When we moved to our new garden, I had a vision. We had a long stretch of post-and-rail fence which I decided would become my bright border.
Here is what I saw in my mind:
Firework explosions of colour, of plush textures that added sparkle and drama. Orange and gold tulips and bright green euphorbia in the spring, followed by crimson peonies and fire-engine poppies. Arching stems of indigo buddleia and spires of hollyhocks. Tumbling roses and clouds of phlox, starbursts of lychnis and hemerocallis, and spikes of lupins and salvia. Vibrant green spikes of crocosmia and pillows of geraniums and alchemilla. All would be alive with bees and butterflies.
And here is what we had:
Three huge sycamores, underplanted with a few ailing shrubs, which, when I wobbled them, came away in my hand, their pathetic root-balls still pot-shaped.
The first job was to get rid of the sycamores. I know. But, in between the sycamores were a stunning lime and a mountain ash, and they needed to breathe.
This is what it looked like one year on, in February (first pic); the second pic is in high summer, planted up with lupins, phlox, rudbeckia, hollyhocks, poppies, cosmos and dahlias; but as you can see from the third pic (looking across from the dahlia bed) it was still looking a bit thin on the ground.
In the second winter I doubled the width of the border. This is what it started to look like:
It was getting there, but it was still quite low, at waist-height.
It was in the third year that I got the height, from the buddleia, euphorbia and roses at the back. The perennials were bulking up nicely, and, I didn’t need many annuals at all. I hoiked them out in late June to make way for the ever-expanding hardy geraniums, phlox, salvias, lychnis and helenium.
This is where we were at in the summer of 2017, three years on, and pretty much what I had in mind:
Here are the key plants:
For height and structure:
Buddleia davidii ‘Royal Red’, Buddleia davidii ‘Black Knight’, Euphorbia sikkimensis, Euphorbia schlingii, Euphorbia palustris, Euphorbia griffithii ‘Fireglow’, Rosa ‘Summer Song’, Rosa ‘Thomas a Beckett’, Rosa ‘Benjamin Britten’, Helenium ‘Moerheim Beauty’, Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’.
For wild bursts of colour:
Phlox paniculata ‘Purple Flame’, Phlox paniculata ‘Starburst’, Phlox paniculata ‘Coral Flame’, Penstemon ‘Pensham’s Plum Jerkum’, Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’, Hemerocallis ‘Bonanza’, Lychnis coronaria, Geranium ‘Anne Thomson’, Geranium ‘Orion’,
And now this border runs itself. All I have to do is a bit of deadheading through the summer, dividing the larger perennials in autumn and mulching in winter.