Designing Herbaceous Borders

Sometimes, when we’re invited to work in large gardens, the client is happy for us to create set-piece features or stylised areas. In this garden, in Hilton, Derbyshire, we’ve created a number of different sections over the last three years – a rose garden; a croquet lawn and knot garden; and a Mediterranean garden. But the feature we’re going to describe in some detail here is a pair of symmetrical herbaceous borders.

The brief was a simple one – “change the view of the main lawn from the front of the house”.

With a brief as open as that, sometimes it’s hard to know where to start. The view from the house down the main lawn was interrupted by a couple of old flower beds (pictured below).

We decided to remove these old beds to allow an unhindered view down to a large lake and a pine tree, 90 metres from the house at the end of the lawn. To frame this view and to provide a relaxing seating area we designed a pair of deep, herbaceous planting beds which took the form of two crescents facing each other. The view to the pond goes straight through the gap in the middle, making the pine tree the focal point (pictured below during construction).

To ensure these two beds didn’t end up looking like two curved walls dropped in the middle of the lawn, we designed them to start off very low and gradually get taller as they curved around, then get shorter again as they curved back. This design gives the beds the appearance of rising gently out of the lawn and also gives the viewer situated between the two beds unrestricted views around the rest of the garden.

To increase these views further, we interspersed staggered timber uprights along the rear edge of the beds (below, during construction), and we filled in the remaining rear edges with Prunus lusitanica hedging.

Our clients expressed a preference for mixed planting with plenty of flowers and colour all year round. To accomplish this, our planting scheme included some large structural shrubs, including Cornus alba ‘Midwinter Fire’, Philadelphus coronaria ‘Aurea’, Wiegela florida ‘Variegata’, Fatsia japonica and Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’.

These were accompanied by a whole host of smaller herbaceous plants, including Monarda ‘Cambridge Scarlet’, Achillea ‘Cerise Queen’, Peony ‘Festiva maxima’, Salvia nemorosa ‘East Friesland’ and Heuchera ‘Blackberry Jam’. Further structure and winter interest came from Buxus sempervirens spheres, Helleborus orientalis and Lavandula ‘Hidcote’.

This planting was interspersed with spring bulbs: Allium, Narcissus, Glanthus and four varieties of Tulip. In total, 70 different plant species were used, filling two beds of 25 metres in length and a maximum width of 3.5 metres.

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