There’s a Chinese proverb which says that “the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” And so it is with summer borders. The best time to have started planning and planting a border for this summer, was last autumn. That said, it’s not too late. There’s still time to fill your garden with colour and scent if you make a start now. Follow these six easy steps to create the border of your dreams…
Start with an idea
Take some time to flick through gardening magazines and books and look for a design style or colour scheme that really excites you. It might be a loose and luxurious prairie-style border, or a formal bedding design. You may decide to go with a classy, white theme, or opt for hot reds and oranges. What do you want from this border? Is scent important, will you be cutting a weekly bunch of flowers for a vase in the kitchen, do you need plants to screen or provide privacy, or are you looking to attract bees and butterflies with nectar-rich flowers?
This will help you in deciding what kind of plants to put in the border – the colours, heights and mix of flowers and grasses that will look good together. And it’s a perfect gardening chore for a cold, wet afternoon.
Having designed the ideal border in your imagination, now’s the time to assess the real life conditions in your garden. What’s the soil like? How well does it drain? How much sun will the border get?
Once you have figured this out, you can start to plan which plants will thrive in your border and produce the design effect you really want. Use online tools like the RHS Plant Finder or the Gardener’s World Plant Finder to help select plants to suit your garden conditions. These tools will also tell you when the plant will flower, and how big it will grow. Make a list of the plants you’d most like to include in the border.
Draw up a plan
Measure your border space, and use the information you gathered from the plant finders to draw up a plan. This is really useful for working out how many of each plant you are going to need, and which plants will go where to produce the design you want. Write a shopping list based on this plan.
Preparing the ground
Before you even think about planting, get the border ready. Dig out as many weeds as possible – especially things like dandelions, nettles, creeping buttercups, couch grass and ground elder. If the soil needs a bit of a boost, add some compost (homemade or bought in), and grit if the drainage needs improving. It’s not the most exciting part of creating a new border, but a bit of time spent now will mean that the new plants are able to grow away healthily.
Time to go shopping
You could of course, order all the plants you need online. But it’s much more fun to visit the nurseries where the plants have been grown. Independent nurseries aren’t just a great place to buy healthy plants, the people working there are a good source of advice and information too. Take your list and visit a local nursery.
Plant and enjoy
Back home with your newly purchased plants, use the plan to position the pots in the border. Stand back and check your design – now is the time to move plants around until it looks perfect. Once you’re happy, start digging holes. Make a nice, generous hole for each plant, and place it in position so that it’s sitting with the soil surface at the same level as it was in the pot. Once planted, remember to water each plant well. This helps to settle the soil around the roots and get them established.
That’s it! Now all you need to do is keep an eye on the plants (see top tips below), and look forward to long summer days and a beautiful garden.
Top tips for beautiful summer borders
- If the weather is dry in the first few months after planting, water the border – rainwater is ideal if you have a water butt, but you can also use bath or washing up water.
- Perennial plants can take two or three years to reach full size. During the first summer, fill any gaps in the border with fast growing annuals – they’re cheap and easy to grow, and can bring a quick fix of colour.
- Regular deadheading will encourage some plants to produce more flowers, and keep the colour coming for weeks on end.
- Keep on top of the weeds – pull or dig them up as soon as you notice them.
- And, most importantly, don’t forget to take time to sit back and enjoy your beautiful, flower-filled garden.