BRIAN KIDD: Now’s the time to revitalise the backbone of your garden

It's a big job, but replanting an herbaceous border should be done every three years.
It's a big job, but replanting an herbaceous border should be done every three years.
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I’m hoping the weather will be kind as I want to get on with urgent work on our herbaceous border.

Ours is about 75 metres long and has a curved edge against the lawn with a Leylandii hedge at the back so the plants are protected from cold north and easterly winds.

Herbaceous border plants are the backbone of most gardens. They are the plants which emerge every spring and come into flower in summer.

Now’s the time to improve the border in which they grow. If you are wondering which plants I mean, things like golden rod, phlox, rudbeckia, Michaelmas daisies and many others. They all have something in common: they make a massive clump of roots.

Every three years these plants need to be divided. The best way to do this is to dig out the whole plant and plonk it on a path on which a large cardboard box has been flattened. This stops the soil from going all over the place.

Split the clump by thrusting two garden digging forks back to back into the clump and pushing the handles together. This splits the clump. The parts around the edge of the clump are the best to replant. The centre will be worn out and can be discarded.

Take out all the plants, keeping the roots moist. Now dig the whole border, after all, we won’t have to do this again for another three years.

Replant the divided parts in good soil. This can be achieved by working in plenty of well-rotted manure or fork in four to six ounces of blood, fish and bone into each square yard of soil. Work this into the top six inches of the soil. Mix really well so the roots quickly absorb the food.

When you replant the divided plants, keep forking over the soil so it’s friable. Make a bowl-shaped hole, spread the roots out nicely and back-fill the hole with forked-over soil. Now support the new shoots with hazel sprays. These will hold the foliage in place and you’ll be off to a great new border.

Remember, plants grow well after being divided, so don’t plant them too close to the edge because they’ll be chopped by the mower.

Fork over any trodden down earth and then throw up soil next to the path or grass alongside the border to produce a good clean edge. This makes the difference between the rush-jobbers and those who want the garden to look its best.

If you have a huge garden think about a gently curving island bed of herbaceous plants. This style was introduced in the 1950s by Adrian Bloom and was a great success because the plants chosen didn’t need supporting with canes. All the plants were self-supporting. You can do this quite easily by checking the heights of the plants written on the labels. Keep in mind, 30cms is about a foot.


If you enjoyed potted hyacinths indoors and the flowers are fading, keep the compost moist but when the flowers have turned brown, remove all the dead ones, but leave the green stem. Plant them in the garden immediately, don’t wait until the leaves die.

If you do this without breaking up the roots the bulbs will naturalise. These hyacinths are best not grown indoors in pots again, for the quality of the blooms is usually pathetic.