Narrow Border Ideas

marcindy(z5b, Indianapolis, IN)February 1, 2007


I am struggling with the design of a narrow border in my backyard. The bed in question is about 4' deep and about 15' long. The shape is that of a large half-circle. It wrapps around three 7' tall Alberta Spruces. The front of the bed has a stone wall, about 1' tall, ideal for sititng and admiring smaller flowers up close. The bed is facing south, getting full sun all day, and as it is filled in soil from the pond/waterfall excavation is has good drainage, without being a totally sunbaked and dry bed. I currently have four Miscanthus 'Yakushima' in there, but they are too big and way out of proportion. I'll dig them out in spring. So here is what I would like to put in this bed: groups of tall bearded iris about a foot out from the Alberta spruces, so that the lower branxhes of the spurces don't dy back and create holes in the nice cone shape. Behind the iris and infront of the spruces I would like to plant groups of daffodils for spring flowers. In the gaps between iris clumps and slightly forward I thought of planting Pennisetum 'Hameln'. The front of the bed and closest to the low wall would house Moonbeam coreopsis, Matrona Sedum and groups of low blue and pink asters for fall. My question is, what could I plant to carry this bed through summer? I thought of Phlox, but that may smother the iris too much. What about Gaura butterflybush and perovskia, both would do well next to iris clumps by not shading them too much. What else could I add for high summer color? I would rather not use annuals here as I plan to also include groups of croucs and ornamental onions, and given my short memory I am certain to dig up little bulbs when planting annuals.

Thanks for your thoughts and ideas.


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Hmmmm. I can picture your border- it sounds lovely. How about some daylilies? They're easy to manage, come in countless colors, sizes, and bloom times to choose from, and they would pick-up the colorful show time between the irises and the asters. I have many of the plants you mention as well in my garden, and the daylily blooms/foliage complement the gaura, petrovskia, coreopsis, and sedums nicely. You might also want to consider salvia, dianthus, cranesbill geraniums, coneflowers for some long lasting mid-season color. The dianthus has nice winter interest as well, if that's important to you.

I'm forever digging up my spring bulbs during the summer when I'm fooling in the garden, so I can appreciate your anti-annual stance.


    Bookmark   February 1, 2007 at 6:07PM
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If you truly had M. 'Yakushima', then P. 'Hamelin' isn't all that much shorter when in flower. But that wasn't your question.

As long as they're kept watered, a few summer-blooming clematis would be good. You could plant them behind the trees so that their roots are shaded, and either let them climb up the spruces, or spread throughout the beds (and over the wall). Taller, hardy and vigorous ones to try might include Prince Charles, Jackmanii, Emilia Plater, Margot Koster, Viola, Blue Belle, Victor Hugo, Bonanza, Warsaw Nike. A good clematis nursery like Garden Crossings, Brushwood, Joy Creek or Chalk Hill would be ideal.

If by "color" you mean leaf color, there are all sorts of purple-leaved plants. Sedum 'Matrona' sported a purple sprout once, and now you can get it as 'Blackjack', which will be an instense purple in full sun. There are some purple geraniums like 'Victor Reiter' and 'Midnight Reiter' that would make a nice mass planting. Of course, these bloom as well.

Eryngiums and echinops are great for full sun, dry locations. These may be too tall for you, though there are shorter eryngiums like e. bourgatii and e. 'Blue Hobbit'.

Balloon flowers bloom later in the summer. They can be shorter (6") to fairly tall (18+"). Just some quick ideas.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2007 at 6:13PM
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marcindy(z5b, Indianapolis, IN)

Thanks for those ideas. Jessica, I just smacked my forehead hard for not thinking about daylilies. Sometimes the obvious eludes one.... thanks for that idea, they are perfect for the situation in both height, flowering time and their foliage. Dianthus and several varieties of sedums are on order from Bluestone, I am sure they'll do well there. And I have salvia's that need dividing anyways... I think I will stick with those plants and add groups of different lilies for additional splash. Michael, your clematis idea is unusual, but I wonder if I could grow at least two on some ornamental obelisk type structure...hmmm, I like that idea. As far as heigh and spread of Yakushima Miscanthus is concerned, I am sure that I have that variety. I bought four plants from two different sources independently. All four plants are identical, and, at least for me, they have reached 4-5 feet when in bloom, whereas the Hameln Pennisetum stays at about 2 feet in height and diameter, a clear difference. I any case, thanks so much for your ideas.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2007 at 8:44PM
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marcindy(z5b, Indianapolis, IN)

Michael, after I posted the reply I did some research, and I think I know what you were thinking of when you mentioned Yakushima Miscanthus. There is a variety called Yakushima Dwarf, that stays at 24 inches. I have the regular Yakushima variety, which really grows to much greater heights. Of course, now I am tempted with Yakushima Dwarf... LOL

    Bookmark   February 1, 2007 at 8:48PM
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Lilies come in different colors, shapes, heights and can bloom for you all summer long. The location sounds perfect for them. Their foliages stay relatively neat after blooming.
Dwarf varieties look stunning on this kind of bed.

    Bookmark   February 2, 2007 at 11:41AM
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Gaura seems a bit short lived, though may do better in your zone. I'd worry about the Russian sage floppy. It seems to me in a narrow border everything has to stay upright.

Daylilies were my first thought also. Caradonna salvia and Purple Dome aster would fit in the space but may not be perfect for the bloom time may not be exactly what you need.

Echinacea and Agastache stay fairly upright for me.


    Bookmark   February 2, 2007 at 3:29PM
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I want to throw in another couple of plants that I love.

Grass: Eragrostis elliottii 'Wind Dancer', Lovegrass
(I have it next to Sedum Matrona) good drainage required.
Perennial: Lavender , nice shrubby plant that looks good all year. The drainage would work well for it.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2007 at 6:49AM
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I like the small varieties of sedum and creeping thyme at the front of the border along the top of a stone wall - they both look good all year and bloom late in the season. The sedum is especially nice to view close up, even when not in bloom.

I'm getting some great ideas from your thread, since I've also got a fairly narrow garden along the top of my (dry-laid) stone wall. I can tell you about lots of plants that didn't work well for me, such as baptista and montauk daisies (both are too floppy and sprawling, with not enough bloom). On the positive side, lavender, sunset hyssop, russian sage, veronica and gaura work really well in my wall garden, they all appreciate the good drainage. In fact, the gaura is almost too happy there, and self-sows generously. It takes well to a little early staking, and cascades over the wall rather than flopping.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2007 at 9:36AM
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One thing you might want to consider would be woodland tobacco. I planted these last year and the year before and they were wonderful. They got huge! The coolest part was they were a major butterfly and bee magnet so when I planted them near the pumpkins it was pollination heaven! But I digress. The woodland tobacco has a couple of different flavors, they flower from early summer until they die after the first hard frost and you can buy inexpensive little plants that you won't feel sad about composting at the end of the year. If you're interested Marc email me for my source from last year. I'll have to look back in my gardening log for who I got the (mail order) plants from. Also one thing, they really are tall. Assume with good sun a minimum of four feet tall. And can you give us some pictures of your space?

Good luck.


My email:

    Bookmark   February 3, 2007 at 7:48PM
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Geranium "Rozanne"

    Bookmark   February 5, 2007 at 11:53AM
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How about some oriental lilies, to add some height to the plantings without a lot of width?

    Bookmark   February 7, 2007 at 8:58PM
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marcindy(z5b, Indianapolis, IN)

Those are all great ideas. I will definitely add oriental lilies, as they are easy, dfon't take away much space, and, with the right choices, bloom over quite a long period.

    Bookmark   February 8, 2007 at 3:10PM
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nancyd(5/Rochester, NY)

Don't forget to add some foliage plants to carry the garden through between blooms. I think we focus so much on flowering, we forget about foliage and texture. Small grasses, artemesia, groundcover sedums, thymes, etc. Look for plants also with variegated or silver leaves. They really make things pop. That being said, if you truly want non-stop blooms, try a couple groundcover roses. 4 feet is a sufficient width for that size and they are easily pruned. I bought a new "Carefree" variety in the spring and was quite impressed. The thing was disease free and never stopped blooming from summer to fall. If you're a non-rose grower, you'll have much better success than planting the traditional hybrids.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2007 at 8:34AM
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marcindy(z5b, Indianapolis, IN)

Hi Nancyd, I live in Japanese Beetle heaven. I have a formal rose garden about 20 feet from this small bed with about 40 rose bushes, mostly hybrid teas, floribundas and English roses. I used to get one flush of blooms in June, and than the JP would shred the rest for the rest fot he summer. Last two years not even that first flush made, as I started to have rose midge on all of them. This year, the roses are gone and I will plant perennials in the beds instead. I appreciate your suggestion about Carefree, but unless they are at least somewhat resistant to rose midge and recover quickly from JP I will not consider them.( can you tell I am frustrated with Also, no more spraying in my yard, I started to raise bees and will not pollute my own garden any further...ok, I am stepping down now from my

    Bookmark   February 15, 2007 at 2:44PM
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