#33 Mixed Borders for Cut Flowers
Last week I talked about growing flowers for arrangements, and described some of my favorite shrubs and perennials for mixed bouquets. This week I’ll talk about creating that kind of a mixed border in the garden.
In my design business I often come across residential landscapes where either the builder, previous designer, or homeowner have laid out garden beds that are only about 2 or 3 feet wide. They are often at the edge of the lawn and up against any fencing surrounding the property, or simply an open property line. They may also be along one of the long exterior walls of the home.
The first thing I try to do is convince the clients that a much wider bed would be more appropriate, and give much more dramatic effect to the landscape. I would suggest that 6-7 feet wide is the minimum, and more would be even better. Wider beds allow for a process that could be termed “layering”.
First, start with the choice of some large shrubs, or small ornamental or flowering trees (height from 6-12 feet). Place them at intervals along the back of the border, widely spaced. Always research the ultimate dimensions of those plants, and allow plenty of room. This is one of the keys to producing a naturalistic look and also cutting down on maintenance. Trees and shrubs placed too closely require ongoing pruning, and that pruning seldom improves on the natural form of the plant.
Consider planting a mix of evergreen and deciduous shrubs. In an area where screening from the neighbors is desired, evergreens will give a year round privacy barrier. In our climate, where good fall color is rare, I would go with perhaps 2/3 evergreen, and 1/3 those that lose their leaves. In more northern climates, where there is a wide choice of trees and shrubs which turn lovely color before shedding their leaves, perhaps a half and half division would be best.
Depending on how large an area you are planting, consider repetition of some of these larger plants. In a small garden start the bed with a variety, fill in between with several different shrubs, and place another of the same variety at the end of the border. The larger the bed, the more important repetition is to the cohesiveness of the planting.
This “back of the border” position is a good place for very tall and narrow shrubs like Japanese Yew (Podocarpus macrophyllus ‘Maki”) or Skyrocket Juniper They make good “framing” shrubs for the end of the border or to enclose and set off a dramatic change in the tone or color within the border. It is also appropriate for some of our native small trees, like the Anacacho Orchid Tree (Bauhinia congesta), Red Buckeye (Aesculus pavia), Eve’s Necklace (Sophora affinis) or the well known Texas Mountain Laurel (Sophora secundiflora). These small tree-like shrubs will ultimately grow to give some shade to plants beneath, thus creating small areas for shade loving plants within the context of a sunny border. The back of the border might also be the place to put those large old garden roses that seem to “take over the world”.
If you desire fruit in your landscape, this might be a good place to grown some of the semi-dwarf or dwarf varieties of Pear, Apple, Plum, or other stone fruits adapted to our area. Be sure to check with local Extension Agent recommendations before choosing varieties. Pomegranate (Punica granatum) or Fig (Ficus carica) would also be suitable. Do leave some extra room at the base of the plants so that you may enter the bed and pick the fruit. In very deep beds, say 9 feet or more, you will want to place some stepping stones at intervals to provide access to plants that require more care than others, and also to hose bibs or other items along the house.