Garden Magic: Revealing a Beautiful Spring Border

Sometimes the most well-meaning plant purchases end up cluttering an otherwise lovely garden. I often see pots upon pots of plants, far past their best, abandoned and pushed into corners.

Especially among container garden enthusiasts, it seems all too easy to end up with empty or straggly container displays, either because:

1) The plants dried out in the heat of summer for lack of watering (easy to have done in last year’s sweltering drought)

2) The plants are not suited to the climate and conditions of southern England. That’s you, bougainvillea in winter. You can get bougainvillea to grow during the summer months, but it should be brought inside for the winter. Unfortunately, I found a few still stuck in pots in the garden.

My mission is to consolidate all these pots and create a beautiful garden that has just the right amount of seasonal container displays.

Week 1. Declutter

Today, much like Marie Kondo of the great outdoors, I confronted the first loosely defined border in this crowded container garden. January exposes the skeleton of a garden so well. Working on it now, I could easily see the structure of the choisya and hydrangea shrubs and prune them back.

A number of pots had wedged themselves in among the shrubs. I had to move four tall planters of rose and bay standards to open up the space.

I want to plant as many of the suitable container plants into the ground as possible, but I must work with quite a narrow border. The family prefers to keep the lawn areas wide.

So here we have the result of the tidy-up. I marked out the new border for the bed to complement the straight line of the paved path. As the plants fill out the space towards summer, they will fall over and soften the straight edge of the border.

Week 2. Define

The border is coming along. Today, I found a pile of path edging waiting for me. All made of stone, it was super heavy, but I had to fit them in. I’d never done path edging before, so it was my challenge for the day. I was really worried I wouldn’t be able to line them up, and it turned out to be a justified worry. They didn’t line up easily! 

I dug out a small trench and put the first one in, but the second one just wouldn’t go in flush with the first one. The trench needed to be perfectly level and at exactly the same angle for this to work. Every. Single. Time. 

Midway through, the angle of the edging stones deviated from the angle I’d cut out for the border. So I had to do even more digging to align them. 

I was getting really nervous because the minutes were ticking away, and I had no time to get to the plants. Perhaps that was for the better because after the frost the night before the soil in all the pots had frozen. It would have been really difficult to work with them, aka pick them out of the ice. 

I had to give myself credit eventually that indeed this was my first time laying edging, and ok, it didn’t look that bad! In fact, it was as straight as I could possibly make it. I gave it my best try, and the client said it looked beautiful. So here we are, before and after the path edging. Pretty pleased with it. 

Week 3. Plant it all

I filled up the border by planting a selection of spring bulbs. Or at least, the next best thing — bulbs already shooting up.

Here, we have irises, blooming beautifully. Together with snowdrops, dwarf tulips, hyacinths, crocuses, and English bluebells. I planted similar plants in groups. A few particularly spectacular ones this time of year — the hellebores — really stood out. I had two ‘Christmas Rose’ hellebores, which I put in the shade of the hydrangea shrubs.

A few new plants for me made their way into the front of the border — Aubrieta, which I imagine will carpet the area beautifully.

I finished off with an extra layer of topsoil, which does a brilliant job of evening out the space. Now to enjoy the finished look and all those spring flowers popping up over the coming weeks.

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