Border Review 2017

If you’ve been following my blog for a bit, you will know that I am a volunteer gardener at Wimpole Estate and that I look after the long borders that run across the middle of the Walled Garden.


This is looking along the west borders in full summer

I’ve been doing this for roughly the last 4 years and at Christmas time I make a collage poster from photographs that record our work, the changes we’ve made and the plants/combinations that we’ve enjoyed best. With the New Year on the doorstep I thought that it would be interesting to share a few of these vignettes.

The year in the borders really begins with tulips. There are snowdrops, crocuses etc before that, but tulips are the first things to add substantial colour. In 2017 we used a three-way colour combination of Negrita, Generaal de Wet and Couleur Cardinal this year and they shone like stained glass windows when the sun was out. It’s definitely a mix of colours I’d go for again.


East borders, backed by espalier apple and pears in blossom – April

Another combination, of shining silvers and purples, that worked quite well was: Cotton thistle (Onopordum acanthium), Drumstick allium (Allium sphearocephalon), Artemisia ludoviciana, Salvia turkestanica and Lambs ears (Stachys byzantina). As an added bonus, the bees love nearly all of these flowers and the onopordum is particularly great at attracting hoverflies in their droves.


Shame that Onopordum is such a prickly character. Cutting it down is a tricky business!

As the season progresses the colours in the borders hot up. This mixture of yellow, orange and purple is repeated using various plants along the path, but I especially liked this combination of dahlias, sunflowers, cannas and lychnis.


Perennial sunflower backed by Dahlias ‘David Howard’ and ‘Nuit d’Eté’ and deep maroon hollyhocks

Here are some other blends that I liked:

And some views from the back of the borders:

I love agapathus, but this patch (below) has become too big and needs to be divided again. It is a job that I enjoy and feels very rewarding (all those extra plants – just wonderful). Roll on 2018!


Agapanthus, anthemis, lychnis backed by artemisia and leucanthemum

The size of the borders gives me a chance to try out new plants every year. These are typically grown from seed to produce the volume required and keep costs low. My favourites this year were Tagetes ‘Cinnabar’, Tithonia ‘Torch’ (very prolific this year) and Nicotiana mutabilis. They have been cover in earlier posts since I was pleased with them, so I’ll not repeat that here. However, I’ve also been enchanted with the american pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) that was started last year. It didn’t get big enough to flower then, but this year came good.


American Pokeweed growing with asters and verbena

I decided that I wanted to try this plant when I saw it at the Tropical Gardens in Abbotsbury. It was used as a dramatic screen around the restaurant balcony (it’s toxic though!). What fantastic colour and structure and I love the little, white whiskers against the black fruit. Hopefully, they will come back even stronger next season.

Also flowering for the first time in the borders were a pair of Euphorbia stygiana. They are beautiful, honey-scented domes at the entrance to the east borders. Self-seeds from elsewhere in the garden, we’d chopped them down the previous autumn because they became too big for our space. They’ve bounced back and gifted us with delicious smelling flowers.


The sticky, curious, honey-scented flowers of Euphorbia stygiana

The main disappointment grown from seed this year was the Staircase plant or wild dagga (Leonotris leonurus). I planted them out in a prominent position and they grew well, but didn’t start budding up to flower until mid-November when the frosts struck. The plan had been for them to emerge as orange towers through a sea of blue clary sage. It was a bit of a lesson in trialling things where they don’t matter first. If anybody has any hints on getting this to flower earlier I’d be glad to hear.


Leonotris leonurus in the autumn

Black Friday allowed me to indulge in purchasing a few things to try in 2018. So I am looking forward to trying Hibiscus sabdariffa, Agastache aurantiaca and Gypsophila elegans ‘Kermesina’. What plans do you have?

Happy New Year folks and have fun in your gardens!



About Frogend_dweller

Living in the damp middle of nowhere
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13 Responses to Border Review 2017

  1. nexi says:

    …Starting from literal rock bottom with a small new plot, having moved to Yorkshire and its boulder clay – beautiful photos of the border. All the best for your new year planting!

  2. Brian Skeys says:

    Some impressive borders, lovely to see them through the year. Well done for volunteering for four years. The NT couldn’t survive without its volunteers. I always have plans to make improvements, for when the garden is open, time seems to be the limiting factor.

    • Thanks Brian. I was part of the ‘chain gang’ before taking over the borders, so in fact I’ve done nine years of volunteering this February! Time, yes it is nearly always the main factor. I hope to be doing more to improve mine this year too. Good luck fitting your changes in.

  3. I’m interested in your last comment of the plant that developed buds too late to flower, this is something that frequently happens in my garden, as you know I am in the very north of the UK and I have always put the problem down to there not being enough heat here, I wish there was information about the tempretures plants need to reach flowering, I have noticed some plants appear to be affected by warmth, others by light, though I have not made records of these observations,

    how generous of you to give your time and energy freely for the benefit of plants and the people who visit the gardens, you sound like you enjoy it very much, thank you for sharing views of the border and your thoughts on plant combinations,

    wishing you a happy new year, Frances

    • Happy New Year Frances! It is true that there is plenty of stuff to be found on germination, but not much on flowering/bloom timing and requirements. I think that I’ve seen alot more information provided via catalogues for nursery growers in the trade on this though. With your growing conditions I guess that you often have to add to cropping times given on seed packets, don’t you?

  4. Eliza Waters says:

    A lovely review – the year seems to have flown by. Beware the beautiful Pokeweed… it’ll spread! Best wishes in 2018!

  5. Tina says:

    Beautiful work and what a year’s review! Kudos to you and your fellow gardeners for your wonderful efforts. There’s nothing like an English garden…:)

  6. Happy New Year. What a wonderful array of planting and flowers. I am green with envy!

    • Happy New Year to you Cathy. Indeed, it is a pleasure to work at Wimpole, because of the people, the scale of the borders and the challenges. I see some of those in your garden too!

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