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What is a Herbaceous Perennial Border? 

Big gardens used to have big herbaceous borders. Small gardens do not normally have herbaceous borders. It is a shame, for a herbaceous border can be as small as any space where you can plant a hand full of plants.

A true herbaceous plant, is one where the foliage and stems die down to ground level in the late autumn (sometimes summer) and then grows back again the next year.

 Plants such as Bergenia and Penstemon are perennials, but not herbaceous perennials, for they are evergreen, and do not die down each year. These plants are invaluable in the herbaceous border or bed and are almost always included. (Pedantic session closed!)

Ok, so it might be a herbaceous bed instead of the big sprawling borders that are normally associated with herbaceous perennials.

Heleniums are great for the herbaceous borderHelenium rubinswerg in August - 1m+ tall.

A herbaceous border or herbaceous bed, is simply an area planted up with herbaceous perennials which die down in the winter, and re-grow the following spring to give a display of flowering colour throughout much of the summer. (Providing you choose the right plants!) many plants that are classed as herbaceous perennials are not truly herbaceous.

Many herbaceous perennial borders or beds have other types of perennials in them – besides the herbaceous perennials. This is not a problem, for a mixed border or will give you a bit more scope for year round colour and interest.

You do not actually need a specific herbaceous border or bed. You can simply plant a few herbaceous perennial plants in between shrubs – or in specific places where it is not easy to get plants to grow. Herbaceous perennials are a huge range of plants, and you are sure to find one for any spot in the garden - dry, damp; sunny, shaded; sheltered, exposed. There will be a herbaceous perennial which will grow there.

Herbaceous borders of old, tend to look messy and unkempt. This is generally because they have not been maintained well, and also to a large degree, because the range of herbaceous perennials in the past, were nowhere as good as those which are available today. Modern herbaceous perennials come in all sizes – right from the newer (small) sedums and saxifrages – up through to stunning Heleniums and more.

The cone flower - Echinacea is always popular in herbaceous borders Rudbeckia - good for late colour in the herbaceous border
Echinacea (Rudbeckia) Purpureus - with a 'cousin' Rudbeckia fulgida 'Goldsturm'. Two brilliant 'Daisy-type' herbaceous perennials. Bpth are true herbaceous perennials in that they die down to ground level each year.

Colour in the garden right through from January to December if you have the space for plants.

What you do NOT need to do, is to plant the perennials in clumps of 3 or 5. It is a complete nonsense idea, which has been copied by gardening writers for many years. The ‘personality’ writers still prattle on about planting in groups of 3 or 5! WHY? It is a method that should have been confined to the compost heap long ago. For a start, you can choose any ten plants, and they will all grow to different widths. If for instance, you plant a group of 5 Euphatorium maculatum at the back of a border or bed, you will need a huge area to be able to plant other things. A single herbaceous perennial planted in the right place, will be fine if that is all you have room for!

Bergenia cordifolia - Pink flowers evergreen perennial Penstemon Alice Hindley
Two evergreen perennials which regularly fond their way into 'herbaceous border-bed' plantings.


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