Beautiful Borders | Gardening with Geoff Moss

Geoff Moss

Welcome to another last article of the series. I cannot believe I’m coming to the end of my second year with Northern Life so as we have been exploring different projects this year I thought we would take another look at a project we have touched on earlier in the year but I will put a different angle on it this time. So this time I thought we could look at borders in the garden but where
we looked at renovating a border last time, this time we will look at creating a new border.

In your garden you may have an area which needs something adding or perhaps you have a paved area or lawn area which is too large and blank so the ideal solution is to put a border in. This is because there are many different variations that can be added with a border from various colour ranges to any size you wish to a range of themes including: alpines, herbaceous perennials, shrubs and trees, bedding and low maintenance; plus you can explore parts of the world as well by having country themes including: Japanese, Italian, Provencal (French), South African and Australian. This gives a border a unique advantage over other features in the garden in its versatility.

The process starts believe it or not inside or in your head. this is because a new border needs a lot of planning before it can be created. First thing to do is look at where the border is going and take
note of the weather conditions (sun, shade, windy, sheltered etc.) then take note of the ground conditions (heavy soil, light soil, free draining, water retentive etc.) and have a think about what sort
of plants will grow in these conditions. For example, alpines will love a free draining sunny and windy spot whereas herbaceous perennials prefer a moist humus rich soil in a sunny but sheltered
position; so this will give you an idea of what planting theme you will need to follow. If you have a particular liking for a type of plant that doesn’t like the conditions you have in your garden, for
example Rhododendrons, camellias and azaleas that prefer damp sheltered and semi-shaded conditions but you live on top of a sunny hillside, you can try to replicate those conditions but it can be a lot of work so is best left for a more experienced gardener or till you have more experience yourself. Much better and much easier to cater your planting to the conditions in your garden.

After looking at all the different conditions in your garden and site of your border you can choose a size and shape for the border. To do this you will need to look at the proportions of the surrounding garden and choose a size that looks right in relation to other features around it e.g. patio, lawn, other borders etc. Don’t make your border so big it overshadows other features but don’t make it so small it looks pinched and insignificant either. Once you have chosen a size for your border then decide on a shape and again go about it in the same way, don’t come up with a
ridiculous shape that looks wrong in amongst the other features but neither should you just make the border a plain boring shape – the exception here being that shape may fit the design of the garden e.g. a square or rectangle is a plain shape but fits just right with a  contemporary design, a starburstor cloud shape is silly but fits well with an eclectic design – so think about the shape of your border carefully and draw it out a few times either on paper or on the ground (use rope or a suitable spray paint) if you need to in order to help you visualise it.

Once you know the size and shape of your border and what sort of plants will grow in your desired position, perhaps from looking in books or magazines or speaking to friends and neighbours or
maybe even from past experience, you can start looking at the layout of the border. This will depend on a number of things – position and orientation of the border: sloping, flat, north facing, exposed etc. Type of plants – shrubs, perennials, alpines etc; Size of plants, single type or mixture of plants. Make a note of as many different factors as you can for your chosen plants and border
then you can decide on a layout by choosing how you would like the border to look but also the best way for the  border to be shown off. So to do this it is best to either draw the border on a piece
of paper and represent the plants with a symbol or shape or, if you have the plants already place them on the border area itself but still in their pots so you can move them around. Next you will
need to work out the best position for the largest or tallest plants you might use, maybe that is at the back or it could be in the middle depending on where you will see the border from, then
choose the next size of plants down and position them in and around the largest plants and keep going until you get to the smallest plants at the front of the border or the most prominent
position. If your plants are all the same size or height e.g. alpines, bedding; you may wish to create patterns or groups in your planting plan to display the plants to best effect.

The final part in the process is to actually dig out the border and plant it up so to do this simply mark out your desired shape in the area it is to be fitted using rope or a suitable marker spray then remove the old surface (grass, paving, rubble and debris) and prepare the soil area. A border in a lawn will simply need the grass skimming off but where there has been paving you may need to dig down further to remove the hardcore base (if there was one) and likewise with other surfaces deeper preparation may be required. Once the old surface has been removed you should prepare the soil according to the type of plants you wish to put in. Alpines need a particular mix of soil grit and compost, woodland plants need a humus rich soil and so on. Once the soil is prepared, simply lay out then plant according to your prepared design taking a look at them as you do to ensure they look right in situ as well as on paper (move the plants round if needed before planting them). Then you can plant the plants, water them in if needed and enjoy your new border.

Join me next time as I start my third year with Northern Life and I will be exploring gardening techniques starting with the dreaded weeding but fear not; I will be looking at methods and facts that will help make the subject more interesting and easier to do.

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