-----In 2004 we bought a falling-down house and 30 acres. This blog documents our progress-----

Thursday, June 30, 2005

what I've learned about herbaceous borders

Over the past year I've been jotting down learnings for the future garden at Amherst. Here's what I've picked up so far about herbaceous borders and their variants. This includes not only what they are and how you maintain them, but also tips on designing them and ideas from famous garden designers. If anyone reading has any suggestions, please add them in the comments... this is very much a "living" entry for me as I'll be updating it as I learn more.

Because this post has become so huge, I've divided it into sections:
--Style overview
--Definitions
--How to look after borders
--General tips on how to design and plant borders
--Inspiration from Gertrude Jekyll
--Inspiration from Edna Walling
--Inspiration from Vita Sackville-West
--Inspiration from Piet Oudolf

STYLE OVERVIEW
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There seems to be two broad schools for designing herbaceous borders. The traditional version from Edwardian times is what you'd see in your typical English country manor house garden, and the kind I first fell in love with. It is sometimes also called "English Arts & Crafts" style too as it was all part of the Arts & Crafts movement. Gertrude Jekyll was the leading proponent, and Vita Sackville-West illustrated it wonderfully it in her own garden at Sissinghurst. In Australia, Edna Walling was of a similar vintage to Vita and interpreted it in an Australian setting. Traditional style borders typically use a lot of cottage garden style plants which require quite a bit of fussing over to keep looking good ... but oh how glorious they look when you do. Here's an example from Gravetye Manor, which was actually designed by a contemporary of Gertrude Jekyll called William Robinson (I only know this as I'm saving up to visit it... it's now an extremely posh hotel!)

gravetye manor border


The modern school of perennial gardening I've only recently discovered. I think it originated in Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands - although I believe it also has some connection to the Prairie style of gardening in the US. Here in Europe, the leading proponent seems to be Piet Oudolf. These seem to be called wild or natural style borders. Although broadly-speaking they use plants of the same category as in traditional-style borders (ie: mostly perennials) there's a totally different ethos in choosing and positioning specific plants. They're supposedly lower maintenance too, once established,which is a definite plus! Here's an example:

wild garden border

As you can see, quite a difference. I think the wild style looks beautiful too, just in a less controlled and more natural way than the traditional version. You'd think this would automatically imbue a more relaxed feeling, but I don't think it does.... nature can be quite dramatic, and often I find the sense of having "control" is quite soothing even if it's just an illusion!

I'm not yet sure what we planting style we'll go for at Amherst... I suspect for the sake of practicality we'll mostly go for the wilder look. I think that looks better too when you have big sweeping paddock views as backdrop, as we do, rather than wooded enclosures. Plus it just feels more in line with my natural instinct in gardening which is just to throw things in higgledy-piggledy and let them get on with it! (Which is actually not the way you're supposed to do either style but hey... at least I have "wild roots"!). But, I don't think I'll be able to forgo my visions of Sissinghurst entirely... I suspect I'll keep at least one border area to play around with in the traditional style.


DEFINITIONS
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Now, I know I know, this part sounds like it's going to be really dull. But I promise, it isn't long and helps make it clearer... some of these terms get bandied around so much that I think it's assumed everyone knows what they mean. I thought I did too until I looked them up!

Herbaceous means either having the characteristic of a herb or being leaf-like in color and texture. They don't have a permanent woody stem and they die back to ground level in winter. Perennial means that they live for years and years (unlike annuals which live just one year, but which might appear to live longer if they've self-seeded). Herbaceous perennials are thus plants that are both herbaceous and perennial!

A shrub is any woody bushy perennial plant that branches into several stems at the base, but that is smaller than a tree. The woody parts stay permanently above ground. Now I've come across some references online to "herbaceous shrubs"... I'm not sure if this is just sloppy wording but assuming not, then I'm guessing it means herbaceous plants that have a kind of woody stem but it isn't permanent and dyes back in winter. Or, it could mean plants like Penstemon which are technically herbaceous perennials, but when they get old they get woody at the base of the plant? Hmmm...

Herbaceous borders are simply garden borders that are closely planted with only herbaceous perennials. In the US these are more commonly known as a Perennial border. Done well, they look great and also ensure you really notice the passing of the seasons. This is something very important for the garden at Amherst as in Australia where seasons tend to blur more than they do here in the UK, thus why I plan to have a lot of perennials.

Shrub borders are a similar concept to herbaceous borders but they contain only shrubs. A mixed border is a border which has a mixture of shrub and perennial plants, plus often some bulbs, annuals and maybe even small trees too. A double border is simply when you have a path down the middle and plantings in borders on either side. I suspect we will be going for the mixed border as I doubt I'll be able to disciplined enough to restrain myself! (I tend to buy plants on a whim...)


HOW TO LOOK AFTER BORDERS
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In the traditional style, looking after herbacous borders properly takes a lot of work, besides the obvious weeding, mulching and watering. Every 3-5 years you need to dig up aka "lift" the perennials and "heel" them in elsewhere (ie: put them in a trench and cover roots with dirt for temporary storage). Exceptions to this are plants like Peonies which hate being moved. Then, you need to dig over and enrich the soil of the border as they need a lot of feeding. Then you need to divide the perennials if they're overgrown (which they most likely will be) and replant.

(As a sidenote - the technique for dividing varies by plant I think but the few times I've done it so far it's been obvious - either the plant itself almost fell apart once out of the ground; or the roots were so tightly interwoven that all I could do was hack it into chunks. But a quick search reveals there is a lot more to it, so next time I will be more scientific! )

Supposedly mixed borders are less work but I'm guessing it would be a real pain to have to dig out the perennials from the roots of the shrubs, so perhaps having a shrub border that is separate from the herbaceous border isn't such a bad idea after all. Of course a shrub border is probably even less work but it doesn't give you the same sense of changing seasons that perennials do.

Feeding the soil in traditional style borders is vital as the plants use up lots of nutrients in growing. In an episode of "Gardens through time" they illustrated a technique Gertrude Jekyll used to follow, which seems quite practical... I was surprised I'd never heard of it before. Basically, you dig deep pits in the border. You put compost material like old leaves, etc, it doesn't matter as it doesn't need to be rotted down only mashed up a bit. Put in a few layers of that and then some sand to improve drainage and well rotted manure. Then fill the pit back up with soil. This way, all looks neat and lovely on top but down below there's a stash of food for the plants. I imagine it'd also be quite a practical way of clearing out your compost heap of all those things that take forever to rot down.

You also need to provide supports for many perennial plants in borders so they don't flop over! The ideal is something that the plants can grow around so that the support is hidden. Vita Sackville-West described an interesting way to do this: "in the idle indoor days of winter employ your leisure making large circles of stout wire, criss-crossing them with thinner wire into, say, four sections, meeting in a sort of hub at the middle; then supply a central pole... In the spring start your wire circle a few inches from the ground, raising it gradually up the central pole as the height of the plant increases, and as the plant grows through the sections"

Now that's what's needed for traditional style style. The modern "natural" style of border is quite different. The kind of plants you use in them require a lot less maintenance, so you don't need to do any of the dividing, feeding, staking of the traditional version. They're not entirely maintenance free though - you still have to clear out the dead growth (albeit at the end of winter rather than autumn) and deal with weeding and mulching.

I suspect you need a more ruthless streak for modern borders ... in it's purest form the idea is to drill down to just a narrow range of plants which are the ideal for the conditions you're growing in, and to not be afraid to rip out plants that don't perform brilliantly. You also need a certain confidence which I think probably only comes through practice. In the words of Piet Oudulf: "You have to guide nature or else it gets out of hand, but you have to know exactly when to intervene. It is much more difficult than just clipping". I can see there's still a lot to learn!

GENERAL TIPS ON HOW TO DESIGN & PLANT BORDERS
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To get the full effect of the traditional style, herbaceous borders should be at least 5 to 6 feet wide and 20 to 30 feet long. It's also helpful if they're framed - e.g., by a clipped hedge or a wall - because the strong lines of that will help define the space and are a good contrast with the lushness of the border planting. Mixed borders generally need to be even bigger to accomodate shrubs like roses, etc which take up a lot of space.

The aim in border planting is to have as little bare ground showing as possible. Not only does this help them look good, it cuts down on weeding.

A good rule of thumb when planning the planting for a border is to start with 3 tall "structural" plants at the back, then work forward, relating each layer to the ones behind. Add "filler" plants last (ie: those plants that tend to creep and flow into spaces between other plants) and progressively more at the front. Repeating a structural plant along a border injects a strong sense of rhythm, whereas doing the same with a filler plant is more subtle.

Generally too you put taller plants in the back of the border and small ones at the front. However, shouldn't be too regimented about it; sometimes having a tall plant at the front can be really effective. You just have to go intuitively with what works, and shouldn't be afraid to move things around from year to year.

In choosing plants for the border, you want your structural plants to be extremely reliable, because the success of the border's appearance depends heavily on them.

Ideally you want to choose plants which have good "continuity" - i.e., they have interest over a longer period by virtue of flowering over an extend period, having lovely seedpods, interesting stems, etc. But, there are a lot of wonderful plants with only short continuity. A way to use these is to plant a cycling selection close together so that as one dyes back another is coming into the height of it's beauty.

A way to add instant structure to a herbaceous border is to put in wigwams for clematis to clamour up.

Having plants with purple foliage in a border gives a good backdrop to bright colours.

No colour combinations in a border are wrong, just some will be unfashionable! Plantings which are themed by colour are most effective when used in small regions as part of a wider whole. Colour can be used to inject rhythm into a border even if different plant are used.

Grasses scattered through a mixed border can be very effective because they created a haze and movement that makes a border feel larger than it really is. They also help to extend the season. But, grasses are not part of the traditional scheme so if you're including them then you're automatically moving towards a modern style. Grasses don't usually look that good next to some of the really traditional plants like roses, for instance. Also, you have to be careful planting grasses next to other species of grasses because they can often clash.

A trick for coming up with new plant combinations for the border is to cut a flower off a plant in bloom and hold it up against other plants in bloom at the same time elsewhere in the garden. This makes it easier to see how one plant can enhance or detract from another, and might throw up some new ideas. I guess it's the gardening equivalent to fabric swatches - sometimes colours and patterns that you think would go well together when you see them separately just don't work when you put them close up! And, given that you're going to be lifting and dividing most of the plants anyway every few years, it's a perfect opportunity to rearrange.

A good tip is to envisage your border as if it were in a B&W photo. If it looks bland then it suggests you're relying too much on colour. A good border planting should have enough variety of shape to still look good in B&W.

In wilder style gardens, self-seeding annuals can be great at filling spaces without requiring much work.

INSPIRATION FROM GERTRUDE JEKYLL
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Gertrude Jekyll is famous for her garden border designs, which weren't only herbaceous. In one of the TV shows I watched they called her the "Mrs Beeton of gardening" which I think is a nice description! (By the way, the way you pronounce her surname is "jeeeek-el" not "jeckal" as in Jekyll & Hyde. I didn't know this till I watched a TV show called "Art of the Garden" that had a whole episode dramatising her... in one of the scenes "she" was shown correcting a visitor who mispronounced her name! So now I won't look so ignorant at the gardening centre... :-)

Jekyll designed entire gardens but perhaps her most famous innovation was the spectrum border. This is where plants are positioned so that hot colours pave the way for cooler ones and vice versa. She planted in drifts so that the plants all blurred one into the other...starting with whites and pale colours moving gradually through to greens and yellows and red, and then back again, like in the colour spectrum. I like this idea a lot, so I think we shall experiment and attempt at least one "Jekyll style" border. But, no way will be doing it on the scale she did - the border at her house in Munstead Wood was 200ft long and 14 ft wide!

To do it perfectly requires incredible attention to detail and you really have to know your plants. Choosing plant positionings isn't just about colour and growing requirements, you also need to factor in differences in their height and form throughout the seasons - including so that when one plant starts to die back another nearby comes up to take it's place. One of the "Hidden Garden" TV episodes I saw showed how Jekyll had planned it to the extent so that the middle of one plant after pollination which turned pink would contrast with the pale purple tones of the petals of another plant just coming out... Wow.

Of course, you could just cheat and copy one of her border designs - there's a book she wrote called "Colour Schemes for the Flower Garden" which I've just ordered from Amazon. It has detailed planting plans apparently as well as articles. Once it arrives I'll have a look and update this post with some more specific learnings.

But, I doubt we'll be able to copy anything directly from Jekyll's planting schemes simply because the types of plants that will thrive in the Amherst growing conditions are so different to Southern England. Also, the quality of light (and shadow) is a key determinant the overall effect and that differs hugely. In Australia, the light is a lot harsher than in the UK so pastel colours just get wiped out whereas in the UK they shine through. This is why it's so hard to replicate an English style garden in Australia in all it's softness... although it isn't going to stop me trying at least in one well protected and cosseted corner!

I plan to research Australian and US garden designers to learn how they've translated Jekyll style border plantings to the different conditions. For instance, perhaps there are some tricks of positioning, like having pastel colours only in shady areas? I don't know yet... I'll add to this post as learn! Plus of course, Prue will be a font of knowledge, considering that drought-tolerant English-style gardens are one of her specialties.


INSPIRATION FROM EDNA WALLING
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A designer I thought might have had some useful ideas with regards to translating Jekyll style borders to Australian conditions is Edna Walling, but so far they've proved difficult to unearth. Edna is probably the most famous Australian garden designer and sort of a contemporary to Gertrude Jekyll, in that they were both working around the same time in the 1920's even though they were very different ages. Edna was born in the UK and emigrated to Australia via New Zealand and lived for a long time in the Dandenongs in the outskirts of Melbourne - an area I know and love, it's where I grew up.

Despite this, I'd never even heard of her until we embarked on our Amherst project! I think that's more a sign of how little I was interested in gardening when I lived in Australia than her lack of profile... when I asked my Mum, who's not that into gardening, she not only knew of her but said she'd tried to make the garden at the house where I grew up in the Edna Walling style! From what I've gathered so far, her overall style didn't change much - it was always "formal structure with luxuriant, often rampant, planting", and she loved using stone (paths, walls, etc). But her choice of plants did; she started out using a lot of the English cottage garden species but over time grew to love and champion Australian natives.

I have two books relating to Edna Walling. One is called "The vision of Edna Walling" and includes copies of all her garden plans as well as background. I've only skimmed through it so far but unfortunately the plans don't seem to have anything like the level of planting detail for borders which Gertrude Jekyll's do. So, although it's interesting from the broad perspective of garden design, so far it hasn't been particularly insightful on designing borders for Australian conditions. I'll keep reading, perhaps there will be some tidbits along the way. As a sidenote, I found it interesting to discover that she was influenced heavily not only by Jekyll but also by Geoffrey Jellicoe who I blogged about earlier here and here. This gardening world is a small one!

The second book was written by Edna herself. It is called "Gardens in Australia - their design and care" and is fascinating because it's been printed based on the original edition (published in 1943) with Edna's handwritten annotations about what she wanted to change. It makes it quite personal to read and also poignant because it took 50 years before her changes finally got into print! I still haven't read this properly but it is a lot more like a "how to" guide than the other book, even though it isn't very long by the time you take out all the black & white photos!

Chapter 4 is about herbaceous perennials and there are some she singles out for attention. Various breeds of Achillea (yarrow), Campanula, Asters and Penstemons are mentioned. She also likes Japanese Irises (Iris Kaempferi) and suggests planting them behind a grouping of Aster King George, Penstemon heterophyllus, Erigeron and Campanula rotundifolia (harebell). Other plants she mentions as possibilities but "a matter of personal choice" are Phlox, Lupins, Peonies, Delphiniums and cascade Chrysanthemums. Here are some pictures of those plants she referred to by specific cultivar, click on any for further details. They're not all precisely the exact varieties because a few I couldn't find reference to... (guessing they've changed names or gone away?). But, I've included the closest variant I could find based on her descriptions. I wouldn't plan on sticking too closely to this since I'm sure in terms of spirit she would have moved with the times and we have lots more choice nowadays. But I think it's interesting to see her choices none-the-less.
Achillea grandifolia coloured varieties of Achillea (yarrow) Campanula Glomerata Aster
Aster penstemon heterophyllus Campanula rotundifolia Fleabane (erigeron philadephicus) Japanese Iris


Chapter 17 includes a section about planting borders in hot and dry positions. Plants she refers to are Lavender, Rosemary, Cistus (rock roses), Choisya ternata (mexican orange), Philadelphus Mexicana (mexican mock orange), lemon-scented Geraniums and Cotoneaster. There are also some lovely concepts... the idea of planting enough lavendar and rosemary bushes so there's space "to dry your handkerchiefs on them"; her belief that "you haven't lived until you've lain flat on your back on a thyme lawn"!

lavendar augustifolia lavendar dentata lavandula stoechas rosemary Cistus cyprius Cistus ladaniferus choisya ternataphiladelphus lemon-scented geranium cotoneaster horizontalis


Chapter 32 is about Australian plants for borders. I'm interested in this especially because I'm assuming they'll be better suited to Australian conditions and her picks are likely to be "cottage garden" in style. Some of the plants she highlights which I like are Boronia Pinnata, Thryptomene Mitchelli, Baeckia Plicata, Eriostemon myoporoides, Prosthanthera ovalifolia & sieberi (native mint), Acacia drummondii (dwarf wattle), Acmena smithii (formerly Eugenia Smithii) which is tall and good for screening, Leptospermum keatleyii & rotundifolia and last but not least Grevillea contfertifolia (particularly good for dry conditions)

boronia pinnata
thryptomene baeckia eriostemon myoporoides Prostanthera ovalifolia prostanthera sieberii acacia drummondii Acmena smithii (lilly pilly) leptospermum rotundifolium Grevillea confertifolia


That's it so far from Edna about borders although I'm sure there must be more to learn from her beyond only plant choices, especially considering she used to write magazine articles. I'll keep an eye out and update if I come across anything more

One final sidenote on Edna... this is a link to view a manuscript she wrote about a house she built from scratch in the midst of a hilly bush site near the beach at Lorne in Victoria. It was never actually published but reading it makes you realise what a remarkable woman she must have been. We're talking about the 1940's when Australia was incredibly conservative. Edna wasn't afraid to stand out - she dressed in men's clothes, undertook huge tasks like building a house from scratch and by hand in the bush(!) and most impressive of all was seemingly quite open about her relationship with her female partner. I like her style and attitude. My favourite part of this manuscript is the description of them digging out a level area on the steep slope for the lounge room and finding a big stone... and deciding to leave it in position and use it as the base of an armchair!


INSPIRATION FROM VITA SACKVILLE-WEST
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In fact, Edna Walling reminded me quite a bit of Vita Sackville-West in terms of not being afraid to be unconventional. Vita, along with her husband Harold Nicolson, created Sissinghurst Garden which is one of the most spectacular gardens I've ever visited. Like Hidcote, I try and go as often as I can. At Sissinghurst, Harold created the architectural framework (a series of "rooms") and Vita came up with the planting schemes.

I have a few books relating to Sissinghurst and Vita. One, which was the first Gardening book I ever bought, is called "Gardening at Sissinghurst". It's full of wonderful images and lots of detail about the planting. It even includes detailed planting schemes for several borders. Two that I particularly like are the Purple Border in the entrance courtyard and the Sunset cottage garden.

The purple border:
purple border plan at sissinghurst

The above is the planting scheme as of 1994 as shown in the book, click on it for a closer view. Supposedly Jekyll had said that purple wasn't a good colour for a border because it could come across as "sullen and lifeless" in sunny weather... so Vita set out to prove her wrong! I'm guessing we'd need to do some judicious plant-swapping to make something like this work at Amherst just due to the different conditions, but it could be a helpful starting point. I also love the way they've drawn up the planting scheme, using watercolours to match the flowers so you can see how it all works together.

Sunset garden:
Sunset garden (1) sunset garden plan from sissinghurst

This is part of the cottage garden room and it's just glorious. It's my favourite part of Sissinghurst. Here's a picture to show you what it looks like as well as the planting scheme. I am hoping we'll have more luck in replicating this at Amherst because the colours - yellow, orange, red - are more likely to work in Australian light. To view details click on the pictures to make them larger.

Vita wrote articles about gardening for the Observer newspaper and these have been published in several books, two of which I have: "In your garden" and "In your garden again". I've not read cover-to-cover for a long while but from memory the focus of most articles was on a particular plant rather than general design or maintenance tips. I'm planning to re-read them so if I come across anything more that's relevant to borders (besides the tip included way up above in the first section) I'll add it.


INSPIRATION FROM PIET OUDOLF
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Unlike the other garden designers I've discussed who are from 50-100 years ago, Piet Oudolf is a modern day designer. He's Dutch and I've not yet seen one of his gardens in real life, but I hope to one day. His specialty is Perennials and designing gardens which are "natural" in the sense that they work with way perennials develop in nature and thus don't require lots of maintenance (unlike your traditional perennial border). A great example of this in the UK is the Millenium Garden he designed in Norfolk at Pensthorpe. In the US, his best example I think is the Gardens of Remembrance for 9/11 that he created at The Battery in NYC.

My favourite book about his style so far is "Designing with Plants". (I also have his book "Dream Plants for the Natural Garden" but this is just a listing of plants and it's not that useful for me as the growing conditions he's basing it on aren't the same as at Amherst). However, the "Designing with Plants" book is a lot more practical in that it describes a new way of categorising plants and gives general principles about how to best combine them. I've summarised what I've learned from this below, but it's not a substitute for the book which explains it better in more detail with wonderful pictures.

Perhaps the biggest difference between Piet's approach and that of the traditionalists is that he downplays the role of colour. For him colour is a secondary consideration - the most important factor is structure. There are two aspects to this: foliage shape and flowerhead form.

Foliage shape takes into account the size and outline of leaves, and the overall pattern of growth. Some general points:
-- Large bold leaves stand out and serve as resting points for your eye
-- Small leaves sink into the background when viewed from afar
-- "Linear" foliage like for grasses is good for adding contrast
-- Anything with a distinctly different foliage shape can be repeated to add rhythm

Flowerhead form is about the structure of the flowers themselves. Rather than the official botanical classification, Piet categorises them into 6 groups:

foxglove Spires add lift and inject a note of clarity in a border. They work best as a dramatic contrast amidst other flower types. It is very hard to make a cluster consisting of only plants with spire-shaped flowers look good


img1011975396 Plumes are like spires but fluffier and looser. They work very well en-masse, imbuing softness. They are also excellent for linking different forms



yarrowUmbels have an upturned bowl shape. Although they often stick out on a stem, they are more gently rounded rather than pointy like a spires. They are made up of lots of little flowers. Like plumes, they add a soft and gentle look. They are also excellent for imbuing a sense of naturalism, since many wildflowers have this shape.

macro-astrantia-m-HadspenBlood Buttons and globes add concentrated bursts of colour. They are especially good displayed against a backdrop of softer shapes like plumes or a muddle of fine stems. They are also very good in winter in standing out well amidst the decay appearing as dark spots

asterDaisies are the familiar shape we all know. After flowering, often the petals drop off and then they convert to being a button shape. Daisies are a reminder of sunshine and add a sense of optimism.


F-115 Screens and curtains are transparent, made up of a network of stems. They bring a new perspective to other plants growing behind when viewed through the "screen". They also help to bring a sense of mystery. You shouldn't include too many of them though as they can destroy the pattern.

In general:
-- Having a variety of flowerhead shapes in a border stops it looking monotonous
-- You can often get away with combining clashing colours if the flowerhead shapes
are the same. (I've seen this done really effectively combining daisies)
-- Spires and umbrels are good counterpoints; plumes are good as filling. Buttons
and daisies are good for adding a sense of definition.

Although structure as described above is the most important consideration in this design approach, there are other factors to consider too.

The texture of foliage adds another dimension, particularly when viewed close-up. There are many aspects to texture - for instance, leaves can be furry, ridged, pointy, glossy etc. Some general points:
-- Plants with leaves that have a very fine texture need to be nearer the front
of a border if you want to be able to appreciate them fully
-- Glossy leaves stand out the most
-- Bright sunlight tends to dull texture so differences aren't as noticeable

Finally, of course there is the consideration of colour. In Piet's design philosophy the choice of colour primarily affects the "mood" of the border. He divides colours into 5 categories and gives advice on how to use each in a border:

Hot colours, which includes reds, yellows and oranges are very strong colours. They're the most dynamic colours so the advice is to use them with caution unless you're deliberately seeking to create a hot-toned border (like the one by Vita illustrated above). They're great for providing a splash of colour in a border. Red is the first colour to disappear at dusk. Dark reds are enigmatic and mysterious, so good to accompany unusual flowers. They're also easier to combine with other colours.

Cool colours, which includes blues and purples, and Sweet colours like pink are more subtle. They appear best in the cool light of early morning. Purple can work well with hot colours as it helps to calm them. Blue is a recessive colour, so is good for adding the perception of depth. Blue and pink are excellent linking colours, but don't overuse the latter as it can be cloying. Pink works best in climates with grey skies and soft light (so not in Australia then!)

Sombre colours are the unusual darker versions of colours, like a very deep dark red or purple. They add depth and mystery and can work well combined with pale colours to startle. However, if you plant too many of them together it creates a very gothic effect... Which might actually be quite fun to experiment with in a tucked away corner! In fact, after a little digging I've discovered there is actually a whole style of "gothic gardens" - this is a good starting point to find out more.

And finally, earthy colours include all the hues of brown and dark greens. This mostly appears only in foliage as there are very few brown flowers. As well the soil is, by definition, an earthy colour! Brown foliage can create magical effects when when lit up by sunlight.

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That's it for the time being. I'm going to hit publish at last on this mammoth post at last(!), although I know it's going to continue to grow as I learn. Any other hints and ideas are very welcome!

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed this site. I am in the process of designing and preparing an herbaceous border and your site has expanded my understanding of this gardening feature.

Anonymous said...

thanks internet!

I am a chinese teacher in china. through google i got your website. I like it and I learn form your blog. I also like herbaceous borders. my email is cnpeony@hotmail.com.

yike

Anonymous said...

I DO NOT KNOW YOU CAN READ IT OR NOT I find it was post in 05.

I want to got more information abut herbaceous borders in your blog but I can not. yike

bentheboiler said...

I worked in one of Piet Oudolf's gardens this past summer - it definitely changed my entire approach to looking at the design of gardens. I'm still in school, and I'm so happy that I was exposed to this as my style and career have yet fully form. I consider him a true genius - everything he says makes complete sense to me. Another somewhat un-sung designer that I recommend is Roy Diblik - he is a plantsmen from the Midwest of the US. His style is similar to Piet's, but unique as well. He is very sensitive to maintenance as well as the moods evoked by certain designs. He also has a book out - Know Maintenance Gardening, in which he high lights some of his "Buddy Plants" as well as some example design schemes.

Unknown said...

Thanks a lot Ben, I've ordered Roy's book. It sounds interesting...