The Perennial Border Plants – at last. And their Seasonal interest


I’ve been working till my head is spinning designing the very complicated Perennial Border.  It is about 70’ long by about 20’ wide, with a path down the center.  I’m doing seven different groups of three plants each, beginning and ending with the same combination of plants.  Each group is somewhat self-contained, in that the three plants in it complement and contrast with each other – in height, texture, color, seasons.  And each of the groups also has to lead nicely into the next.  And together they should draw you along the path.

Group 4, the center of the border is the ‘hottest’ color, vivid red and purple.  The plants leading to it and from it are somewhat softer colored, growing richer and then receding.


And here is the result.  The numbers after each variety is the quantity I will need to order!

Perennial Seasonal Interest

So what kind of garden are you making? Introducing: A Modified English Garden

“What kind of garden are you making?”  It’s the question I hear most.  (Well, maybe tied with “When will it be done?”)   English…  American… New American…Dutch… Japanese?   So lately, while I’ve been designing the perennial borders I’ve been mulling the possible answers.  In some ways the answer to all of the above is “yes, yes and yes”.  But the real answer is, it depends what you mean.

So here is what I mean by each of the above labels and how the Timshala gardens fit – or don’t fit.

English Flower BorderTo me the essence of an English garden is that it is plant-focused.  Whether it is a tiny front-of-the-house cottage garden or an estate with acres of lawn, trees, meadows, flower borders, an important part of an English garden is the plants themselves.  The plant-obsessed English gardener knows the Latin names of the plants, thrills to see and discover the way an unfamiliar plant grows and flowers.  That describes me!  But the difference is that to the English gardener the plan, design, layout is of secondary interest at best.  That does not describe me.

 The American garden?   I find that Americans often want a garden (or ‘yard’) that looks cared for, neat, and is a place for children to play and have occasional cook-outs.  The idea of a  master design or plan — or design at all —  is quite alien.  The selection of plants is often based on what is commonly available.  And what is commonly available usually depends on what local nurseries have found will do well in a particular locale.   Plants found in a California nursery are nothing like plants found in New Hampshire.  The habitat is therefore very important here.  I too choose plants based on habitatBut also based on a design.

 What is now called the New American Garden was probably begun by Oehme &  Van Sweden, a firm of Landscape Architects, whose brilliant, original design technique was to use plants – largely massed perennials and grasses – to create and define spaces within a garden.  This definitely resonates with me.  There is a passion for plants, and for design.  But I love a complex mixing of plants, within the spaces created by the massed plants and structures.

Oudolf Garden autumn I added the Dutch style because of the great designer Piet Oudolf.  He has created gardens in a kind of  ‘prairie’ style, using brilliant, complex perennial and grass combinations.  Unlike in the English garden, the changing appearance through the seasons is important.  He treats the whole plant, year-round, as part of the design.  So the seedheads, stalks, dried leaves are all part of his design, and give year-round interest.   And I intend that some areas of Timshala will give that experience.  But not all.  I am trying to create a series of gardens which are different one from another…have different views from different places in the house and as you stroll in the garden…yet work together.

Japanese stroll garden Which is why I include Japanese style in my list.  Because the idea of a Stroll Garden originated there.  As you move through a Japanese garden the experience changes and the paths draw you in, from one area to the next.


And what I’ve come up with, as a description of Timshala is: the Modified  English Garden.

– An English passion for plants, with the opportunity to examine and study, close-up, the individual plants.

– Plants chosen by the American habitat they need to thrive.

– Spaces shaped by masses of plants, including trees and shrubs, as well as by the shapes of the house, the paths, the arbors.

– Complex interplantings of plants.

– Seeing and using all the qualities of the plants as the seasons change.

– And a changing experience at each stage of a stroll.

One  final comment: There are a lot of other ways to answer the same question.  Many years ago, when I was just beginning to make gardens, an acquaintance asked me the question.  “What kind of garden….”.  I answered in considerable detail, outlining some of the qualities I’ve just described.  I finally stopped for breath, and my now glassy-eyed friend said, “I meant are you growing vegetables or flowers”.


A client of mine once noted that in virtually every garden I design – from the smallest rooftop container garden to many-acre country gardens – I use plants in mass as part of the design.  It was a good observation.

Many plant lovers – and I admit I am one of them – satisfy their hunger for plants by getting one or a few of a beloved plant and spot them around the garden.  The result, as many have said before me, is a collection not a garden.  And I surely want to see and enjoy – and have others share — the details of the plants I love.

But creating spaces is my primary design goal…and plants are my design material, the means by which I create spaces.  You can’t do it with different plants spotted around.

So, for example, the driveway will be lined with Sargent Cherries – ten of them – creating a sense of direction, of motion, and defining the space which is the driveway. And incidentally, by leading to it, also defining the space which is the house.  Here’s the post I did about the Cherries.

Ten flowering crabapples define the orchard; it is a space of its own.

Similarly, the grass meadow – over an acre of tall grass (I haven’t decided yet which grass species will be appropriate in this climate for the effect I want) will be shared with red Flanders Poppies,  Papaver rhoeas in the spring.   Then, by the time the Poppies have died back the grasses will have their seed heads moving in the breeze for the remainder of the year.

The powerful bed displaying Bronze Fennel (200) and Rosa ‘Morning Has Broken’ (18) is a space of its own and will also help define the lawn that leads to it.

A copse of six Witch Hazels,Hamamelis fills the area between the driveway and the front door with winter beauty and fragrance.  It makes that area a definite Place.

These are all beautiful plants in their own right.   And they would be no less beautiful if planted in ones or twos.  But then they wouldn’t also be acting as part of the design.  They would be a collection, not a garden.