Designing a Herbaceous Border

In front of my window, I had a bench and a shrub—almost a hedge. The shrub was fairly fast growing, so kept blocking my window. It had to go, along with the bench, which wasn't very nice, or in a place you would ever want to sit.


The bench was easy to remove; the shrub was more challenging. I split the task into three parts. Firstly, I removed all the above-ground parts, leaving stubs of stems. Secondly, I dug a trench around the plant—severing any horizontal roots. Thirdly, I removed the main root-ball. I have a technique for this that I am starting to perfect. Without the horizontal roots, the plant becomes increasingly wobbly. If you keep loosening the solid around it with a spade, you can eventually get it on its side, at which point the vertical roots are accessible, and can be severed.

With the bench, shrub, and paving slabs removed, I then had to remove the gravel that was surrounding the shrub. This left me with a clear rectangle of soil in which to plant.


A herbaceous border is a border full of herbaceous perennials—plants which die back to ground level in the autumn, and then re-emerge in the spring. I didn't yet have a proper herbaceous border. Elsewhere in my front garden, I have a bed which I use for poppies and sunflowers—both annuals—and a mixed border of roses and perennials. The general colour scheme of my front garden is mostly 'hot' colours: red, orange, and yellow—though I also allow dark purples and blacks. In keeping with this, I selected plants only from the family Asteraceae—the daisy and sunflower family—as the family contains many plants that match my colour scheme. All Asteraceae have composite flowers: flowerheads containing many tiny flowers, but with petal-like bracts surrounding the flowerhead, giving it the appearance of a single flower.

I created a map using a spreadsheet to plan where everything would go.


To the left, I have some gaillardia, or blanket flowers. I bought a mixture of colours, some red, some orange, and some yellow. These surround a Rudbeckia fulgida 'Little Goldstar', which should be a little taller than the Gaillardia, and hopefully flower well into October. At the back of the border, I have a couple of Achillea filipendulina 'Cloth of Gold'. These form pads of many little compound flowers. In front of these, I have an Echinacea 'Sundown', a red coneflower. I was going to have two more Rudbeckia next to this, but the variety I selected is actually an annual, so I have swapped them out for some Coreopsis, or tickseed. To the far right of the border is a Heliopsis helianthoides var. scabra 'Summer Nights', also known as false sunflower.

These plants should all flower from mid-summer into autumn, but I also needed something for spring. This is where it stops becoming a perennial border. I plan to plant the front of the border with Erysimum cheiri 'Fire King' a biennial wallflower. Behind these, in amongst the perennials, I will plant some tulip bulbs, which may be perennial—if I am lucky. These should flower from March into May.

With the design done, I set about planting.



There is still a gap where I a waiting for a Coreopsis, but otherwise I am pleased with it. Now I just need to wait until next summer so I can see how it looks...