Sunday, March 22, 2015

My North Border: Year 2 Photos

I've been thinking about my re-designed North Border: how it looked last year and how I might improve it this year. As I was looking at last year's photos of it, I decided to do a post showing how the border looked through the 2014 bloom season, analyze any weaknesses, and identify some improvements that I have made or that I'm considering making (I apologize that this ended up being a bit long).

Background: In 2013 I enlarged (to about 60 feet long by 12 feet deep) the long border behind my house that I can see from my kitchen sink and moved the roses that were there. My goal is to have a big mixed border filled with large swathes of flowering annuals, perennials and bulbs that are easy to see from inside the house, so I've been trying to plant mostly light-colored and bright-colored flowers that will show up against the evergreen windbreak in the background. The border ranges from full sun on the east (right) end to afternoon shade on the west (left) end, so plantings cannot necessarily be symmetrical or repeated down the entire length of the border.

In Spring 2013 I planted the North Border with peonies, 'Becky' shasta daisies (which mostly died over the hard winter), ox-eye daisies, three varieties of phlox, perennial helianthus, dame's rocket, daylilies, irises, yellow Asiatic lilies and a number of oriental lilies (very few of which bloomed).

Additionally, I tried to start hollyhocks and foxgloves from seed, but none of them survived the winter. Sigh.

And in Fall 2013 I planted 600 Darwin hybrid tulips, 360 mixed daffodils, 100 'Purple Sensation' alliums, a few white eremurus foxtail lilies (none of which bloomed) and 10 crown imperial fritillaria (none of which bloomed).

Here are some photos of the season last year (Year 2):

Early May 2014:

Some tulips bloomed by the first week of May 2014, but it seemed a pretty sparse show after such a long, cold winter.
The bulbs are interspersed with depressingly large bare spots where plants died over the winter. 
Problems: 1. Too much bare soil everywhere, but particularly in the front of the border (I planted the bulbs toward the back, so their fading foliage will be hidden by later blooms.) 2. The edges of the bed were messy and uneven. 3. Few of the daffodils that I planted bloomed, and those that did were much later than I expected (I need more early color).
Already Done: I moved six or seven small boxwood shrubs and the same number of pink-flowering mums from a holding area and planted them along the front. The evergreen boxwoods will provide year-round structure once they are larger, and the mums' foliage will emerge in spring so that there will be something coming up in front. I also cut a sharp edge around the border to neaten it up. Additionally, I replaced the Shasta daisies and hollyhocks that died over the winter. In fall I planted some white grape hyacinths in the front in small groups, which should increase into small clumps that will bloom in May.
Ideas:  Some basket-of-gold (Aurinia saxatilis) would add some more early bright color in front. Maybe plant some more daffodils, early-blooming varieties?

Late May:

By the second half of May, some of the tulips were fading and the 100 alliums were making a nice show. You can see the line of tiny boxwoods planted near the front along the length of the border.

A closeup of the alliums planted with hot pink tulips. A few daffodils finally showed,
surprising me with their late (and sparse) bloom.
By the end of May, the dame's rocket complemented the purple alliums, and more foliage fills out the back two-thirds of the border. And ox-eye daisies are starting to bloom. Still, the planting is pretty sparse.
Problems: General sparseness, lack of height in the back.
Already Done: I planted some yellow yarrow (Achillea 'Moonshine') in three spots in the middle third of the border, and transplanted some Veronica 'Red Fox' from my Rainbow Border, both of which should bloom by the end of May if they survive the winter. Also I planted some lupine seeds on the far left end.
Ideas: Perhaps some more irises would look nice; the few I planted did bloom, and when the clumps get bigger they'll make more of a show. Lady's Mantle (Alchemilla mollis)? Maybe some pink salvia or perhaps some pink hardy geraniums? Any of these would give me more foliage and flowers across the front half of the border.

Late June:

The east (right) end of the border at the end of June. More foliage, including zinnias and four o'clocks from seeds, have filled in some of the empty areas, and petunias from starts give some color, but flowers are still few and far between.
The entire border, taken from an upstairs window at the end of June. Pretty colorless, in my opinion, with only the four yellow Asiatic lilies in the center giving a (small) show, in addition to the annual petunias and some snapdragons on the left.
Problems: The self-seeded snapdragons have taken over the entire left third of the border. This was good for weed suppression, but looked pretty boring. And not much is blooming. More height is needed also.
Already Done: I seeded more hollyhocks on both ends in the back of the border, and some of them have grown up this year and should flower next year in June (if they live). I also planted about thirty taller Asiatic lilies (3-4 ft tall). They should add height to the middle third of the border and provide color in late June and early July. Also, I planted some larger 'Gladiator' alliums, which bloom later than the 'Purple Sensation' that are planted there already.
Ideas: ??


The right half of the border in mid-July. The self-seeded sunflowers are beginning to bloom and add height to the border, and the other annual (zinnias, cosmos and four o'clocks)  foliage is about a foot in height, filling in the empty spots in front, The petunias have expanded and add color in front. 

The left half of the border in mid-July. The yellow Asiatic lilies are still blooming, and there is quite a show from the self-seeded snapdragons that have taken over the far end of the border. The perennial sunflower foliage is adding height in back.
Problems: Still not a lot of color
Already Done: I transplanted some taller light purple phlox to three spots in the middle third of the border.
Ideas: Try to plant annuals earlier?


By early August, the border is starting to look like something. The self-seeded sunflowers are blooming and giving height (10 feet!) to the border, and the zinnias are in full bloom (although I forgot to plant any annuals in the center spot, which is conspicuously bare -- I'll keep better track of where I plant seeds next year).
Problems: Gaps in front, weeds taking over especially in back
Already Done: I've promised myself to seed annuals more systematically, so I don't miss spots.
Ideas: I will mulch the back two-thirds of the border early next spring to suppress weeds. I need to leave the front third unmulched so the annual seeds can germinate.


By early September, the sunflowers have started to go over (and some of them blew over in a storm too). But the 'Lemon Queen' perennial sunflowers have been blooming for weeks, and the zinnias, petunias and cosmos are in riotous abandon. Also, the pink 'Clara Curtis' mums that I added this spring are in bloom at the front.
By the second half of September, the border looks a bit tidier (and sparser) after pulling out the sunflowers that had blown over.

A closeup showing a problem: the phlox I planted last year is much shorter and later than I thought it would be, so it isn't visible behind the zinnias planted in front.
Problems:  Many of the flowers have the same shape and texture; I need some spiky or other different shapes to add variety to the border. Maybe salvia reblooming will provide this? Perhaps the tall purple phlox will look different too.
Ideas: Move short phlox to the front this spring.


By the second half of October, the border is winding down.There are still a few zinnias, cosmos and petunias, and there are numerous snapdragons at the far end that love cooler weather, but that's about it.

The last flowers of Autumn are always precious. These
zinnias and a reblooming iris were a welcome sight.
Ideas: I'm thinking of adding some later flowering mums in front. The 'Clara Curtis' ones I already have in the border bloom in early September and are done by early October, when mums are needed. I do have some later ones in my front border that I'm thinking of dividing this spring and planting in this border. Also, I planted some tall asters in the middle of the border that I hope will fill out and bloom during October.


By November 1st, frost has removed nearly all color from the border.
In mid-November, after removal of most of the annuals in order to plant more bulbs, the border once again looks sparse.
Ideas: I'm thinking of putting a few evergreens in the back section of the border. Some kind of bright green tall shrubs or small, narrow trees might look nice against the darker green of the red cedar windbreak, and provide some winter structure. I'll think about it. Also, in years in which I don't need to plant more bulbs, I could leave some annual foliage standing, which would give more to look at in winter.

Additionally, there are some general problems with the border that are not month-specific -- As I mentioned, the left side is considerably more shady than the right side, so some of the things I plant there don't do as well. I need to find perennials and annuals that like afternoon shade for that area. I've tried planting some lupine seeds, but they were mostly crowded out by the snapdragons that took over that area; perhaps some foxgloves would look nice.

All in all, the North Border improved last year, even though it still needs some work and changes. I can't wait to see what last year's improvements, as well as the effects of maturing plants, will look like this year -- I'm looking forward to the show! And I'd certainly appreciate any suggestions from readers for ideas for planting or other improvements.

Thanks for reading! -Beth


  1. A great post, it is interesting to see how your north border has developed. You have lots of lovely bulbs and plenty of colour in late Summer. I think it would look even better in Spring if you added some shrubs, either evergreen with lovely foliage or Spring flowering shrubs. Or how about bergenias or heucheras with colourful leaves or some grasses like Carex comans or ' Frosted Curls'. Do hellebores do well for you?

    1. Chloris, thanks so much for your greatly needed suggestions! I think you're right about the spring flowering shrubs -- I'm hoping the peonies will help once they grow larger, and I will think about what other early spring flowering shrubs do well here. Heucheras, especially the new yellow or lime-green ones, would probably do well on the left, shady end, although our baking full sun on the right end would likely be too much for them; ditto for bergenias, and hellebores need even more shade, I think. I appreciate your helpful suggestions -- and thanks for reading! -Beth

  2. I like how you organized and analyzed this, the photos, the descriptions in words, then the problems and the fixes. You said: I can't wait to see what last year's improvements will look like this year -- I'm looking forward to the show!" Me, too!

    1. Thanks for your nice words, Jane -- I'm glad you enjoyed the post. I'll be sure to post pictures of the border as the season unfolds this year. Thanks for reading! -Beth

  3. Beth, this is A LOT of work and it shows! It will continue to improve every season. I have just a few thoughts for you. I tried to plant 100 Asiatic lily bulbs in a bed that gets very very dry and wasn't amended much with compost. The lilies bloomed one year and then never came back. Yet my lilies planted in a loamy area spread and performed beautifully. The next year I dumped a ton of compost in the dry bed and planted more lilies. They have done well ever since. I think they just thrive in looser soil. That may not be your problem at all but that was my experience with a mass lily planting :)
    Also, I think a weaving of limelight hydrangeas would look beautiful in this bed! So many great things about them-inexpensive, undemanding, big bloomers, and long lasting. I also love their fall blush color.
    I love your gardens and your blog! I love that everything you do is a garden and not just landscaping!

    1. Hi Stephen, thanks for your suggestions! I do have heavy clay soil, although I did add compost on top when preparing the border for planting, so it's possible the lilies won't do as well here as in some other spots that have looser soil. The ones that didn't bloom last year were cheap Oriental lily bulbs from the local home improvement store and were pretty much DOA. I'm hoping the Asiatic bulbs I got from John Scheepers last fall will be superior to those. We'll see -- it's too early for foliage to be up here. I'll definitely dress the border with compost this year though -- it certainly can't hurt!
      And your idea of hydrangeas is pretty good too, at least for the left shady side of the border. (Our baking hot Midwest full sun would not be so hospitable for them in the right half.)
      Thanks for your kind words, Stephen. I'm glad you enjoy the posts and that you enjoy gardening as opposed to landscaping too. Thanks for reading! -Beth

  4. August and Sept were beautiful times in our border. The sunflowers add a lot. Do you stake them? I have had to stake mine in the past. Looking forward to gardening this year!

    1. Hi Beth! No, I never staked the sunflowers, which seem to be fairly stable in this protected location inside our windbreak. They eventually blew over after they finished flowering and dried up, but I just pulled them out at that point. Thanks so much for reading! -Beth

  5. Hi Beth! An interesting post recording the work in progress on your North Border which I've enjoyed and meant to have commented on earlier. It's a big border to fill, but as time goes on you'll enjoy the benefit of working on some of the problems such as the soil conditions and different areas of shade from one side to the other which you have to plan for. The Border will give you much pleasure as you look out at it from the house. I'm looking forward to seeing how the boxwoods are doing this year and what you decide to plant. Wishing you a lovely Easter weekend.

  6. Hi Linda, I'm so glad you have enjoyed reading the post -- it's long, so thanks for reading all the way through it. Yes, I'm definitely looking forward to seeing how the border progresses this year. And I hope you and your family enjoy the Easter weekend too! Best Regards, -Beth

  7. Hi Beth! What an interesting and honest post on your garden progress, warts and all. I can't wait to see your garden become fuller and more beautiful with each passing season. I do think a few evergreen or flowering shrubs will help the garden look fuller and more mature earlier in the spring and it will help tremendously in breaking the gap between the huge pine trees behind the garden and the flower garden itself by creating different planting heights more pleasing to the eyes. I'm currently dealing with the same issues in my 2 year old flower garden and I'm absolutely delighted to have found this very insightful and interesting post. Thank you and happy gardening!
    Ana Alen

    1. Hi Ana, I'm so glad you stopped by to read my blog! I appreciate your comment and I'm sure you're right that some evergreen or flowering shrubs would help the garden look fuller and be a bridge between the garden and the windbreak. I'd love to see photos of your garden too -- do you have a blog? Thanks for visiting! -Beth

  8. Here are a few ideas: Take out the grass strip between the flowers and the the trees and add some flowering shrubs. That will make the transition from an established tree line to the grass more natural and it will help fill in. Consider adding joe pye weed, heliopsis, and other tall perennials. You can also scatter more dwarf flowering shrubs such as abelia, weigela, etc through out your design for more winter structure.

    I agree with Chloris that grasses would be beautiful, too. I used to shy away from them but they make such a positive difference in a mixed border. Pennisetum and miscanthus have such elegant form and movement. Adding some birdhouses on tall poles would be fun, too. I'm looking forward to seeing how this border progresses. :o)

    1. Hi Casa, That's a very interesting idea, to remove the back grass strip and plant shrubs there -- I will definitely think a lot about how this would work and what I might plant there -- thanks for thinking outside the box (or the bed, as the case might be...)! And more shrubs throughout might indeed help quite a bit in making it look fuller -- you're not the only one to suggest that, so you're undoubtedly right. And your birdhouse idea is fun. Thanks for reading and for all your helpful ideas! -Beth