The Centre of the Flower Border

The middle of a border should dominate. Plants chosen for their shape and leaf texture, compat-ible colours and longevity of bloom should be the focus of an admiring and critical eye. The plants you choose should be about 450-750 mm (1-1/2—2-1/2ft) high and carefully graded so that the smaller are not overshadowed by the larger.


The following are a few among many species of excellent permanent residents.

The deciduous African lilies (Agapanthus) have proved to be surprisingly hardy, considering their country of origin. Clusters of blue, bell-like flowers 50 mm (2 in) wide, appear at the top of stems 600-900 mm (2-3 ft) long from July to September. The strap-shaped leaves are profusely produced in a long arching rosette at the base of the plant from fleshy, rather brittle roots. The Headbourne Hybrids have a good range of blues, from sky-blue to deep blue and violet-blue. African lilies prefer a sunny site and rich but well-drained soil.

Among the astilbes the garden hybrids grouped under A. x arendsii are most commonly seen nowadays. They are erect, bushy plants with finely divided, fern-like leaves – some tinged bronze or purple – and sprays of tiny flowers in June-August. Good examples of medium-sized forms are ‘Fire’ (salmon-red), ‘Irrlicht’ (white), and ‘Ostrich’ (pink). All these grow to about 750 mm (2-1/2 ft) in height.

The masterwort (Astrantia carniolica), 600 mm (2 ft), popular with flower-arrangers, has white pink-tinged flowers in July-August. A. major has similarly starlike flowers, but greenish pink in colour; while in A. maxima the flowers are rich pink. Sun and light shade are equally suitable sites; any reasonably fertile soil will do.

There are several good varities of the Shasta daisy (Chrysanthemum maximum), with flowers comprising a yellow disc, and white rays. Typical are ‘Everest’, ‘Mayfield Giant’ and ‘Wirral Supreme’, all 600-900 mm (2-3 ft) tall.

Two good cultivars of baby’s breath (Gypsophila paniculata) are ‘Bristol Fairy’ and ‘Compacta Plena’. Both have large misty clusters of white flowers from June to August, and are particularly good for floral arrangements. They thrive in good soil in sun 90 cm (3 ft); 45 cm (1-1/2ft) respectively.

The sea hollies (Eryngium) are fascinating for their somewhat thistle-like prickly and spiny stiff leaves and stems, and their coned flowers with a prickly ruff of bracts round each. The overall colouring of the plants is silvery blue. E. alpinum grows to 600 mm (2 ft) tall and 300 mm (1 ft) wide; its variety ‘Violetta’ is blue to violet-blue, growing to about 750mm (2-1/2) tall and 450 mm (1-1/2 ft) wide. The original sea holly, E. maritimum, is native to Britain, so the plants are not difficult to grow, though they like a very well-drained, rather poor soil.

The cultivars of Phlox paniculata bloom between July and September and may reach a height of 1.2 m (4 ft). There are some marvellous colours amongst them and excellent examples are ‘White Admiral’, cherry-red ‘Starfire’, and lavender-blue ‘Skylight’. Another excellent variety is pink P. maculata ‘Alpha’. For late-summer flowering, border phlox are hard to beat, but they must be watered well to ensure plenty of blossom that will not fade quickly. Plants flourish in rich, fertile soil.

The ‘Gainsborough’ variety of mullein (Verbascum x phoeniceum) is a beauty. It’s clear, light yellow spires of bloom rise to 900 mm (3 ft). Another, ‘Pink Domino’, has rose-coloured flowers that contrast well with the yellow forms.


One of the commonest mistakes with perennials is to underestimate the amount of room they need. Any plant which grows in the same place year after year must be expected to become bigger. If, in the early days, you are afraid the bed will look empty, fill in with annuals. Do not, however, overcrowd the perennials, which need room to expand by bushing out. Crowding will create tall and spindly growths and weak stems. In general, gardeners who find a great deal of staking is necessary have only themselves to blame.

Be sure that your borders are wide enough. It is a good basic rule to have a border twice as wide as the height of the tallest plants that it is to contain. This means that for plants 1.5 m (5 ft) high (delphiniums, for example, can easily exceed this height), a bed at least 3 m (10 ft) wide is necessary. If your borders are much narrower than this you should consider widening them by any means possible.


Although a mixed border consists principally of hardy perennials (herbaceous plants) and shrubs, there are usually gaps after the initial plantings and these may be filled with spring and summer bedding plants and bulbs.

There are many kinds of hardy annuals to choose from. Taller kinds from the focal, middle-of-the-border spot include the corn-cockle (Agrostemma githago ‘Milas’), which sports soft lilac-pink or purple flowers on stems up to lm (3V4ft) high; Mentzelia lindleyi (syn. Bartonia aurea), up to 600 mm (2 ft) high, with deep-lobed leaves and scented, saucer-shaped, golden flowers; tick weed (Coreopsis drummondii ‘Golden Crown’), with golden yellow flowers with chestnut-brown centres. Others include Chrysanthemum carinatum ‘Court Jesters’, a vigorous grower to 600 mm (2 ft) with brightly zoned flowers in different colours; the graceful Clarkia elegans with its long spikes of salmon-pink, mauve, carmine or red flowers up to 600 mm (2 ft) high; and the Giant Imperial varieties of larkspur (Delphinium consolida), such as ‘Blue Spire’ (deep violet blue), ‘White Spire’, and ‘Tall Hyacinth-Flowered’; the Spire forms grow to 1-1.2 m (3-1/4—4 ft) and the ‘Hyacinth-Flowered’ to 750-900 mm (2Vfe-3 ft); the earlier, not quite so tall Stock-flowered group are also popular; ‘Rosamund’ is a bright pink variety.

The second group for summer bedding are the half-hardy annuals, of which the following are typical:

Love-lies-bleeding (Amaranthus caudatus) bears huge, showy, plum-red flower tassels in late summer; variety ‘Viridis’ has vivid green tassels. Cosmea (Cosmos bipinnatus), which grows up to 1.2 m (4 ft) high, has fern-like leaves and brightly coloured flowers up to 125 mm (5 in) in diameter in late summer or early autumn. The garden hybrid dahlias are among the most showy and popular hardies. Best-known of the bedding types are the ‘Collerette Hybrids’, which include single and double-flowered forms in single and mixed colours and grow to a height of 300-500 mm (12-20 in). The bells-of-Ireland or shell-flower (Moluccella laevis) is an intriguing-looking plant in which the tall spine carries tiny white flowers, each enclosed within light green bowl-shaped calyces. The spine is 750 mm (2-1/2 ft) or more tall; it dries well and so is popular for winter-flower decorations. The velvet trumpet-flower (Salpiglossis sinuata), which reaches up to 600 mm (2 ft) in height, has pale green, narrow leaves and tall, graceful stems of trumpet-shaped red, pink, orange, gold, yellow or blue flowers from midsummer to early autumn.


Although all but the smallest bulbs can be used in a bedding display, hyacinths and tulips are the most satisfactory and the latter can be used at the front of the centre of the border. Their flowers are symmetrical, show up boldly and look well from any angle.

Tulips, which are planted in October, can be had in a vast range of colours, many of them attractively marked or shaded with a second colour. The time of flowering will depend on the type chosen. Early Single and Early Double tulips bloom in April and are followed by the mid-season Mendel and Triumph divisions of cultivars in late April-May, to be succeeded in turn by the traditional Darwin and Cottage types in May. Unusual flower shapes are provided by the Fringed, Parrot, and Lily-flowered tulips, which also bloom in May.

12. June 2013 by admin
Categories: Featured, Garden Management, Top Tips | Comments Off on The Centre of the Flower Border


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