One of the most practical solutions to the perennial conundrum of year round colour in the garden without too much work is a well structured Mixed Border. Unlike a Herbaceous Border or a Shrubbery, a mixed border, as the name suggests, uses a wide range of plants of all types from ground cover and bulbs to large shrubs or even small trees. This wide choice gives you great scope to provide flowers over a longer period but also interest from contrasting shapes and sizes of plants. The challenge with all that choice is keep the border under control and Mixed but not Messy. The answer is in the phrase “well structured” and this means an element of planning, resisting the temptation to visit the nursery or garden centre on the first fine day and buy whatever catches your eye!
Structure in the border comes from the permanent, woody trees and shrubs, both deciduous and evergreen, plus a few robust perennials like Phormium (New Zealand flax) and Bamboo. These are like the skeleton of the border on which the more transient planting is supported. And like a skeleton there are two different formats the structure can take. Firstly and more formally, around the outside to contain and restrain an explosion of softer plants – typically using low evergreen hedging to divide up a larger space. Alternatively and, this is more common in a mixed border, small trees and shrubs are positioned throughout the planting. They do not have to be all the same variety or even the same shape and height, but the key is to space the structural plants fairly evenly through the border to give balance and a sense of unity. For example a small flowering tree might be the focal point, emerging from a sea of cottage garden perennials, and complemented on either side by mid-height evergreen shrubs, anchoring the whole scheme to the ground.
Decide on the trees and shrubs first, how many, how big, deciduous or evergreen and when you want them to flower. Only when the structure is in place (at least in your mind) can you start to fill in the gaps with perennials, bulbs and bedding to give you colour through the year. Make your borders mixed but not messy and they will give you joy all year.
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Happy Gardening from Alison