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How to plan perennial border shrubs

Updated February 21, 2017

The perennial border style originated in England with Arts and Crafts-era garden designers Gertrude Jekyll and William Robinson. They popularised the use of a variety of perennial shrubs and flowers in creative combinations of height, colour, texture and form -- a style known as the English cottage garden. A perennial border looks casual, but its design is a carefully planned mix of shrubs. Cottage garden plants are chosen for their look, their usefulness, family preference and for emotional attachment. A good border design plan has back, middle and front sections that bloom continuously year-round.

Study older gardens in your local area to see which shrubs are already successfully grown in local climate conditions. Study native plant materials (available by state on the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center website database -- see Resources). Native perennial shrubs such as blue spiked salvia and purple coneflower are drought-resistant plants that bloom abundantly.

Choose tall perennials for the border background. Climbing roses, old heirloom roses, dogwood, rhododendrons, azalea, hollyhock, butterfly bush, chokeberry, lilac and hydrangea are commonly used as background perennial shrubs. Prune back the tall perennials yearly to retain the border's shape.

Plan the middle row of the perennial border by choosing flowers that grow 2 to 3 feet tall, such as golden yarrow, willow amsonia, Marguerite daisies, indigo and lilies. Leave 6 to 12 inches between plants to allow bulbs to reproduce and flowers to fill in. Bulb plants such as lilies and iris are divided and replanted every three to four years. Plan for early-spring blooms with iris and daffodils, late-spring blooms with roses and daisies, and autumn blooms with chrysanthemums. Asters provide pastel blooms throughout summer.

Design the front section of the perennial border with low-growing flowers such as yellow coreopsis, sweet alyssum, pink or red bergenia, purple campanula and dianthus. Flowers such as spurge provide foliage that changes colour, going from a yellow mound of flowers in spring to red foliage in fall. Coral bells are a perennial that reaches 10 to 18 inches in height and does well when shaded by the taller plants in the perennial border.

Tip

Perennial shrubs such as lilac and hydrangea have a dormant period in winter. Prune in early spring to keep the height and width in proportion to the border area. Bulbs such as iris are perennials that increase their blooms and colour each year. Tall bearded iris is well-suited to the middle-height area of the perennial border.

Warning

Perennial shrubs such as lilac and hydrangea have a dormant period in winter. Prune in early spring to keep the height and width in proportion to the border area. Bulbs such as iris are perennials that increase their blooms and colour each year. Tall bearded iris is well-suited to the middle-height area of the perennial border.

Things You'll Need

  • Perennials catalogue
  • Old rose catalogue
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About the Author

Joan Norton, M.A., is a licensed psychotherapist and professional writer in the field of women's spirituality. She blogs and has two published books on the subject of Mary Magdalene: "14 Steps To Awaken The Sacred Feminine: Women in the Circle of Mary Magdalene" and "The Mary Magdalene Within."