Mix and match floral borders

Posted 19 September 2016 by Richenda Oldham

Mixed borders are the modern answer to the labour intensive herbaceous border and are great fun to plan…

It's hard not to get excited about mixed borders - the flowers and plants they contain provide a palette of colours that offer gardeners the chance to be artists in their own back garden.

Then there is the work entailed in producing an actual design, which can involve many quiet hours of pleasure in earnest contemplation of plant and flower catalogues, a piece of graph paper to hand, while drafting a scheme that will surpass all other known schemes.

The traditional mixed border is awash with variety and colour and ideally demands a depth of at least a couple of metres and can run the length of a garden, frequently on either side of a path. It features a combination of small ornamental trees and shrubs, roses, evergreens, perennial flowers and bulbs.

Shrubs form the backbone of a scheme, while perennials, bulbs and bedding plants are planted in between. Ideally you are aiming for year round interest, so when choosing plants for your scheme, make sure that you pick plants that will flower at different times of the year. It's also best to space plants out to avoid overcrowding.

In terms of the right site, sunny is always preferable, but shady spots can be accommodated, too - just choose plants that like the shade. Prepare the site by making sure it is well dug over and remove any weeds. You can improve the richness of the soil by adding compost or well rotted manure.

For inspiration in choosing colours and creating a design, gardeners can take do no better than look to Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932) who had an innate understanding of the effective use of colour in borders. As one of the most influential designers of her era, Gertrude Jekyll is still renowned today for her painterly approach to garden design, involving radiant colour and impressionistic schemes.

Jekyll made good use of the colour wheel and this tool is invaluable when choosing colours for a scheme. The wheel shows at a glance complementary, contrasting and clashing colours, and will help you choose your favourite combinations.

Using coloured crayons, you can sketch different colour combinations and then on graph paper, start planning your border by marking out plant positions and colours. Try to plant in clusters of the same species and go for odd numbers (threes, fives and sevens) to avoid the border looking too symmetrical.

Look at the texture and shape of foliage and flowers, for example, feathery grasses, strong leaf shapes, such as hostas and bell-like foxgloves. Put tall plants at the back of the border, bushy shaped medium plants in the middle and low, wide spreading plants in the front.


1. Mixed herbaceous flower borders are a quintessential feature of the English garden - brimming with colour and variety, and a joy to behold.

2. Choosing colour is a matter of taste, but here warm colours - yellows, oranges and reds - have been planted together for maximum impact.

3. Hostas are popular herbaceous perennial plants that provide both flowers and foliage with a wide range of different leaf colours and shapes.

4. The elegant Delphinium adds vertical interest to a flower border and comes in a huge range of colours from blue, cream and white to mauve and pink.

5. Pelargoniums, otherwise known as geraniums, are popular bedding plants that are ideal for planting in borders. There are many different varieties to suit almost every position in the garden.

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