Soft Border

The bright border was the first area I planted when we moved to this garden five years ago. My vision was a firework display of uncompromisingly bright flowers: tulips, euphorbia and alliums in spring, orange and magenta roses and peonies in early summer. It would reach its peak in high summer with gold, vermillion and scarlet day lilies and crocosmia, contrasted with deepest purple buddleias and salvias (you can see it in high summer in this post: Supersonic).

It took a couple of years to get it right. I doubled its depth after a year, to three metres, to balance out its length of twenty metres. In its first summer I made use of dahlias and annuals to fill out the newly-planted shrubs and perennials. There is no need for that now: the perennials have plumped up nicely.

We haven’t had as much sun as I would like this summer, but this doesn’t seem to have held back the bright border. In the softer light it has taken on a slightly different character. The coral and warm orange tones are more prominent than I remember in previous years.

I’m enjoying this softer look. There is time for fireworks later. For now, we can have ease and comfort.

Not only are the colours softer, but the textures and shapes resemble plump cushions and fabrics being draped over one another.

I thought I might share some of my favourite planting combinations with you. This is the English rose ‘Thomas a Becket’ with Geranium ‘Brookside’.

Rose ‘Thomas a Becket’ with Geranium ‘Brookside’ and Geum ‘Hilltop Beacon’

I love the soft inter-tangling of this combination. The rose is perfect for the back of the border. It has a profusion of multi-stemmed magenta flowers. The rose is not especially fragrant, but it is incredibly floriferous: it will not be without flower from now until November. It is a full and tall rose, and its arching stems soften the back of the border. There is one drawback: it is a devil to deadhead. I will have to don long sleeves and gloves. I’m not sure how I am going to fit myself between geranium and rose. Last year, there were still gaps between the planting where I could squeeze between with my secateurs and bucket. These have now been infilled.

Rose’Thomas a Becket’ and Geranium ‘Brookside’

These three plants equal one another in their ability to intertwine. This adds to the soft look of the border right now.

Geranium ‘Brookside’ with Geum ‘Hilltop Beacon’. Rose ‘Thomas a Becket’ behind.

Another combination I love is Euphorbia griffithii ‘Fireglow’ with Geranium ‘Anne Thomson’. The two equal one another for vibrancy and warmth. The euphorbia is burning orange, whilst the geranium is glowing magenta. They are both abuzz with bees.

Euphorbia griffithii ‘Fireglow’ with Geranium ‘Anne Thomson’

The euphorbia and the geranium have decided to melt into one another’s arms to make one hummock. Here they are in a fiery embrace, with the cooler rose-and-geranium combination behind.

Euphorbia griffithii ‘Fireglow’ with Geranium ‘Anne Thomson’ in the foreground; Rose ‘Thomas a Becket’ and Geranium ‘Brookside’ behind.

Geranium ‘Anne Thomson’ oozes all over the border. Here she is again with one of my Top 3 English roses, ‘Benjamin Britten’ (you can see more of this gorgeous rose in this post, The Elusive Benjamin Britten).

Rose ‘Benjamin Britten’ with Geranium ‘Anne Thomson’, Centaurea ‘Jordy’ and Alchemilla mollis

I love the geraniums and alchemilla spilling out over the front of the border. This feeling of abundance is what I love in a flower border.

Clockwise from top left: Geranium ‘Brookside’, Geum ‘Hilltop Beacon’, Rose ‘Thomas a Becket’, Peony ‘Karl Rosenfield’, Centaurea ‘Jordy’, Geranium ‘Anne Thomson’ and Achemilla mollis

There are no spaces to fill. There is no weeding to do, because weeds can’t get established when the border is already so full.

I have employed my usual tactic of planting in groups of at least three of the same plant. The exception is peonies. One peony produces ten to twenty flowers at maturity. When the flowers go over, the foliage provides interest and support for other plants.

There is still plenty to come: in and amongst are hemerocallis (day lilies), crocosmia and phlox.

There will be gold and orange and scarlet and deep blue-purple, but for now, I am enjoying these softer tones of coral and pink, and lilac-blue. A bright border can be a soft border too.

All of the named varieties of plants are highly recommended for a low-fuss border. I divide my perennials every three or four years. The roses need at least a weekly dead-head, and I will give them a feed of blood-and-bone at the end of June. They get a thick mulch of well-rotted manure in winter, and a prune. That is pretty much all the maintenance this border needs.

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39 Comments Add yours

  1. Pastels are wasted on me, I much prefer bold palettes of pink, orange and purple in the garden – I particularly love your combination of Rosa Thomas A Beckett and Geranium Brookside. Very jealous of how much is in bloom already in your garden, we must be about 3 weeks behind up here! X

    1. I was thinking things are quite late here – the peonies especially. We are having a bit of a non-summer so far!

    2. Angel says:

      Yes I’m with you both – colours all the way for me too!

  2. janesmudgeegarden says:

    I would just love to have a garden like your bright border, Ali. It’s soft and billowy and full, just as a garden should be. Must be lovely to wander there in the mornings before work.

    1. It is one of my favourite times, Jane.

  3. Your border has such a feeling of that quintessential English cottage garden, so beautiful and bursting with growth and colour (and scent!). It’s gorgeous. I’m with you on the close planting to banish weeds, I do exactly the same in the veg patch, which makes harvesting – like your deadheading – a little tricky but it’s definitely worth it. πŸ™‚

    1. That is lovely to hear, Jane. Yes, I love a full border, and a full veg patch!

  4. Beautiful combinations!

  5. Anonymous says:

    Gorgeous colours! I have seed of Fireglow and am going to give it a try….

    1. Oh, how exciting! I’d be interested to know how easy it is to raise from seed.

  6. Delightful I must come back for another look but need to go and garden now.

    1. Oh good! A woman after my own heart! I love that urge that you just have to get out there now!

  7. bcparkison says:

    You may have answered this but how do you keep the day lilies, crocosmia and, in my space, mexican petuna from taking over. I have dug out truck loads of each and you can’t tell I ever did.

    1. Gosh, yours must be really well established, and well suited to your garden! I just have to divide mine every three or four years. If you have had a good clear-out, you might find them easier to keep on top of now.

      1. bcparkison says:

        Really can’t even tell that I dug out a ruck load last fall.

  8. Wow, Ali! I can’t believe this garden of your is only five years old!!! It looks like a product of decades of planning and work – now I’m even more fascinated than before!

    1. Aw, thank you Tatiana! Yes, it amazes me how quickly a garden can get established. It was the same in my old garden – I only lived there for just under four years, but when I moved it looked mature. I think these roses and herbaceous perennials love our clay soil.

  9. Heyjude says:

    Your border is fab. Three meters would be half the width of my garden, but I do like a wide border. I think I have Brookside, but not in flower as yet. Blue geraniums are the best, though my garden is full of pink ones!

    1. That is one thing I have learnt – I would sacrifice lawn for border every time. We have the luxury of space here, but in a smaller garden I would still hog the space for planting. You have a lovely garden layout, Jude.

      1. Heyjude says:

        Thanks Ali, I am still considering removing the rest of the lawn πŸ˜…

  10. Ann Mackay says:

    Your border is a wonderfully rich tapestry of colour! Love it! πŸ™‚

  11. Jo Shafer says:

    This is the same effect I’ve been developing in my gardens, to varying degrees of success. The main perennial beds are shadier now that the lilac and a dogwood have matured. I keep pruning them back, reshaping them so as not to damage the natural form, but perhaps I should widen the bed a bit? Add lower growing plants in front? Um . . . getting a bit old for that much work!

    1. I have found another technique of widening a border which I am yet to try – laying out cardboard and killing the grass that way. Much easier than lifting turf!

  12. susurrus says:

    Heavenly. You’ve achieved such a lot in five years. You already have one of the nicest gardens where roses grow with perennials in the country.

    1. Oh my goodness, Susan, that is a very generous comment, and especially coming from you with your rose knowledge. I am not worthy, but thank you for your kindness!

  13. Lovely, lovely, lovely! “There are no spaces to fill. There is no weeding to do, because weeds can’t get established when the border is already so full.” My approach exactly πŸ™‚

    1. It’s a win-win situation, isn’t it?

  14. Cathy says:

    Oh for 3 metre deep borders! At least here mine are nearly full to capacity, which is wgat I have been aiming for although editing may be needed in due course! Your planting combinations are gorgeous and it shows that with a bit of forward thinking it doesn’t take long to establish a good border. Thanks for sharing yours, Ali

  15. gaiainaction says:

    Very beautiful Ali, and just when I am looking for ideas for next year’s borders in my garden. I love your colour combinations.

    1. Thank you! Glad you like these colours.

  16. nancy marie allen says:

    Your border looks amazing! Your use of hardy geraniums in blue and purple makes all those hot colors pop!

    1. I love hardy geraniums for exactly that reason.

  17. Ali, I wish I could visit your garden! It looks so peaceful and tranquil, and I was especially struck by the combination of blues and oranges and reds in the pictures. I love these layers.

    1. You would always be most welcome in my garden, Shelly! If you are ever planning a trip to the UK, we have a spare room! I would love to spend time.

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