Planning and Planting a Border

The width of a border determines the height of plants which should be used. As a rough guide, half the width of the border should equal the height of the tallest plants. A good width for a border is 3-3.5m/10-12ft, with plants from 30cm/12in to 150cm/5ft tall.

Planting in drifts will give a note of informality, and it is worth remembering that several plants of a kind together are more effective than the odd one dotted about.

simple but pretty perennial plant

You can design your border using graph paper, or paper ruled in squares. Mark the border itself at 3m/10ft intervals with canes to act as guides. Make sure that you have left sufficient room between the groups of plants for their eventual height and spread.

Plant the tallest plants first. In a one sided border this will be at the back; otherwise some can go nearer the center. Next plant the middle groups, and lastly those at the front.

If the weather is dry and windy at planting time, do not put all the plants out where you will eventually plant them, but keep them covered until they are needed to prevent them drying out. Make sure all roots have plenty of room to spread out, and water them generously if the ground is dry, and firm the soil around the plants.

Where the front border meets the lawn, allow for the ultimate growth of the front subjects so that they will not be damaged by the mower. Frosts tend to lift plants, and where this happens, they should be firmed back into the ground.

The plant lists below have been divided according to season, to facilitate choosing plants to give some interest all the year round.

List of Perennial Plants


Alyssum saxatile ‘Compactum’

Gives a brilliant golden display, 15cm/6in high, from April to July. It prefers sun but does quite well in part shade. The large grey green leaves last into the autumn.

Bergenia cordifolia

Has rounded glossy leathery leaves, with sprays of rose pink flowers to 23cm/9in in April and May. Some shade, not too dry. Good varieties: ‘Ballawley’, ‘Evening Glow’ and ‘Margery Fish’.

Doronicum caucasicum (Leopard’s Bane)

Yellow daisy flowers to 45cm/18in above heart-shaped leaves in April and May. Good cut flowers. Sun or part shade.

Euphorbia polychroma

Lime-yellow flower-like bracts in April and May, followed by 45cm/18in green bush that lasts all summer. Sun or part shade, most soils.

Iberis sempervirens

Masses of white flowers during March, April and May. Neat little 23cm/9in dark green bush throughout summer. Trim after flowering. Sun or light shade, most soils.


Primula acaulis is the common primrose. Needs moist shade. Primula veris is the cowslip. Does best in moist dappled shade.

Pulmonaria angustifolia (Lungwort) ‘Munstead Blue’

Bears 23cm/9in sprays of blue flowers in early March. Spear shaped leaves. Light shade.

Soldanella alpina

Mat of small rounded leaves with 8cm/3in stems of little lavender blue bells in March. Needs protection from slugs. Shady, well-drained soil with plenty of humus.


Acanthus mollis and A. spinosus

Large deeply dissected glossy dark green leaves, purple white flowers, 105-120cm/3-4ft, July to September. Sun or part shade in well-drained soil.

Achillea eupatorium

Fine filigree foliage, tightly packed golden yellow flowers, 105—135cm/3—4 ½ ft, July to September. Prefers sun.

Aconitum cammarum

Violet blue flowers to more than lm/3ft, July to September. Does best in moist shade. The roots are very poisonous.

Anaphalis nubigena

Silvery green leaves, paper-textured white flowers to 30cm/12in July to October. Tolerates dry shade.

Anthemis rudolphiana

Fine silver filigree foliage, less interesting golden yellow flowers June and July. 15cm/6in high. Front of well drained sunny border.

Armeria maritima

Deep pink flowers on stems to 15cm/6in June to September. Evergreen hummock of grassy leaves. Sunny well-drained soil.

Artemisia lactiflora

From 120-150cm/4-5ft. Good plant for center of island bed, with plumes from July to September. Sun or light shade, good soil.

Aster (Michaelmas daisy)

Blue, mauve or white flowers, 38-120cm/15-36in, July to October. Sun or dappled shade.


Mostly white, pink or red, 60-90cm/2-3ft, attractive foliage over a long period. Moist shade or dappled sunlight.

Astrantia carniolica

Deep red flowers, 45-75cm/18-30in high, June to September. Bright green leaves. Moist soil.


‘Argentovariegata’ has slow steady growth, and is suitable for small gardens, pretty silver edged variegated leaves, small single mauve flowers, suitable for front of border, June to September. Sunny well drained soil.

Brunnera macrophylla

Large heart-shaped dark green leaves, small sky blue flowers on 45cm/18in stems, April to June. Light shade.

Calamintha nepetoides

30cm/12in bushes with cloud of tiny light blue flowers early July to October. Small aromatic leaves. Light shades.


‘Pritchard’s Variety’ grows to 90cm/36in, masses of small blue flowers June to August. C. portenschlagiana, grows to 15cm/6in, deep lavender blue flowers, June to November. Most soils.

Catananche caerulea

Flowers freely June to September. Narrow grey green leaves, flower stems to 75cm/30in, profusion of bright blue flowers with silver calices’. Sharply drained soil in full sun.

Coreopsis, verticillata

Finely leaved bush to 45cm/18in, profusion of golden yellow star shaped flowers July to September. Good soil in sun, but will grow in light shade.

Corydalis lutea

To 23cm/9in, dainty green foliage, tiny lime yellow flowers May to October. Dappled shade.


Crocosmia masonorum

Long dark leaves contrasting with 75cm/30in arching sprays of orange red flowers July and August. Well drained sunny site.

Cynoglossum nervosum

Hairy veined leaves shaped like a hound’s tongue, which gives the plant its common name. Small sky blue flowers June to August. Sun or shade, most soils.

Eryngium variifoliunj (Sea holly)

Grows to a little over 75cm/30in. Evergreen leaves marbled with cream. Curious teasel-like head, July to September. Sharply drained sunny soil.

Gentiana septemfida

The easiest and most trouble free cultivated gentian. Prostrate dark leaves, large beautiful deep blue trumpets to 10cm/4in, July to September. Light shade.

Geranium ‘Johnson’s Blue’

Has a trace of purple in saucer-like flowers, borne in profusion all summer to 40cm/16in. Light shade. G. wal-lichanum, prostrate growth, white centerd blue saucer-shaped flowers July to October. Light shade.

Gypsophila paniculata

An old valuable favorite. Flowers to 90cm/36in from July to September, tiny white, cloud-like. Well drained soil; does best on chalk.


Easy and reliable so long as there is sufficient moisture. Flowers grow 90cm/36in to 120cm 48in, July to September, in shades of orange and red. Heavy soil, plenty of sun.

Heiianthus decapetalus maximus

Grows to 150cm 5ft, with single sunflowers from July to September. ‘Loddon Gold’ bears double flowers. Heavy soil, sun.

Heliopsis ‘Golden Plume’

Is an easy and reliable variety, double gold flowers from July to September. reaching 105cm/42in or more. Heavy soil, plenty of moisture.


Dainty little flowers on wiry stems above evergreen foliage. Flower stems can reach 75cm/30in, and flowers can be white, pink or scarlet, May to July. ‘Bressingham Hybrids’ are deservedly popular. Sun or part shade.

Ligularia przewalskii

This has large deeply dissected dark green leaves, sometimes tinged with purple, reaching to between 60cm/24in and 90cm/36in. Flower stems rise to 150cm/5ft, with spires made up of many small yellow flowers. Moist soil in shade.

Linum narbonnense

Grows to about 45cm/18in. Small narrow blue green leaves, masses of’blue flowers from June to September. Will grow in poor soil, but it must be well drained and in full sun.

Lobelia fulgens ‘Bees Flame’

Grows to 90cm/36in, vivid scarlet flowers above beetroot colored leaves from July to September. Rich moist soil’, full sun.

Lychnis coronaria

Soft silvery leaves contrasting sharply with flowers in various shades of red from June to September. Height is from 60cm/24in to 120cm/48in. Sharply drained soil in full sun.


Grows as a tapering bush, flowers from 105cm/42in to 150cm/60in, red pink or purple, late June until October. Any soil, sun or part shade.

Macleaya or Bocconia. M. cordifolig

Grows to between 120cm/48in and 150cm/60in and requires no staking. Beautiful foliage and little ivory flowers from June to September. Any soil, sun or light shade.


Perfumed leaves, flowers and roots. All varieties grow to about 90cm/36in, with red, pink or purple flowers from July to September. Good soil, full sun, but will tolerate light shade.

Nepeta faassenu ‘Six Hills’

Is a popular variety, with a haze of lavender blue flower over blue grey leaves, to 75cm/30in, from June to October. Any soil, sun or light shade.

Penstemon ‘Garnet’

Is a popular variety forming a leafy bush growing to 60cm/24in, and to the same width, garnet-red tubular flowers from June to September. Well drained soil, sun or light shade.

Phlox paniculate

There are very many varieties; most grow to around 90cm/36in. ‘Border Gem’ is violet purple; ‘Starfire’ bright red; ‘Eventide’ pale mauve; ‘Mother of Pearl’ white, tinged with pink. Good rich soil, dappled shade, although they also do well in full sun.

Platycodon grandiflorum mariesii

Fine front-of-border plant, growing to 30cm/12in. Blue salvershaped flowers from July to September. Well worked, well-drained soil, sun.

Polygonum amplexicaule astrosanguineum

Will reach 105cm/42in by late August, with deep red bottle-brush flowers from July to November if there are no severe frosts. Reasonably good soil, sun or light shade.

Potentilla recta ‘Warrenii’

Is a very long-flowering hardy perennial. Deep green serrated leaves, buttercup flower to 60cm/24in from May to October. P. nepalensis ‘Roxana’ has red-veined orange flowers from June to September. Well drained soil in sun.

Salvia superba

Grows to 90cm/36in with spikes of violet purple flowers over grey-green sage leaves. ‘Lubeca’ grows to 75cm/30in, and ‘East Friesland’ is a dwarf form at 45cm/18in. Good border soil in sun or light shade.

Santolina incana ‘Nana’

Is usually regarded as a dwarf shrub, and this makes it suitable for smaller gardens. It reaches 30cm/12in, and has aromatic silvery filigree foliage, with dull yellow little button flowers in summer. Well drained soil in sun or light shade.


Staking is sometimes necessary with the taller varieties. ‘Wensleydale’ grows to 120cm/48iri, with fine foliage and masses of rose colored flower spikes. Reverend Page Roberts’ has beautiful light pink flowers. Flowers reach their peak in July and August. Well drained soil in full sun, plenty of moisture.

Stachys lanata

Beautiful soft downy silver grey leaves. ‘Olympica’ has 30cm7l2in stumps of pink flowers from July to September. Grows well in poor stony soil in sun or part shade. Will never do well on heavy wet soils.

Stokesia laevis ‘Blue Star’

Grows to 45cm/18in, with large light blue cornflowers from July to September. Well drained soil, sun.

Veronica exaltata

This grows to 135cm/54in, with many spikes of light sky blue flowers from July to September. V. spicata ‘Saraband’ grows to 45cm/18in with violet blue flower spikes at the same period. V. virginica ‘Alba’ is a very tall form reaching 150cm/5ft with white flowers from late July to September. Rich soil, sun or light shade.


Aster A. acris grows to 75cm/30in, bushy growth, mauve flowers August to October; A. nmellus grows to 75cm/30in, pink or blue, August to October; A. novae-angliae ‘Harrington’s Pink’ grows to 135cm/54in, pink flowers in profusion, September and October.

Among the Michaelmas daisies, there are ‘Marie Ballard’, light blue, 90cm/36in, ‘Chequers’, violet purple, 60cm/24in; ‘Winston Churchill’, ruby red, 60cm/24in. Good soil, needs full sun.

truly gorgeous chrysanthemums

Chrysanthemum ulginosum

Grows to 150cm/5ft. Many pure white single blooms with lime yellow centers in September .and October. Good soil, sun.

Helleborus niger

Its white flowers are easily spoiled by rain, but are worth trying. H. atro-rubens has purple flowers to 45cm/18in, January and February. H. orientalis, the lenten rose, has flowers in shades of pink, March to April, growing to 45cm/18in.

Iris foetidissima

This has pale -lilac blue flowers in June, but is included in this section because of its scarlet berries in winter. It grows to 60cm/24in in dry shade.

Physalis franchetii

Grows to about 60cm/24in. This is known as the Chinese lantern plant, and needs to be separated from other plants because of its rapid root spread and untidy habit of growth. The vivid orange red fruits appear in the autumn and can be dried.

Rudbeckia deamii

This grows in a bushy form to just over 60cm/24in, with many yellow rayed flowers with conical black eyes. Flowers from August to October. Most soils, sun or light shade.

Vernonia crinita

Grows to 150cm/60in, narrow spear shaped leaves, purple spikes of flowers in October. Most soils, full sun.