Simon Rickard: Herbaceous borders and perennials for dry climates
Simon gave a brief history of perennial borders in Britain and the subsequent further development of this form of gardening, especially in the United States and Holland. Typically such borders were a feature of grand estates with four or more gardeners, and involved a great deal of work and expertise. They reached the peak of their perfection in early spring. Major requirements:
- 6-8 hours of sun per day
- Beds that are much longer than they are wide
- A width of at least 4 metres, preferably more
- The tallest plants to be ⅔ of the width of the beds
- A backdrop of a hedge or a wall
- Very good soil (as for growing vegetables) with plenty of compost, and mulch which is constantly topped up
- Plenty of water
- Long wet springs, short mild summers and cold winters.
Australian conditions are not suitable for the traditional English herbaceous border, but it is still possible to achieve a full, lush and beautiful garden by avoiding early-spring plants and instead using perennials that flower in late summer and which come from countries with similar climatic conditions to Australia.
- Decide on a ‘look’ and stick to it
- Aim for repeat blocks of the same small number of plants
- Shape and texture are more important than colour
- Make sure all plants will flower at the same time.
Reliable late-summer performers:
- Perovskia (Russian sage)
- Agastache (Humming-bird mint)
- Sedum ‘Autumn joy’
- Calmagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’
- Miscanthus (needs a bit more water)
- Anthemis ‘Susan Mitchell’
- Many salvias, especially Salvia nemorosa
- Catmints, especially ‘Walker’s low’ and ‘Six Hills giant’
- Penstemons, especially P. serrulatus
- Agapanthus – the sterile types which don’t set seed.
- Mixed borders of perennials, bulbs and shrubs can help to keep the bed interesting through every season. Add in winter-flowering bulbs eg crocuses; shrub roses eg damasks, rugosas, species roses (R. moyesii for hips); shrubs such as yuccas, euonymus, euphorbias, cotinus (coppiced to the ground in early spring), cornus, buddleja.