Extending your borders’ season of interest

Extending your borders’ season of interest


Garden designer Fi Boyle provides her professional advice on how to create a garden that is low maintenance yet has interest throughout the year…

The thing I get asked for most by my clients is a garden that has a long season of interest and a low level of maintenance. With careful planning, this is possible to achieve. However, there is no such thing as no maintenance and it is often the small amount of maintenance that brings longevity to a garden, particularly where perennials are concerned.

When planning a garden, each plant regardless of its type has to earn its place. What does it bring to the garden and how/when does it die back? This is key if you want to have a garden that has interest throughout the year.

A well planned border should have something to catch your eye from really early on in the year all the way through to late autumn. In the winter, it is your evergreen structure – be it hedges or topiary along with the strategically placed evergreen shrubs such as Sarcococca confusa or Garrya elliptica – that takes over and provides the
main interest. 

One of the earliest to flower is the Hellebore and by cutting the old leaves back in January, the flowers are then framed by the new season’s growth and can be seen more clearly. Bulbs, too, are a great way of achieving early interest in any garden as well as adding a further dimension to your border throughout the year: there is a bulb for almost every month of the year. 

I often underplant roses with Iris reticulata as they can easily be seen before the foliage has got going, or peonies with Iphelion or Scilla as the blue flowers are set off beautifully against the plumy brown leaf of the emerging peony.

Underplanting shrubs is vital. There are lots of plants that grow well in dappled shade and will form a carpet under the shrubs well before the shrubs themselves are out. I particularly love Lathyrus vernus, Corydalis, Epidemiums and Dicentra, to name but a few, all of which thrive in dappled shade. Alliums, too, are fantastic scattered through a border with Allium hollandicum flowering in June followed by Allium sphaerocephalon taking up the mantle into July and August. This is what is described as succession planting: as one flower fades another forms and takes over from it.

On the whole, most gardens tend to spring into life in April with spring blossom and early flowering shrubs which should be underplanted with a carpet of woodland style early flowering plants. Then by May, most of the perennials are emerging and really starting to fill out and by June all the usual suspects such as Roses and Peonies are in full bloom. 

It is during this period that it is important to get out into the garden and deadhead your plants as this encourages a second flush, thus prolonging the season. Remember that some perennials have fabulous seedheads if left, whereas others look scruffy and need to be cut back as soon as they are over. 

As the summer moves on, most people find that by the end of July their gardens are not looking as good as they would like – perhaps even a little bit jaded. Fortunately, there are lots of plants from which to choose to extend the life of your borders from mid-summer well into the autumn. These include Astrantia, Campanula, Phlox, Helleniums, Aster, Anemone, Sanguisorba, Perovskia and Gillenia, to name but a few. Choose plants with good seedheads such as Achillea, Eryngium, Echinops, Monarda and Rudbeckia that can be left standing. You could also consider adding in a few grasses which give great winter shape and form as well as bringing movement into the garden.

The best way to extend the flowering season is to have a good look at your borders and check when most of your plants flower. By doing this, you will see where your seasonal gaps are. It is well worth taking photographs to remind yourself and keeping a notebook so you know where you need to put in new plants in the autumn. There are lots of plants that have a relatively short season of interest and you should still use these but mix them in with other plants which have a longer season. Another way of extending the season of interest is by scattering through a few plants such as Aquilegia, Papaver, Gaura lindheimeri and
Verbena bonariensis.

A border is not just about the flowers but also the foliage. This is equally important as a garden is about texture and form as well as colour and scent. So make sure that you mix in enough evergreen plants such as Daphne, Euphorbia and plants with good foliage such as Hostas, Rogersia and Ferns

Traditionally, gardens used to be cut down in the autumn but now it is better to tidy your garden in autumn – cutting down anything that is broken or looks scruffy – but letting the rest stand. This not only gives you more to look at late in the year but can also help protect some plants from the winter as well as being
good for wildlife. 

So, with a little regular maintenance and strategic planning, your garden can look fabulous right through the year.    

Fi Boyle Garden Landscape Design & Consultancy, Stourton: 01747 840202 / 07787 913027 / BA12 6QD / fiboylegardendesign.com

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