FLOWER BED: PLANNING
THE FLOWER BORDER
Ch. 14, pp. 2 - 6
[ Introduction: history
| diseases defined| conditions
| symptoms |
Much of the excitement of creating an herbaceous border
lies in its great flexibility of design. In form, placement, and
selection of plants, the contemporary border follows few rigid
rules and allows fullest expression of the gardener's taste.
The first step in planning the material for an
all-season, mixed perennial border is to select key plants for
line, mass, color, and dependability. Line is the silhouette or
outline of a plant, mass is its shape or denseness, and
dependability refers to its ability to remain attractive with a
minimum of problems. Garden books and catalogues can be very
useful for reference.
The most attractive flower borders are those which are
located in front of a suitable background such as a fence,
shrubbery, or a building. In some cases, tall flowers such as
hollyhocks or sunflower may serve a dual purpose as flowers in the
border and as background plants. Annual or perennial flowers of
medium height may serve as background plants for a short border
A general rule, unless the garden is very spacious or
formal, is to avoid a ruler-straight front edge. A gentle to
boldly sweeping curve, easily laid out with a garden hose, is best
even along a fence, and the border can taper as it recedes from
the main viewing point if an effect of distance is desired. The
deeper the curve the slower the eye moves and the greater will be
the visual enjoyment. A border outlined with bricks or flat stones
set flush with the soil is better than a steeply cut lawn edge
which must be trimmed after mowing.
Even the advanced gardener finds it advantageous to
plan a border to scale on graph paper. The hardest task,
organizing the selection of plants, will be simplified if only two
main mass forms are considered: drifts and clumps. Drifts are
elongated groupings of a plant that flow through sections of the
border. Clumps consist of circular groupings of a variety, or a
single large plant such as a peony. The length of drifts and the
diameter of clumps, as well as their heights, should be varied for
best effect, and the dimensions should always be in proportion to
the overall size of the border.
Establish plants in groups large enough to form masses
of color or texture. As a rule, five to seven plants will create
the desired effect. A large delphinium or peony will be of
sufficient size to be attractive, but a random collection of
different small- to medium-sized plants will present a
disorganized, checkerboard appearance. Each group of flowers
should have an irregular shape. These masses of color and texture
should blend into a pleasing pattern of color harmony. Dwarf
flowers may be used as a continuous edging or border along the
front of the bed.
Flower borders may be of any width, depending on the
space available. In a small yard the bed may be only 2 or 3 feet
wide. In a spacious location, the border planting may have a width
of 6 or 8 feet. If the border is quite deep, a pathway of stepping
stones may be helpful as a means of working among the flowers
without compacting the soil.
Tall flowers should be selected for the back part of
the bed, with medium-height species in the middle, and dwarf
varieties along the front as edging plants. This is very easily
done because the height of all varieties is stated in seed
catalogs. Plants along the front edge of the flower bed should be
located back far enough to allow easy mowing of the lawn.
Plant height is best limited to 2/3 the width of the
border, e.g., no plants taller than 4 feet in a border 6 feet
wide. Height lines should be broken up by letting some tall plants
extend into the medium height groups, with a few recessed clumps
or drifts leading the eye back into the border. This gives a more
natural effect than a step profile. Try to vary heights, but in
general, keep taller plants in the back and shorter ones toward
The distance between plants in a flower border depends
on the form of the individual plants and the effect which is
desired in the landscape. Allow adequate space between plants.
Many gardeners crowd their plants too much.
As a rule, the tall, spired-type flowers such as holly
hock, gladiolus, and rocket snapdragons which are trained to a
very few stems, should be spaced about as far apart as their
mature height. Tall bushy plants may be spaced about as far apart
as their mature height. Rounded, bushy annuals and perennials
should be spaced about as far apart as their mature height.
Creeping, groundcover-type plants may be spaced about twice as far
apart as their mature height. In all cases, if a solid mass of
plants is desired, the spacing may be reduced. If individual
plants are to be conspicuous as specimens, and be allowed to
produce large flowers, the distances should be increased.
The enormous color range in perennials, plus their easy
relocation if disharmony occurs, give the gardener great latitude
in choosing and combining colors. A border in tones of the same
color can be effective, or several closely related colors may be
used, or the border may be made wildly exuberant with a vast
variety of hues in one or more seasons. Hues are modifications of
color such as orangish-red. The objective is a balanced
composition in every season, with no section being at any time too
heavily weighted with one color, and the bloom so distributed that
it always makes a pleasing pattern through the bed.
Many gardening books give excellent lists of compatible
colors; these plus a garden notebook and camera are invaluable for
planning and revising color schemes. For real floral artistry, it
is perhaps more important to consider intensity, which is the
vividness of a color, rather than hue. For example, light tones
placed near dark ones, or contrasting palest tones with the most
intense, can give new interest and life to the border. Also
consider location and color. Near patios, white is especially good
because it shows up well in the evening or dusk hours when patios
are often in use. Some colors are suitable only as dramatic
accents: deep, pure red clashes with almost anything (unless
softened by dark green foliage), yet properly used it confers
strength and depth. White flowers and gray foliage are
indispensable as separators of conflicting colors.
Red, orange, and yellow are warm colors. Blue, green,
and violet are cool colors. The use of warm colors in the flower
border of a small yard will give the illusion of little space.
Conversely, the use of cool colors gives the impression of
openness and space. In general, the smaller the area, the fewer
warm colors should be used.
As a gardener becomes adept at producing constant color
harmony in the border, he/she becomes more aware of the roles
played by plant forms and foliage. Good foliage is obviously vital
in plants with short blooming periods. Consider how much of the
plant foliage will be usable and whether it is a positive or
negative attribute. Some plants practically disappear when their
blooming season is over (i.e., oriental poppy and bleeding heart),
but others stay presentable even when not in flower. Plants with
distinctive forms, color, and foliage airy and delicate, or
strong and solid are wonderfully useful for creating
interest. Ornamental grasses, and even handsome-foliaged
vegetables like broccoli and asparagus can be used for effect.
The most logical way to choose plants is first by
location, second by period of bloom, then by height and width, and
finally, by color. Location takes into account the amount of sun
or shade and water required. This information is easy to find in
books on perennials and in catalogs.
|Dividing a flower border into bold plant
groupings according to height. Background; large groups of tall
plants. foreground: shallower, wide groupings of small plants
The only restrictions on any given plant will be
environmental; a lack of ability to tolerate winter or summer
temperature extremes; special soil, moisture; or light needs; and
any limits the gardener must place on time available for
Even in a small border, single plants of different
varieties should not be used. This gives a jumbled look. Do not
set in precise rows, but in groups, as they might grow in nature.
Allow enough space for each group to grow comfortably. Decide
which flowers you like best, and let these be the basis of your
planting. Place them in several spots, if you like, down the
length of the border, but don't overdo any one plant.
|Selection of garden groups as to season of
flowering and whether annual, biennial, or perennial.
The longer the border has flowers in bloom, the more
you will enjoy it. Consider the months when each plant will be at
its best. Do not confine yourself to material that blooms all at
one time. Aim for a steady succession of color.
A last bit of advice: don't be afraid to be bold, even
if it results in some mistakes. Flowers are easy to move, change,
or take out altogether. There is no need to be conservative or
confined. Flowers are fast growers and can be transplanted at
almost anytime to help create the desired effect.