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If you want more bang for your buck, look no further than herbaceous perennials. A perennial is a plant that survives for over a year, but may die back to ground level after the growing season ready to spring back up next year.

With a growth cycle that runs like clockwork, year after year, these perennials burst into flower in the warmer months, die back over winter, and perform the same amazing ritual again with each passing year. Plant them properly, and you will enjoy years of delight from these marvellous plants.

Once established, many perennials are relatively hardy and most will thrive with little attention, making them a great choice for budding gardeners. All they need is a little deadheading, some timely pruning and, occasionally, division of one plant into two or more to avoid overcrowding.

Plant placement

Herbaceous perennials are usually planted in a wide border or bed. They are often arranged in size order, with towering blooms at the back, ground-hugging varieties at the front and middling plants in between.

This prevents taller plants obscuring smaller ones, depriving them of much-needed sunlight. It also forms an attractive tiered effect, improving the overall impact of the border.

Rose-petal-salad-2

There are a huge array of plants to choose from in each height category so here are a few suggestions to get you on your way to creating the perfect herbaceous border.

Taller plants (1.2-2 metres)

Acanthus mollis (Bear’s breeches) Handsome upright plants with large glossy leaves with striking purple and white flowers in summer.

• Sun – Full sun, partial shade or full shade
• Position – South, North, West or East facing
• Exposure – Exposed or sheltered
• Moisture – Well-drained
• Soil – Loam, chalk or sand

They can take over your border so do keep an eye on them and if necessary removed rooted spreading stems, which you can always give to friends and family

Lavender-sprigs-in-lemon-drink
Lavender-sprigs-in-lemon-drink

If your border is in full sun, Alcea (hollyhocks) add elegance and texture as well as old fashioned charm with their crinkle petal flowers but do give them space for air to move around their stems to avoid getting rust on their leaves.

• Sun – Full sun
• Position – South or West facing
• Exposure – Sheltered or exposed
• Moisture – Well-drained
• Soil – Chalk, sand or loam

If you want full on romanticism then Delphiniums are the plants for you!  Best known for their blue flower varieties they are actually available in a wide range of colours.  Tall varieties will need cane supports from mid spring to stop stems falling over but if you have the courage to cut them down to almost ground level after flowering you could be rewarded with a second flush of flowers in the autumn!

• Sun – Full sun
• Position – South, West or East facing
• Exposure – Sheltered
• Moisture – Moist but well-drained
• Soil – Loam, chalk or sand

Lavender-sprigs-in-lemon-drink

Medium plants (50cm-1.1 metres)

Lavender-sprigs-in-lemon-drink

Bearded iris will give you year round interest with their striking evergreen spike shape leaves and reward you with a glorious show of spring colour year after year if you plant them shallowly with their knobbly roots (known as rhizomes) exposed for the sun to warm them in August/September and don’t let other plants shade them

• Sun – Full sun
• Position – South, East or West facing
• Exposure – Exposed or sheltered
• Moisture – Well-drained
• Soil – Sand, chalk or loam

Astrantia major (Hattie’s pincushion) deserve to be more widely grown with their beautiful flower colours ranging from the purest of whites to the deepest dark ruby reds, growing on stems around 60cm tall.  These too will reward you with more flowers if cut back after initial flowering.

• Sun – Full sun or partial shade
• Position – South, North, West or East facing
• Exposure – Sheltered or exposed
• Moisture – Moist but well-drained
• Soil – Loam or clay

Lavender-sprigs-in-lemon-drink
Lavender-sprigs-in-lemon-drink

Rudbeckia (Coneflower) are cheerful, vibrant undemanding late summer flowering plants with daisy-like yellow or orange flowers much loved by pollinating insects.

• Sun – Full sun or partial shade
• Position – South or West facing
• Exposure – Sheltered or exposed
• Moisture – Moist but well-drained
• Soil – Loam, clay or chalk

• Sun – Full sun or partial shade
• Position – South, North, West or East facing
• Exposure – Sheltered or exposed
• Moisture – Moist but well-drained
• Soil – Loam or clay

Low-growing plants (up to 50cm)

Dahlias offer a huge array of colours and shapes, with plenty of dwarf cultivars for containers or to continue the tiered aesthetic in your borders.

• Sun – Full sun
• Position – South or West facing
• Exposure – Sheltered
• Moisture – Moist but well-drained
• Soil –  Loam, clay or sand

Lavender-sprigs-in-lemon-drink
Lavender-sprigs-in-lemon-drink

These low-maintenance, semi-evergreens are a great choice of delicate spring colour. Primroses are sure to add the finishing touch to a wildflower-inspired border.

• Sun – Full sun or partial shade
• Position – South, North, West or East facing
• Exposure – Sheltered
• Moisture – Moist but well-drained
• Soil – Chalk, clay, sand and loam

Campanula portenschlagiana  (wall bellflower) will bring some evergreen colour to the front or your border, with violet-blue flowers in summer.

• Sun – Full sun or partial shade
• Position – South, North, West or East facing
• Exposure – Exposed or sheltered
• Moisture – Moist but well-drained
• Soil –  Loam, chalk or sand

Lavender-sprigs-in-lemon-drink

Flowering schedule

Thinking carefully about the flowering times of your chosen plants will help you achieve a border full of non-stop colour from spring through to the first frosts so that as one group of plants finish flowering another group takes over.

Year-round structure

As most herbaceous perennials disappear over winter it’s a good idea to add some strong structure evergreen shrubs for year round interest and don’t overlook early flowering bulbs like snowdrops whose flowers are a delight to behold towards the end of a long cold winter.

Planting the border

Lavender-sprigs-in-lemon-drink

Herbaceous perennials benefit from the addition of organic matter to the soil before planting such as well-rotted farmyard manure.

Adding blood, fish and bone fertiliser can give you the edge in keeping your new and existing perennials happy.

For a bit of a wow impact try grouping several of the same plants together, making sure they have enough space to grow and spread in subsequent years and for a well thought out design place some of the same plants in other parts of the border; known as repeat planting it’s a trick used by garden designers to draw the eye serenely along the border to create a harmonious planting scheme.

Once the plants are in the ground, they’ll need a good watering-in, even if the ground is wet and rain forecast. This helps settle the soil as roots need to make contact with the soil and when you’ve done all that that don’t forget to take some time to stand back and admire your handiwork.

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

Or check out my Pinterest board for more ideas:

spring pollinators
Spring pollinators
Pinterest
Pinterest Board


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