overgrown border

I have a border about 6 feet wide and roughly 18 feet long. It has been established long before I arrived and includes hundreds of snowdrops, many perennials such as veronica, pelagoniums, london pride, sedums, comfrey etc etc , ferns and a few things I can't identify yet. There are also large shrubs, including a quince, an oak tree that has been pruned to a large shrub, a spiraea and a few other unknowns. 

Some of the shrubs are now somewhat overgrown and/or too close together.The border is edged on one long side and one short side by a mix of fuchsia, mock orange, elder and cotoneaster.

I would like to decongest the border without destroying it's charm but don't know where or when to begin! The added problem is that the entire bed is matted with creeping buttercups which look lovely when in flower but on the other hand are a bit invasive!

If the bed and plants/shrubs were smaller my instinct would be to take everything out and clean the bed as much as possible of the buttercups then divide the perennials, space out and/or move a few of the shrubs to give everything more space, light and air - but - this would be a mammoth task and I don't know the best times to move each shrub.

So what do I do? Is the mammoth task the only option - if so when do I do it - or does anyone have any better ideas - bearing in mind the buttercups are already up and running!

I'm not keen on chemical solutions as I have a lot of wildl visitors and have free ranging hens and a dog.



  • Matty2Matty2 Posts: 4,817

    Well I think to start you should get the shrubs into some sort of order, that could leave you space. As you work on he perennials you can clear the buttercup Then attack the pesky creeping buttercup, down on your knees with a small fork, hard works but just attack sat a 2foot strip at a time.

    Being down on your knees will give you a chance to see what else is popping up. Take your time, Pull the buttercups in any odd few minutes. I would paint on roundup gel on the buttercup by painting you  are not interfering with anything else., but you say you have free roaming animals. Would it be possible to block off the treated area or a couple of weeks?

    Do you have a photo? It helps then with the advice.

  • PalaisglidePalaisglide Posts: 3,414

    Nightgarden, your instinct is to get stuck in although my experience says wait, take your time. Let the small plants flower and either then put a marker on them or move them in flower to the place you wish them to be, with a good root ball they will be OK.
    You will then have space to work on the larger project of cleaning the ground digging it over and giving feed.
    You will also have room to move some of the marked plants along, clump them up into a scheme or divide and spread them. The other way is to discard some of the plants if you wish and plant new ones.
    Do all this a bit at a time, clean small areas dig over and fertilise or mulch working along or even in parts of the border, as Rosa said tackle the shrubs first to give space then spend some time on your knees getting rid of the weed.
    It will take time though you will have plenty to look at whilst you do it otherwise a full removal and renovation will take much time and effort, you want it to evolve not vanish then appear as something entirely different.
    Doing it slowly  seeing what is there by letting it flower gives you chance to view the whole border and then move plants for colour or effect, it also gives you time to sit and plan or just look without feeling you should be at it every spare hour.
    One bit of advice I would give is after last years wash out, the soil will be hungry, a really good granular feed and mulch will put life back into the ground and gives the coming plants a boost, we all need a tonic after last year, my personal one comes from Scotland.
    Good luck Frank.

  • Your border souinds lovely, nightgarden. I feel quite envious, even of the mammoth task involved. My first thought is whether the hens will leave the border alone well enough for it to thrive? My second is that it would be lovely to draw a reasonably 'to scale' diagram of the border and mark the positions of the plants and shrubs, so that you can decide what is giving the border its basic structure and what could safely go. The most urgent task is actually those buttercups, because they do invade and develop so quickly and persistently. As Rosa says,  getting on your knees will give you the chance to get intimately acquaiinted with your border and what is growing there. There is no rush for anything else - you could even decide to do a couple of feet at a time, taking out the smaller plants, splitting overgrown perennial clumps and  replanting any bulbs you find. It sounds a thoroughly satisifying task. I have a smaller overgrown border in my garden which I've been thinking about digging out and replanting for a couple of years, but was daunted by the size of the task. Eventually, I made myself start and, in only a couple of hours, I had made a big difference. Now I have the pleasure of replanting the things I want to keep and replanning the border so that it gets eight or ten months of colour. The most important thing is to enjoy the creative process. Have a great time!

  • nightgardennightgarden SW ScotlandPosts: 112

    Thanks everyone - I'll read the advice you have all given again more slowly but the gist seems to be slow and steady - funny really, at my age there is no other way!

    I'll certainly confine the hens until the ground is cleared - after that they are very good at removing pests from the ground and all the plants are so big they won't do any harm. I have a resident stoat a visiting weasel and endless voles etc so I think I'll avoid roundup though just in case they come to harm

    Moving the shrubs seems to be the first task then - so is it ok to start doing that now?

    Also when I dig round them I probably won't be able to avoid damaging some of the fibrous roots because the shrubs are so close to each other - if I try not to harm any of the thicker roots will that be ok?

    Then it's hands and knees with a fork - a gradual transformation sounds quite exciting now. I'll take a photo and post it later. Thanks again.


  • PalaisglidePalaisglide Posts: 3,414

    Nightgarden, most shrubs are dormant so moving them is OK, you may need help as quite a large root ball is best and also heavy. Have a hole dug if moving the shrub then dig well away from the main root where possible if close to another shrub then you may get some damage to both but Nature cures her own. I lift mine for moving onto a large shovel and drag it to position or an old plastic bag but make sure it is strong. If leaving the shrub for a while then wrap the root ball in plastic and water well. Once moved and well watered in (give water for a few days) then it will be ready for Spring as we all are.
    Creeping buttercup can be lifted using a small fork, if you ease the soil along the run it can be lifted in clumps but do not put on the compost.
    We let chickens run in the garden they do little damage if given enough room, you may need to go looking for the eggs though.
    Have fun Frank.

  • Matty2Matty2 Posts: 4,817

    Do you really need to move the shrubs would a really good hard cut back, not a tickling prune save you a lot of effort etc?

  • That's where working out the basic structure comes in...

  • nightgardennightgarden SW ScotlandPosts: 112


    The border in question is at the back - not a very good shot but it gives the idea of how full it is. I do like it like this so maybe I'll go with the idea of pruning and then just take out a couple of the shrubs and spend the next couple of weeks on my hands and knees rooting out the buttercups!

  • nightgardennightgarden SW ScotlandPosts: 112


    Same border from a slightly different angle - I hope these pictures don't appear several times, I had trouble uploading.

  • What a lovelt lot of space. I'm so jealous!

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