Peter Dowdall underlines the joy and floral abandon of an herbaceous border for the summer months.

My birthday is in mid-October which makes me a well balanced Libra, (or so I like to think). 

We all need a sense of balance in our lives, for without it we have too much. 

Too much of one side or the other or perhaps too much of nothing.

For me, the garden is in full swing when the perennials are doing their thing and at their best. 

It is really hard to beat a purely herbaceous border in terms of colour, vibrancy and value. 

They give and they give and then they give some more. 

However to create a good Herbaceous border, balance is needed. 

With a bit of careful planning and good plant choices you can create a border that will be in colour for up to eight months of the year.

Some important things need to be taken into consideration when planning such a border so that it doesn’t end up being simply a collection of different plants and a bit all over the place. 

One way to prevent it looking too chaotic and to give the border some balance is by repeating a particular plant or combination of plants throughout the border. 

Choose some of the taller growing varieties in a repeat to create this sense of order or perhaps something with a very definite structure such as Stipa gigantean, the Giant Oat Grass. 

Simply planting this at regular intervals throughout the bed will make the border more relaxing on the eye.

Delphiniums are another great one to repeat as they are the aristocrats of the perennial world. 

Standing upto 2 metres in height with long, rich coloured blooms they are perfect to work other, smaller plants around. 

If the Delphiniums are the royals then Lupins must be the landed gentry. 

WATCH: Pick perfect perennials for the summer months

Since I was a small child I have adored these blooms. 

There’s something about the shape and form of their candle like flowers — perhaps it’s their three dimensional presence, each little flower is like a puffed up pea blossom. 

They can be divided easily during the winter and early spring, but for me the best way to propagate these beauties is from seed for each seedling will give a different colour. 

Great combinations will result with the upper standard often being a different colour to the lower petals. 

Great fun for me as a child and even now as an adult, but possibly annoying in the extreme, if you are trying to bulk up on a particular colour. 

If so then vegetative propagation by division is necessary.

Unfortunately I have found over the years that they can be short lived perrenials, often dying off after only a few short years which is why I collect the seed each year and have a constant supply of new plants with surprise colours coming on. 

I’m not sure if it is the winter wet that puts paid to them or if it is slugs and snails feeding on them, but I do seem to remember them lasting longer as a child. 

I remember clumps in my mother’s garden which seemed to have been there for years, but perhaps that is my memory playing tricks and of course two or three years was much longer then than it is now.

One amateur gardener whos name has become synonymous with Lupins was George Russell who at the tender age of 80 brought a display of Lupins that he had bred himself to an RHS show in Vincent Square. 

He set the world of horticulture all aflutter as his creations possessed all the qualities sought after by growers, such as straight stems, strong open blooms and good colours. 

Allowing nature to do the magic, he relied on the bees to do the pollinating and was positively against pollinating by hand.

Lupinus Russell Hybrids were one of the plants shortlisted as the Plant of the Centenerary at Chelsea a few years back. 

In England, due to a much larger population than here, nearly every plant has a society dedicated to it and specialist nurseries who may breed only one genus.

One such nursery is West Country Lupins who have been trialing and perfecting Lupin strains for years. 

Their cultivars are often used in Chelsea Show gardens and are the varieties of choice at many of the UKs top gardens. 

‘Manhattan Lights’ is a particular favourite of mine with purple bells and yellow standards.

It is now being grown by Irish nurseries and is one worth sourcing for it is truly perennial and the blooms are long, erect and strong.

Again, to get the best out of plants depends on what you plant them with and I would suggest planting an Astrantia such as Hapsden Blood or Ruby Wedding nearby as not only will the colours compliment each other but the Astrantia is said to deter slugs and hopefully keep them away from the Lupins.

Worth a try surely.


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