On the border

First published in Homes & Gardens

F your borders lack colour, texture and depth, then it’s an ideal time to plan a new one to give you all-year-round colour, beautifully matched plants and a few surprises along the way.

Don’t be afraid to copy other people’s ideas. You may need to visit a National Trust garden or simply look for inspiration closer to home, seeking out ideas by peeking into neighbouring gardens or simply asking keen gardening friends how they achieved a particular effect that you want to replicate.

Take a camera and notebook with you so that you can take pictures of particular scenes, so you don’t just rely on your memory.

Alternatively, cut out pictures from magazines and cover them with tracing paper, drawing on the key plant shapes you like. You may not be able to use exactly the same plants that you have admired in a magazine, but it will give you an idea of what works shape and height-wise.

When planning, ensure that the border provides year-round interest, not just a mass of blooms in summer which leaves the area looking dull and boring in winter.

Brighten up spring with bulbs and make use of evergreens and shrubs with coloured bark or berries in autumn and winter to prolong interest and keep a shape to the border.

While summer can be a riot of colour, trees and shrubs provide a framework to the border, some structure on which to build seasonal displays. They can also be used individually to create a particular effect such as a focal point.

Of course, the first consideration is your soil – is it acid or alkaline, is your aspect light or shady, is the ground dry or moist? Again, consider plants which have done well in your neighbours’ gardens because they are also likely to do well in yours.

If you want a tree or shrub to add height to a border, use a tripod of canes which can be moved around to give you an idea of where the new addition will fit in best and when choosing a tree, consider its rate of growth and ultimate size.

You don’t want it dominating the border and casting shade over some of your more colourful sun-lovers later in the season.

Try to keep the planting design simple, choosing perhaps large interlocking drifts of plants rather than a mismatched smorgasbord of a lot of little plants which you’ve bought on a whim but which don’t really complement each other.

Consider a themed border for compatible plants, such as a Mediterranean border, or a border with one type of plant such as herbs, which can be intermingled successfully.

Think about repetition in your border as using a particular plant repeatedly makes a particularly showy plant stand out and also helps merge a diverse display.

Alliums, with their stunning lollipop-shaped clusters of flowers can provide a showy display repeated at points along a border, but any repetition will help give the border more visual uniformity.

Use a few large, architectural plants such as phormiums or fatsias to create a dramatic effect, rather than lots of fussy, small plants.

Position plants still in their pots so you can stand back and view the effect from several angles and move them if you need to.

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