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Creating & maintaining a border

Interesting borders full of colour look great throughout the year, both in the garden and as a view from your window. We’ll show you how to achieve a show garden effect with just a little planning and preparation and how to maintain it so it always looks its best.


Planning

Take a few pictures from your windows, from the patio or any points where you can see your garden. Print them out and draw the lines of the borders you’re planning. This will give you a much better idea of what the garden will look like and what plants you need. You’ll also be able to see how the size of the border relates to the lawn, patio and other garden features.

Border shapes and sizes

If you follow the fence line, it accentuates the shape of the garden which can make it look smaller and feel more enclosed. Gently curved borders can make the space look larger as can straight borders with strong angles.

Width

If you want a narrow border along the base of a wall or fence to grow climbing plants, plant them at least 30cm away. Wider borders are easier to manage because they give your plants the space to grow and you won’t have to keep cutting them back when they outgrow the space. For the best look, generally a border one metre wide is a minimum and two metres wide is even better.

Space

It’s important to have enough space in a border where you want to plant larger shrubs or trees, perhaps to screen a neighbouring property or as a backdrop to your garden. It’s worth planning depth in the far corners or at the points where you want height. Measure the width of existing plants to see how much space is needed or plan ahead with what you’re going to grow as this may influence the width and the shape of your border.


Edging

Edging your border is a finishing touch that can give it definition and add character to your garden. Garden sleepers and log roll edging are ideal to edge beds where the soil level is high in relation to the adjacent lawn or paving. They can act as a low retaining barrier and are best put in position prior to planting. The border soil helps to keep the edging in place and emphasises its purpose. They can also be used to create raised beds or on a vegetable plot.

Ideas

Bamboo edging can create a Japanese look and feel, particularly if you team it up with ferns, a Japanese maple, bamboo and a few hostas. Picket fence style edging is perfect for a garden cottage look. You could leave it natural for a rustic style or give it a colour wash and complement with lavenders, roses, perennial geraniums, silver leaves and soft pastels.

If your bed runs alongside a pathway, around a patio or paved courtyard then stone edging is the ideal solution. This is easy to install around existing paving or when you’re laying a new path or patio. For best results, it should butt right up to the solid surface and be laid on a narrow bed of mortar. For an extra secure result, you can buttress the soil side with mortar to half the height of the edging but this isn’t necessary if the base of the edging stones are well below the level of the soil and paving.

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Preparing the ground

The success of your border depends on good ground preparation. Without it, the roots of your new plants will be reluctant to leave the nice compost they’ve been grown in so growth will be slow. Good cultivation will make your soil more welcoming for your new plants, ensuring their long term success in your garden.

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Weeding

You must get rid of any perennial weed before you start. Bindweed, ground elder, nettles and other perennial weeds will re-emerge if you leave root fragments in the soil. You will either have to dig them out carefully or use a weedkiller on the growing weed plants. Perennial weedkillers do not work on bare soil, it takes time to work and may mean you have to delay planting for a season. If the weed problem is serious, it’ll be worth it.

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Improving the soil with Gro-Sure

Improving the soil

To improve the condition and texture of the soil, fork it over thoroughly to a depth greater than the head of a digging fork. You may prefer to use a spade. If the soil is heavy, a border spade is easier and lighter to use. Spread either farmyard manure or multi-purpose compost (or both) over the soil surface and fork it in. Alternatively, add a generous application of chicken manure pellets. These condition and add valuable nutrients.

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Using landscape fabric

If you’re planting shrubs, you can use landscape fabric to create the ultimate low-maintenance border. This is a permeable membrane that you fix over the soil surface then plant through it. It allows rainfall and air to pass through but suppresses any annual weed growth. It’s highly successful if installed on clean ground but won’t cure a perennial weed problem. The weeds will simply find their way up through the planting holes.

Landscape fabric looks best when covered with a generous layer of landscape bark. This needs to be on a level site or the bark slides off the fabric.

Landscape Bark
  1. Lay the landscape fabric across your prepared ground
  2. Anchor it using ground hooks or fabric pegs
  3. Lay out the plants on the fabric to determine their planting positions. Cut a cross in the fabric at each planting position, open up the aperture and plant
  4. Fit the fabric back around the plant and trim as required. When all the planting is done, cover the fabric with a 5cm layer of landscape bark
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Planting guide

Successful planting guide

Successful planting results from utilising surroundings and achieving a balance between flowers and foliage – one should enhance the other.

Choosing your plants

Resist the temptation to go to the garden centre and buy everything that’s in flower and looking good all at the same time. This will mean your garden always peaks at that time of year and lacks interest the rest of the time. It’s best to choose plants with different seasons of interest in a range of different shapes and textures.

Working with the seasons

A flowering plant’s season of glory is relatively short. Leaves are longer-lasting and evergreens give interest throughout the year, giving the planting structure because they don’t die down in winter. Choose larger key plants for the long-term and combine with smaller plants to give your border year-round variation. Perennials are ideal to add summer colour and you can leave space for a few seasonal bedding plants which you replace every year.

pH Testing
  1. Take a cupful of soil from your garden and put a few spoonfuls into two containers
  2. To the first container, add half a cup of vinegar. If the mixture fizzes, you have alkaline soil
  3. If there is no reaction, add small amounts of water to the second container until the soil becomes a mud
  4. Add half a cup of baking soda to the mud. If this mixture fizzes, you have acidic soil. If neither test reacts, your soil is neutral and has a pH of 7

Most plants grow on most soils, apart from azaleas, rhododendrons, camellias and some heathers which need acidic soil.

Layout

If you’re planting a new border from scratch, lay out the plants on the border before you start to plant them. This enables you to get the positions right and the spacing correct. As a rough guide, if two shrubs each have a spread of a metre within five years then plant them about one metre apart. This means the space should be filled within three to five years and you can fill the gap between them in the meantime with seasonal bedding plants or cover the ground in landscape bark.

Size

Plant labels give a guide to the height and spread off a plant or you can grow your own from seeds in your greenhouse. If your shrubs get much larger, you’ll have to decide whether to plant further apart or to remove one of them in the future to allow the other to reach its potential. Ideally, you want to fill the space with as few gaps for weeds as possible but without the need for regular pruning to keep the plants in bounds.

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#WickesTips

  • Herbaceous perennials spread outwards in time rather than increasing in height. When they get too big for the space, cut them back and use these cuttings to cultivate the plants in another part of your garden
  • Don’t plant too near the edge unless you’re prepared to widen the border at a later date
  • Don’t plant too close to the fence or a wall. The ground will be dry and your new plants will struggle
  • Remember to firm the plants in and make sure the compost surface is just below the soil surface
  • Regardless of the weather, you must water your new plants in thoroughly. This settles the soil around the roots, encouraging them to establish well. Keep watering regularly during their first growing season
  • If you haven’t got one already, a water butt is an ideal way to effectively collect and easily use rainwater.

Maintenance

Doing the following tasks will ensure your border stays beautiful all year round. For a monthly guide to what’s happening in your garden, what maintenance is required and when to plant, sow and harvest, see our gardening calendar.

  • When soil is disturbed, weeds can appear. Regular hoeing through the border with a dutch hoe will keep these under control and are environmentally friendly. Alternatively, a 5cm depth of landscape bark over the soil surface applied when the soil is moist will suppress weeds and keep the soil cool and moist through the summer
  • As your plants grow, you may need to prune shrubs lightly to encourage bushy growth but be careful to do this at the right time. Remember that flowering shrubs should only be pruned straight after flowering
  • Evergreen foliage shrubs can be tidied at any time but ideally just before new growth starts in spring. Perennials that die back are cut down in winter
  • Take a few pictures of your border through the seasons. This will help you keep track of growth and identify any gaps