Monthly Archives: December 2015

Perennial plans

Small herbaceous border with Anthemis tinctoria 'Sauce Hollandaise', Salvia nemorosa 'Ostfriesland', Nepata faassenii 'Walker's Low' - © John Glover/GAP Photos

Small herbaceous border with Anthemis tinctoria ‘Sauce Hollandaise’, Salvia nemorosa ‘Ostfriesland’, Nepata faassenii ‘Walker’s Low’ – © John Glover/GAP Photos

Flower borders are intrinsic to most people’s gardens, and by choosing perennial plants you’re opting for one of the easier approaches. Annuals need sowing each spring whereas perennials, once planted, will merrily produce blooms year on year. Seek out star performers for your location and soil type – there’s never been a better excuse to nose in your neighbours’ gardens! What grows and flowers well for them is likely to do so for you, and this handy shortcut will save you years of trial and error. Lupins, aquilegias, cranesbill geraniums and delphiniums are just a few good backbone perennials. With a little home-grown research you’ll create borders to be proud of in no time. Here’s how to plant yours up:

Creating a new perennials border under apple trees. Woman marking bed with string line - © Robert Mabic/GAP Photos

Creating a new perennials border under apple trees. Woman marking bed with string line – © Robert Mabic/GAP Photos

First mark the outline of your border. A straight edge is simply defined with a string line. Use lengths of hosepipe to create a template for curved borders.

Creating a new perennials border under apple trees. Man digging along border markings. Removing turf - © Robert Mabic/GAP Photos

Creating a new perennials border under apple trees. Man digging along border markings. Removing turf – © Robert Mabic/GAP Photos

Lift any turf off the new border if designing it in a lawned area. Ensure the site is also free from perennial weeds. Dig these out or treat them with a systemic herbicide.

Woman with pots of perennials and grasses ready for planting in newly prepared bed. New perennial border under apple trees. Persicaria amplexicaulis 'Firetail', Salvia pratensis, Panicum virgatum 'Northwind', Centranthus ruber, Knautia arvensis, Pennisetum alopecuroides - © Robert Mabic/GAP Photos

Woman with pots of perennials and grasses ready for planting in newly prepared bed. New perennial border under apple trees. Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Firetail’, Salvia pratensis, Panicum virgatum ‘Northwind’, Centranthus ruber, Knautia arvensis, Pennisetum alopecuroides – © Robert Mabic/GAP Photos

Select your chosen perennials, choosing robust varieties that mix in well with your desired colour scheme. Consider the longevity of the blooms, and the season of interest you are targeting.

Creating a new perennials border under apple trees. Woman planning and setting out plants in their containers to find the best arrangement and correct spacing. Knautia arvensis, Pennisetum alopecuroides, Salvia pratensis, Panicum vulgare 'Northwind' - © Robert Mabic/GAP Photos

Creating a new perennials border under apple trees. Woman planning and setting out plants in their containers to find the best arrangement and correct spacing. Knautia arvensis, Pennisetum alopecuroides, Salvia pratensis, Panicum vulgare ‘Northwind’ – © Robert Mabic/GAP Photos

Lay the pots on the border, spacing the plants appropriately and in accordance with their final heights. In general, a gradient of tall plants at the back and short ones at the front works best.

Creating a new perennials border under apple trees. Woman planting Pennisetum alopecuroides - © Robert Mabic/GAP Photos

Creating a new perennials border under apple trees. Woman planting Pennisetum alopecuroides – © Robert Mabic/GAP Photos

Water your plants well before planting them, and tease out any congested roots. Plant to the same depth as in the pot, then firm and water in well. An organic mulch will add nutrients and retain moisture.

And so to bed

Woman selecting mixture of Primula and Polyanthus within a garden nursery - © GAP Photos

Woman selecting mixture of Primula and Polyanthus within a garden nursery – © GAP Photos

It’s tempting to think that everything comes to a halt in winter – after all, it’s the time when most plants enter a natural dormancy. But there are some plants that spurn the seasonal gloom, defiantly flowering month after month to lift those chilled spirits. Winter bedding plants come in a variety of vivid colours to pierce through the low light levels. The strongly reflexed flowers of hardy cyclamen can be found in shades of pink and purple, as well as pure white. Their marbled heart-shaped leaves add even more bang for your buck. Position them in an open area with good air flow, to deter any signs of rotting. Pansies and their smaller-flowered relatives, violas, come in every conceivable colour. Their outward ‘faces’ smile out from pots and baskets – just keep them regularly deadheaded to ensure a succession of blooms. Primulas will sit through the snow completely unscathed, ready to push into flower as soon as the New Year sunshine strengthens. If you fancy something a little different, why not look at ornamental kales? Their bold rosettes of pink, purple or cream leaves often surrounded by a deep green ring of leaves, make for a vivid and eye-catching display. And let’s not forget winter heathers. These invaluable low-growing shrubs produce a succession of tiny bell-shaped flowers on upright wiry stems. Nectar-rich, the blooms will be visited in spring by early-emerging bumblebees and other essential pollinators, making them an essential ingredient for supporters of wildlife.

Head and shoulders above

There are times in garden designs where a simple low hedge just won’t cut the mustard, and this is where a pleached formation may well be more suitable. Knee-high hedges are excellent for gently marking boundaries or edging potager-style beds, but they offer very little privacy and no height impact. Pleached trees are essentially ‘hedges on stilts’ – where the lower trunk is clear of branches and the upper shoots are trained into a two-dimensional wall of foliage. Incredibly stylish, they also offer functional benefits, too:

A round gravel garden cut out of a sunny lawn, encircled by a pleached hornbeam hedge. Summer - © Nicola Stocken/GAP Photos

A round gravel garden cut out of a sunny lawn, encircled by a pleached hornbeam hedge. Summer – © Nicola Stocken/GAP Photos

This circular bed is given instant seclusion with a wall of pleached hornbeams. Offering a sanctuary in which to escape with a good book, a chilled glass and a couple of hours to spare.

Potager with raised beds of vegetables and lavender, bench and thyme path - © GAP Photos

Potager with raised beds of vegetables and lavender, bench and thyme path – © GAP Photos

Town houses are often overlooked by neighbours’ windows. Owners reluctant to install a hedge that would eat away at valuable ground space can instead utilise pleached plants for instant privacy.

Pleached Field Maples in Autumn - © Fiona Rice/GAP Photos

Pleached Field Maples in Autumn – © Fiona Rice/GAP Photos

Pleached trees offer structure and permanency at all times of the year. These field maples, Acer campestre, have foliage that turns golden yellow before falling to reveal an interwoven shield of branches.