would there be any chance of a couple of photos,  just to give an idea of it ? I must admit the high water table makes it more tricky.  You can improve the drainage by digging in grit.  :)
    Apologies, second half about to start !
  • the game!  My border is going nowhere fast.

    I will take a few photos tomorrow.  It's just past its glorious worst but the photos will nevertheless still be embarrassing!
  • BorderlineBorderline Posts: 4,699
    If you want more interest in March, April and May, it's best to look more into shrubs. Allow the perennials to take over in high summer. Sounds like you have a large enough garden to be able to accommodate shrubs that have only a month to two months' interest. Don't forget, colour and shape of leaves are also important before and after flowers. 

    Shrubs are also more tolerant of a variety of soil conditions and often take a bit of shade too. Take a look at evergreens to form a permanent backdrop. Shrubs like Choisyas can be useful and scented. Flowering twice a year. Goes well with many plants.

    Osmanthus Burkwoodii and Viburnum x Burkwoodii are good in shadier areas, offers scent and flowers. Abelia shrubs come in evergreens, variegated forms and deciduous versions too.  From pink flowers to white and even lemony yellows, they add colour and form in the summer months. Weigela shrubs usually start flowering in May and often with a second flush in early autumn. 

    If your perennials are failing, do list some of the plants that have not returned. Your soil conditions sound ideal for a range of plants. Do you know if it is acidic, neutral or alkaline?
  • Busy-LizzieBusy-Lizzie Posts: 21,761

    Bulbs are essential for March and April. Look at other people's gardens. I've seen gardens full of daffodils, grape hyacinths and tulips looking gorgeous. Wallflowers, pansies and violas too.

    I think late April/early May is harder, bulbs are going over, too soon for bedding plants and perennials. But there are some perennials, Brunnera, Pumnonaria. This is a time when shrubs take over, the fresh colours of new leaves shine out. Try shrubs with different coloured leaves, such as Spirea Gold Flame and golden Abelias. Also blossom, crab apples, Exochorda "The Bride", flowering cherries.

    Dordogne and Norfolk. Clay in Dordogne, sandy in Norfolk.
  • LoxleyLoxley Posts: 5,245
    Spring shrubs is a great idea. Many Euphorbias are good in spring and stay fairly tidy.

    If you can't stand disturbing the perennials to do autumn bulb planting, you could grow them in pots and pop them in place in late winter. However my issue with bulbs is I want to get in among the borders and start moving stuff around just when they're looking their best :/ Also I dislike having stuff dying off in the border in my small garden. 

    I do Alliums though, as you can plant them fairly spaced out, so they don't get in the way.
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