Beautiful Perennial Borders: The Basics of Creative Design

The idea of planting a perennial or “herbaceous” border around our gardens comes from the British gardening traditions of old, when staff lived on-site to tend the grounds of wealthy country estates. These properties were bursting with layers of perennial favourites, planted deliberately to cultivate an indulgent floral experience and impress visitors and passersby with a visual expression of wealth and bounty. 

Today in Abbotsford, we might not have such glamorous lifestyles, but we can still certainly indulge in our own show-stopping perennial border designs. Whether you’re a pro at the garden design game or are a newcomer with an empty garden plot just begging for something extraordinary, here’s a guide to help you craft your perfect border design using the most sought-after perennials.

What is a Herbaceous Perennial?

When starting to design your spectacular perennial border, it helps to know a bit about the plants you want to use. An herbaceous flowering plant has a green stem with little to no wood, while “perennial” means that the plant goes dormant over the winter but returns yearly every spring.

Some advantages of using herbaceous perennials in your border design include, but are not limited to:

  • – Continual flowering year after year without the need for re-planting maintenance
  • – Continuous growth, with plants spreading and getting bigger every year once established
  • – Lower watering and feeding requirements
  • – Strong root systems that help prevent soil erosion
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How to Design your Abbotsford Perennial Border

Before you just dive in and start planting expensive, long-lasting herbaceous perennials willy-nilly, follow these steps to help you design a bountiful, well-thought-out border.

1. Plan your site: It’s important to think carefully about the site of your new border. Most perennials love the sun and the heat and will require most of the daytime’s rays to be happy, so planting your border in a sunny location will open the doors for a wider perennial variety! Perennials aren’t big fans of overly-soggy soil, either, so make sure your site has good drainage and isn’t likely to get overly saturated. Add organic matter to your perennial border site, such as homemade compost or leaf mould, and keep weeds out while establishing new plants.

2. Create a map: Just like when designing or renovating a room, it helps to give yourself a visual picture of the border space you’re working with. How much room do you have for layers? Are there structural elements that’ll hinder planting in any way, or that might serve as a focal point for planting? Mapping out your perennial border will help you answer all of these questions and plant a design that is perfectly suited to your unique garden space.

3. Sketch out your design: Once you’re familiar with what you’ve got to work with, sketch out a design for your new perennial border. Do you want a more formal look, with tall plants at the back and smaller flowers in the front, or are you going for a more natural, whimsical look that defies the stuffiness of old British estate gardens? Choose flowers of differing heights and textures, and try and pick a colour scheme to avoid a chaotic look (unless you choose to go that route!)

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4. Choose your flowers: The best thing about perennials is that they flower at different times of the year, which makes it easy to design a border with year-round appeal. Choose a variety of spring, summer and fall-blooming plants to keep things interesting all year, and don’t forget to add perennials like ornamental grasses that add amazing textures to your landscape during the winter months. Many perennials leave unique seed heads and tall stems after flowering that also provide cover and food sources for wildlife, and pollinators absolutely adore them. A good perennial border design will also incorporate foliage plants to break up flowering, so don’t be afraid to experiment with large-leaved varieties like sedums, hostas, and ferns. 

5. Consider your colour scheme: Many garden designers will tell you to pick a colour scheme before planting, and while it’s not a hard and fast rule, having a general idea of which colours you want to use will help you create a more coherent border design. We also recommend looking at the colours you see in the immediate landscape—like your house or surrounding buildings and gardens—to make sure your border won’t clash or compete with nearby elements. Try creating colour groups like oranges mixed with whites and yellows, or blues and purples mixed with vibrant pinks. Of course, you can certainly throw caution to the Abbotsford wind and just plant what you love! 

6. Consider your spacing: Make sure to give your perfect perennials lots of room to shine and follow the correct planting requirements of each one. It’s usually better to keep taller plants at the back of your border design, gradually scaling down the size as you move to the front. Don’t let large towering foliage cover your low-growing ground cover, either, as you risk starving it of valuable light and diminishing its impact.

For more tips on perennial border design in Abbotsford, come visit us at Windsor Greenhouse today for more inspiration—we can’t wait to help you get that garden started!