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Need Help With Perennial Border

16 years ago

Hi Everyone - I posted this on the landscape forum but I would like some input from you this forum too if you can...

I have a perennial border that runs across the back of my house. I never spent the time designing this border - I've basically just plopped plants here and there for a couple of years. It's been my holding spot so now I have just a "mish-mash" of plants lined up against my house and deck and there's no focal point. I'd like some ideas on how to make something from what I have. I'm willing to add or remove anything. Actually, I'm even willing to start over.

My main interest here is to add some evergreens but I have no idea what would be good since it's a small space. I do plan to widen the border to 6 ft. and to add some curves into the design. I'm thinking of extending out and curving the border at the corners (with the corners being around 8 ft. deep).

I'm in zone 5. The border is south facing. However the right most side of the border gets shade in the morning because of trees that are across from the house. So this side tends to not do so hot with full sun plants - Part sun to mostly sunny plants usually work. During the Fall the border running across the house is is definitely part sun because of the tree shading. I have clay soil so I do alot of amending.

The picture I have here is the closest thing I have to what it looks like now.

Currently the border running against the deck is about 9 ft long. It starts out at approx 2ft wide (left most side of the deck) and curves into about 4ft wide at the point where the deck meets the house. On the Left most side of the deck there's a set of stairs and then another border that is about 4ft long and then curves around to the west side of my house. In this 4ft section on the side of the stairs I have a rose bush as a focal point (this can be changed).

The border against the house is approx 14 ft long and 4 ft wide.

I have the following plants - not all are currently in this border.

Variegated Hydrangea (1)- I like this for it's foliage. I bought it last year and it was about 2 ft tall when I bought it.

Snowbank Boltania (2)

Aster Alma Potschke (1) - I'm not crazy about this plant since I have to remember to prune to keep it from getting floppy.

Jacobs Ladder - blue(3)

Hosta (5 - various colors - average size is 12in. x 12in.)

Nepta Walkers Low (1)

Gaillardia Goblin (3)

Campanula Glomerata "Joan Elliot" (1)

Campanula Blue Clips (3)

Veronica Sunny Border (1)

Mum Yellow (2) - these get leggy looking so maybe I should remove them.

Mum  Red (2)- these get leggy too

Mum Grandchild - pink/lavender color (2)

Pearly Everlasting/Anaphalis margaritacea (2)

Coreopsis Verticillata (1)

Coreposis Moonbeam (1)

Creeping Phlox (I have many but I have 2 in the border currently)

Coneflower White (1)

Coneflower purpurea (1)

Phlox David (3)

Obedient Plant - Pink (2)

Rudbeckia (2)

Heuchera Autumn Bride (2)

Yarrow Coronation Gold (1)

Sedum Autumn Joy (2)

Russian Sage (1)

Clematis (4 that grow up my deck railing)

Butterfly Bush (I don't know what kind - the blooms are pink - it's only 2 years old so it's still pretty small. My daughter got it from her preschool teacher so I'd like to keep this in the design if you think it fits).

I also have a weeping pussy willow that might work here.

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Comments (11)

  • laurelin
    16 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago

    Hi Deb,

    I like your idea of deepening the border. That will give you much more room to play with, and space for mature plants. Once that butterfly bush takes off to its full size, it will need a deep border space. It sounds like it could be a nice focal point, especially against those clematis growing on the railing. The visual mass of the butterfly bush could be balanced with the size of the variegated hydrangea elsewhere in the border. If I remember correctly (and I might not - I grow 'David,' but not the boltonia, so if I'm off my rocker, never mind), the phlox 'David' and the boltonia 'Snowbank' are a similar size and both white, so they could be a repeating color/size theme in the border.

    Most of your plants seem to be in the cool color range (with a few exceptions), even though the border runs from sun to shade. Maybe removing the few bright hot colors would help unify the border along its length. The cooler yellow 'Moonbeam' coreopsis is a nice accent amoung pinks and blues, and could mingle politely.

    Just ideas. When you get it done, can I come see?


  • sugarhill
    16 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago

    Making a wider border is a good idea. It needs to be at least 4 feet wide, maybe wider depending on the height of the house. Gorgeous lawn by the way. A wider border is going to be beautiful.

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  • merrygardens
    16 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago

    You have a wonderful setting there for an extensive perennial garden, limited only by how much time you want to put into it. Good idea to widen it by several feet, perhaps over a few years--check out the lasagna method for the easist way to do this.

    Next to the house and the deck I would put a few flowering trees and shrubs, conifers and evergreen. Which ones? Look at books and nurseries and choose the shrubs and trees that you like and that will fit your requirements for size. Or you could go with shrub-like perennials like your buddliea and the pussy willow. Then layer tall, medium and short flowers between and in front. The sky's the limit for you.

    Many years ago I carefully designed a very large perennial border, with diagrams and lists of heights, colors, bloom times, etc.--the classic. It turned out very nice, although I had to modify it over the years when some plants were too invasive, too tall, etc. But over the years I've found that it's really hard to go wrong with much less planning and precision. Put in the plants that you like, (respecting sun requirements), hot and cool colors, using plants that you can get or seed yourself, and most likely you'll get splendid results. Mix in annuals that you like, bulbs such as daffs, tulips, grape hyacinth, etc, lilies and dahlias. My goal was to have flowers and foliage interest for as many weeks as possible, and to have a great variety of plants and flowers. I also enjoyed pairing plants that had pleasing contrasts in color or form. It might seem daunting, but jump right in and enjoy yourself! It's a many-year project which gives great pleasure in all seasons.

  • dkotchey
    Original Author
    16 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago

    Thanks for the ideas everyone.

    Laurel - I like your idea with using the hydrangea to balance out the butterfly bush - I never thought of that ! I definitely have to remove some of the hot colors - that is one thing I know I don't like about the border. I don't like to get rid of plants if all possible but I may have to. However, I added another border in my side yard last year that might welcome some of the hot colored plants. We will see. After seeing your gardens last year, I've been inspired to add some daylilies and more fragrant plants. This will be a good spot start with those.

    I plan to add the weeping pussy willow in there some place. I might extended out and around the house on the far right and place it there. By doing that the pussy willow will be seen from the side of the house as well. And if I place it right it should get plenty of sun.

    And I'm searching for some evergreens. I'm thinking of some dwarf conifers. I'm not sure what dwarfs I can find locally so if anyone knows of a good place to order dwarfs, I'd appreciate it.

    Sugarhill - my husband we will be glad to hear your comment on the yard - he is in charge of the grass :)

    Merrygardens - thanks for the inspiration. I'm not one to design on paper - I do things by trial and error but I have been trying to work on paper with this one. I decorate my house the same way - I drive my husband crazy.

    Laurel - You are more than welcome to come see when I'm done . I might be calling you to come over before I 'finish' for advice.


  • david_5311
    16 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago

    I would certainly encourage what people have said about deepening the border. If this is your main perennial or mixed border, it is very hard to get excited about and get experience with plants without a significantly deeper border. 6' is probably a minimum in my book, with give you barely enough space for three "rows" of plants (though generally we don't plant in rows...). If you have the courage to delve in, there is nothing wrong with making the border even deeper in some sections. Putting in a small stepping stone path can help with maintenance access where the border gets deep and give it some interest in the winter.

    A couple of well chosen shrub and clematis will give you a lot more height variation and seasonal interest. Choose from smaller viburnums, elders, mockoranges, roses -- any number of plants. And Clematis on obelisks will weave and knit over adjacent large perennials and shrubs.

    Others may disagree, but in a cold N temperate climate, I personally don't care for most dwarf conifers planted in a bed mainly devoted to perennials. They are very stiff and static looking. And to me they end up looking very lonely in the winter, don't add much. In a crowded overflowing border with no bare soil (my kind of planting), many conifers will not grow that well and may have too much needle damage from crowding by perennials. Personally, I think deciduous shrubs with multiple seasons of interest are better choices, tolerate crowding better, often grow faster, can be used as clematis scaffolding, and in my hands are just more satisfactory. You won't be able to get more than one or two but they will add a lot.

    Another thing to do will be to add big, shrubby perennials -- ornamental grasses, persicaria polymorpha, etc.

  • oakleif
    16 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago

    My preferences are adding spring bulbs,minature roses and daylilies to most of my beds for longer color and with daylilies you can have different heights.
    I liked your border as is but than i don't like things too organized. So-o-o good luck,have fun, and let your border be your picture canvas.

  • bindersbee
    16 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago

    In addition to the great advice you've already gotten, I would say that you need more foliage variation. I use a formula for my own gardens that for every 2-3 green leaved plants I plant, I must add 1 colored leaf or varigated foliage plant for interest and contrast.

    Also, figure out some 'backbone' perennials. These are plants that you'll repeat to create a little unity. Use the high-performers for this and select at least one spring, one summer and one fall long-blooming perennial for this. For example, I LOVE the impact Rudibeckia Goldsturm has. Huge yellow flowers really 'POP' in the garden and it blooms for a long time. I consider it one of my 'backbone' perennials.

  • pondwelr
    16 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago

    I too like the idea of a real garden bed. What you have now seems just, um, well, 'timid' somehow. Go for some bold! Big sweeping beds are awesome, and mostly easier to care for than thin beds that cuddle next to the house. If you repeat a few easy care plants like rudbeckia, sedum and grasses in 'sweeps' across a bed, you will have almost no care and a huge impact. Fill the edges and blank spots with hundreds of daffodils and grape hyacinth. Voila! a showstopper.

    Another alternative; low-grow shrubs near the house, with whispy tall plants like russian sage as the next layer, followed by easy-care daisys and may night (or other) salvia, and annuals all around the perimiter.

    My front and both side yards are so tiny, but I gave over most all to beds and stone pathways and wide stone steps down to the lower, back yard, which is huge.

    I thought a wonderful presentation was the answer to the dinky front and skinny side yard.

    None of us know the configurations of your yard, or the privacy needed or any of that stuff, so you will be adjusting your place accordingly.
    I do hope you do a follow up on your progress next Spring,
    Deb. Good luck to you, from Pondy

  • zephirine_lyon
    16 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago

    I would rather agree that some evergreens would make a nice contrast with your perennials, and I "feel", looking at your pictures, that you might need some vertical accent somewhere.
    I would use the small "corner" between your house and the deck as the site for this, for instance.
    Scattering evergreens all along would not make sense.
    But a group of them, at that place, would be pleasant to make a change for the eyes as they pass along your border...
    I'm not sure I make myself well understood, forgive me...
    I had a similar problem lately, in my new garden. I needed (wanted?) some kind of "greenery" to look at through my windows in the winter, and something not too flat.
    This is a modest example of what you could consider:
    - vertical accent : taxus baccata fastigiata aurea ('Robusta' would be more compact)
    - at its feet, the rounded habit of a dwarf pinus (here: pinus mugho 'Hesse'), preferably with a lighter shade of green than the taxus. Buxus bodinieri might do well too...
    - another intermediate shape : ilex meservae 'Chinese Girl' and its red winter berries.
    - somewhere, in the vicinity, a clump or linear foliage : some evergreen (or not) grass, or irises for instance.
    - some hellebores might be welcome too! (some of them do like full sun if it's not overcooked in the summer, and your soil keeps moisture)
    Once again, these are only examples, as my bed is more on the "half-shade" side than yours, but the shapes of the plants is the idea...
    The pics below are very poor (my camera has been sent to the doctor, and I had only a very poor one for a while), I apologize for this, and the planting is very recent...but it might help a bit to visualize, I hope...

  • shari1332
    16 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago

    I like David's shrub/clematis idea. I think it would be especially nice with a shrub that has late winter/very early spring bloom. For winter color I like the silvery blue type dianthus and yuccas.

  • katefisher
    16 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago

    Very nice! As one of my predacessors mentioned your grass is amazing. I think it's awesome you are expanding the bed. You'll be glad you did. I have a question for you namely how do you plan to edge your new bed? I don't see any edging on it now but your house and yard look to be just lovely. When you get it done please post some "after" photos.