How to create a herbaceous border on a budget

Herbaceous border
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Creating stunning borders is the highlight of having a garden. Seeing those rich beds in full bloom and bursting with colour is what makes all of those hours of weeding and digging worthwhile. But thriving, luscious flower borders can be expensive – especially when you are starting from scratch.

Fortunately there are ways to get rich herbaceous borders on a budget. So let me share my top money-saving tips for frugal flowerbeds that can still take your breath away.

Framework of features

When designing any flower border, you need a framework of strong, reliable specimens that will anchor the planting. These are your permanent fixtures – once these are in place you can work around them with seasonal varieties.

Shrubs, trees and evergreens provide a great base for your flowers, as well as giving the border structure in winter. Plant a few feature specimens throughout the border.

A few smaller garden trees that are sure to brighten up your borders are:

• Acer palmatum (Japanese maple)

• Prunus (cherry)’Kiku-shidare-zakura’

• Salix caprea (Kilmarnock willow)

• Prunus (cherry) ‘Amanogawa’

However, these are not always cheap. You can save money by buying young plants and letting them grow to size, if you have the patience. Or for an instant effect you can try fast-growing shrubs that will quickly fill the empty spaces such as:

• Hydreangea

• Rosa glauca

• Spiraea japonica

Affordable annuals

For fast results, sow annual flowers. These germinate, bloom and set seed all in one season, so they act fast and can transform a bare plot.

They come in all sizes, shapes and colours imaginable, so it’s worth scouring your local garden retailer for seeds that you love.

• Poppy

• Aster

• Cosmos

• Sweet pea

• Zinnia

• Dahlia

• Begonia

• Verbena

• Sweet alyssum

• Sunflower

Pretty perennials

The cheapest way to buy new plants is from seed. But they can take a long time to reach maturity, leaving you with a half-empty bed.

However, there are some varieties that grow fast. These are all strong perennials that will flower in one season:

• Achillea

• Delphinium

• Coreopsis

• Agastache

Sow them in early spring and you can have striking, flowering plants by the summer.

These popular herbaceous border plants will flower the second year after sowing, so it’s worth getting them in the ground too:

• Lupin

• Aquilegia

• Foxglove

Save the seeds

This is a money-saving no-brainer. You’d be amazed how many seeds you can harvest every autumn. The trick is to wait until the plant is just about to release them – take seeds too early and they won’t be viable.

Collect seeds from your existing garden plants as well as the wild. Ask friends and neighbours to donate any spare seeds they have, or arrange a seed swap so you get a wider range of plants for free! Or look out for local seed-swapping schemes and gardening groups.

Store seeds in a dry, airtight container over winter. And remember to label all the packets – there is no way you will remember which is which come spring.


Make your herbaceous border low-maintenance as well as low-cost with self-seeders. These plants freely disperse their seeds every autumn, spreading around the border without your help. Think of them as eternal annuals – you only need to buy them once and they come back every year.

Self-seeders are great for an informal planting style, because they settle into a natural order where each variety will grow in the spot it likes best. Here are a few great options:

• Papaver rhoeas (common poppy)

• Aquilegia

• Angelica archangelica

• Digitalis purpurea

• Myostis sylvatica (forget-me-not)

• Verbena bonariensis

• Eryngium giganteum

• Foeniculum vulgare ‘Giant bronze’

• Lunaria Annua (honesty)

• Chrysanthemum parthenium

Divide perennials and bulbs

Make more plants for free by dividing what’s already in your garden. Large perennials and groups of bulbs can become congested, which reduces their flowering.

Dig them up, split them and replant around the garden for more, and more vigorous, plants. Divide perennial plants in spring or autumn, and bulbs as soon as flowering is finished.

It is possible to create a striking herbaceous border on a budget. You just need some fast-acting plants and a little patience.

Spring is on its way, see my post on spring pollinators:

Or check out my Pinterest board for more ideas:

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  1. 01912671067
    My fervent wish is that someday I might meet David personally – think he is just great, so down to earth and gives such practical advice.
    I am no gardener realise I have just pottered all my life (now 82) but do love flowers of every kind,
    My sister who has a very restful,lovely garden calls me the “Pierepoint of the potted plants” You know who he was – the hangman!! although trying (very trying) to do something with the borders.Limited mobility doesn’t help the cause Don’t get old David – frustrating. Enjoy the Tuesday make-overs your team look a really happy crew and so talented and the people you have helped so deserving. You have given happiness to so many families – lovely.
    Well, I have nattered on and you’re a busy man
    So bye for now
    Greta Heron (Geordie lass from Newcastle Upon Tyne

  2. Many thanks for this helpful page.

    Question – can perennial and hardy annual seeds be sown by broadcasting them straight on the ground & raking over? (once the soil’s warmed up). I don’t currently have a greenhouse or bench where I could prepare trays, plugs etc.

    Thanks 🙂

    1. Hi Ry, Yes that should be fine. Wait until the weather has warmed up a bit though. And double-check on the seed packet that they are suitable for outdoor sowing!

      1. Hah, excellent & timely info, particularly the reminder to check packets for suitability to sow outdoors! many thanks indeed David, much appreciated. Re right degree of warmth – would you think around 10C daylight temps on average, and night-time no lower than say 7 or 8C, high enough?


        1. It’s not the ambient temperature so much as soil temperature, which will depend on soil type (heavy and clay soils are slower to warm up), sunlight levels etc. You can always warm the soil by laying a sheet of black plastic over it for a couple of weeks before sowing. Hope that helps.

  3. Daylilies are a must have. They grow fairly quickly and can be divided every few years for more plants. I have found that lupine and columbine are amazingly even to grow from seed. Just scatter them on the ground and walk away. A great plant to use if you’re trying to fill a void is Tradescantia. It’s aggressive but works great and the bees love it.

  4. David,

    I love your blog and have saved to my desktop. Please could you suggest a smallish Shade tree which will take the sun off our terrace which is faces south west and is too hot to sit out in summer. This should loose it’s leaves in autumn to allow the light back in.

    We have already under planted the bed with your suggestions.


    1. Hi Sande,
      Thanks for your comment, I’m thrilled you like the blog! I would recommend planting a Acer palmatum (Japanese Maple). These are small-ish deciduous trees which lose their leaves in autumn and are easy to care for. I hope this helps!

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