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Gardening with Hannah Genders

Border control

Posted on May 15 2010 at 1:10:53 0 comments

Orange poppy


Hannah Genders explains how to create a cottage garden border full of colour. 

At this time of year from late spring to early summer, our traditional cottage garden borders really look at their best. They are sometimes referred to as herbaceous borders, which describes the type of plants that are generally used in them: herbaceous perennials.

A perennial is any plant that comes up year after year and lasts longer than two years; the herbaceous part means the plants in this group are soft stemmed and often produce a lot of green foliage with the flowers.

My new garden has a large cottage garden border at the back and it is looking fabulous at the moment. I have tried to wait and see what comes up this year and not make too many plans just yet about what to plant, but I did get tempted and plant a drift of bulbs through the middle in the autumn when we moved in… it was a bit of a risk as I was unaware of the colour scheme. Anyway, it looks great!

Even though, to be strictly correct, the plants should only be herbaceous perennials, many cottage garden borders have some shrubs in. I have plenty of roses in mine and I am hoping they are the old fashioned varieties with lots of scent even though they don’t always flower for so long.

By adding shrubs you will give some colour and interest through the winter months and you can keep a cottage garden look by going for smaller, more subtle flowers on the shrubs – they are also a great way of adding scent if you use one of the lovely Philadelphus shrubs, or mock orange as it is commonly known.

The traditional herbaceous border was very popular in country houses in the Victorian era, and saw a revival through the work of a designer called Gertrude Jekyll. She designed more than 400 gardens in her lifetime and her use of colour and texture was very creative. These borders were usually designed and planted on a grand scale where large drifts of plants could be used to great effect, and there are still plenty of good examples to visit at this time of year.

Hestercombe in Somerset is a fine example of Jekyll’s work, while Hidcote Manor in the Cotswolds should be seen as much for the yew hedging backdrop as the plants. Closer to home, Packwood House is one of my favourites – pay a visit now, and again in the autumn to see how well they do both seasons with herbaceous perennials.

The type of plants in a cottage garden would generally be very traditional. At my new house I have hardy geraniums coming through, along with some wonderful irises, the perennial cornflower and peonies. They are all squeezed in tightly together and this is ideal for keeping weeds at bay across the border.

I did add a good four inches of mulch at the start of the spring when some of the ground was still clear before the new growth had really taken over. Mulching the soil helps to keep weeds at bay, but also keeps the moisture in the soil as the summer wears on. Another added bonus is that it will improve your soil and increase worm activity – the worms will take the compost into the soil as an added conditioner during the year.

These borders can be thought of as low maintenance when they get to the stage that mine is at, with a completely covered ground, but you do need to dig up the plants and spilt them about every three years.

As the perennial grows and spreads out, the centre of the plant becomes tired and it flowers less and less – by digging up the whole plant, dividing it with either two garden forks or a fork and a spade and replanting the outer portions of the plant, you will completely revive your border. It will mean that in the early days you will have plenty of plants to add back in and fill a new area, and as time goes on you can give away plants to friends and family as you will have too many!

For more information about the gardens I’ve suggested, visit www.hestercombe.com and look for Packwood and Hidcote on www.nationaltrust.org.uk


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