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Border ideas and feedback for a novice

Hello! An absolute novice here looking for some help and advice. :)

We moved into a house with a garden that has been somewhat neglected over the years. I have cleared and planted two other beds, but this one is one if the last to be done. It's chock full of weeds, but nothing too threatening and the edging needs to be redone. I would like some advice and ideas about what to plant in a border.

It's about 0.5 deep in front of a fence and about 3m long. The soil is very clay, the spot gets a reasonable amount of sun up to about 2pm everyday. I don't mind a bit of upkeep, but would like a nice mix of evergreens, shrubs and perrenials, especially longer lasting ones.

There are a few established plants already there (a sedum to the left, an unhappy hellebore amongst the weeds, a heather type plant that may even have self-seeded, ivy and an evergreen shrub under towards the end (possibly hebe?). There is also a leggy mahonia in the corner, which I will be cutting right back after the birds have had the berries. I would like to remove it in the longer term as it doesn't seem a good spot for it, possibly putting a eucalyptus gunnii bush here instead. I am happy to remove any of these plants, or work with them depending on advice. 

After clearing the bed of weeds and boosting the soil a bit, I had thought about this possible border:
Astrantia and anemone towards the back.
Hellebores and/or choisia in the middle
Hardy geraniums at the front and maybe some phlox, to tie in with another part of the garden.
I quite like plants with interesting leaves like brunnera or hosta, especially greeny blue colours, so I also thought about maybe some sage and possibly some lavender as well. I also considered cerinthe.

Does this sound reasonable or have I made any novice mistakes? I would love to hear some feedback and any other ideas would be fab!

Thank you.


  • BobTheGardenerBobTheGardener Posts: 11,384
    Hi Sophie, the only problem I see is that a 0.5 deep border is never going to work very well as you can't give things the space they need and half the width of border will be within the rain-shadow of the fence.  Is there any way you can extend the border to about 1m from the fence?
    A trowel in the hand is worth a thousand lost under a bush.
  • so.phieso.phie Posts: 20
    Yes, I absolutely can. In fact, the lawn edging needs redoing, so I can extend this whilst I'm at it. Thank you for the feedback!
  • Going for a colour palette of blues and greens with some purple and lemon should work well. Shrubs take up an awful lot of space so use with restraint. You may find it best to focus on shrubs that are small and will bring in the colours you’re after, and add planting around these. In full sun, even in clay soil, you may struggle with Astrantia and Hosta so keep these for any part shade areas. In the full sun bit, things like sage, Perovskia, Cistus, lavender, rosemary and rue in compact varieties would work alongside more sharply architectural plants—check out Phormium, Helleborus argutifolius, Melianthus major and (for the front) Euphorbia myrsinites. Then you could infill with the hardy geraniums (variety ‘Orion’ is particularly splendid in blue, or ‘Sirak’ in lavender-pink, but I’d stick to one variety), Thalictrum flavum ‘Illuminator’, Veronicastrum, perhaps Echinops? Phlox would work well with these, particularly a bluish pink or purple variety. You could also pop in some Alliums, and some Narcissi and little things like Anemone blanda and Chionodoxa for earlier in the season. This would all give you a framework of bluish foliage with surges of flowers in contrasting colours through the summer. 
  • SophieKSophieK Posts: 244
    The shallow depth of the border definitely makes it tricky. For the back of the border I would go for evergreen climbers like clematis or akebia and shrubs that grow vertically without much spread (eg. viburnum  x bodnantense Dawn) to give a bit of height.
    Lavenders are always great as they can be shaped (or not) and are evergreen so bring structure, they can spread quite a bit but you can keep them in check by pruning them in late summer. As for the rest, the world is your oyster, it depends on the colour palette you will decide on - there will be perennials and bulbs aplenty to choose from
  • so.phieso.phie Posts: 20
    These are all such useful comments, thank you so much. Lots to think about now. I am planning on putting the hostas under the mahonia, as it's shader than I first thought there. Having done a bit more research on anemones, I might give them a miss as it seems they can become very invasive. This is a shame because they are so beautiful, but bulbs for early colour is a great idea. 

    So many great suggestions I hadn't considered! You're right about the shrubs, I think I was just worried I would have a completely empty border come winter. I love the Russian sage that looks just the ticket and I was considering a clematis but wasn't sure how to get the ericaceous soil to it. I suppose it could be in a pot at the back of the border. Thank you again. 🙂
  • K67K67 Posts: 2,507
    Just wondering why you think you need ericacous soil for a clematis?
  • so.phieso.phie Posts: 20
    Not sure where I got that idea from, I just thought they needed a particular soil - I said I was a novice!   :hushed: If I don't, that's much more straightforward!
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