DENVER — The herbaceous border is an English concept. And it's a good one. A border is a way of grouping perennial plants so they make sense. It's like a picture frame around a painting.
Although my borders have straight lines, borders don't have to be symmetrical. It makes sense in my garden, since you stroll down borders to get to the folly. It's a destination. That's a good way to use borders: to lead to a destination. It doesn't have to be a structure; it can be a bench, birdbath or sculpture.
Borders don't have to actually border something. Mine run straight through the middle of my back garden, which used to be a vast expanse of lawn. If straight lines don't work for your aesthetic, borders can follow any contours that you decide.
Borders take a few years to fill in. The rule of thumb with perennials is that the first year they sleep, the second year they creep and the third year they leap. And while many perennials are long-lived, "perennial" doesn't mean "immortal."
There shouldn't be any open ground in a perennial border. Do not use bark mulch. A spring topdressing of compost, however, will benefit the plants. Close spacing also leaves no room for weeds to sprout.
Select perennials that like your conditions and your soil. That takes trial and error. The borders eventually sort themselves out, with the happiest plants asserting dominance.
Plan for every period of the growing season. Perennials come in waves, so don't neglect late-blooming rudbeckias, garden phlox and asters.
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