How to Start a Herbaceous Garden


Starting a herbaceous garden is easy when you know how to incorporate all of  your facts and information together. A herbaceous garden should be one that you can easily walk up to and see a variety of color, shape, and texture. When in season, this garden can be the most spectacular feature in your landscape.

Herbaceous beds are usually thought of as height-of-summer displays. There is no doubt a huge range of summer flowering plants are available. By making careful selections you will be able to have perennials that will give you four seasons of color in your yard and garden. You will find many perennials that will be just right for your type of garden.

"Herbaceous Garden"

A Lively Herbaceous Garden

The bed, sometimes referred to as a border, can be any shape and positioned in the lawn as an island bed or a a double border on each side of a path with matching plants in each bed. It might take on a more narrow or broad shape with either a straight or curved edge. Always remember to keep the tallest plants towards the back and the smaller ones the front portion of any bed.

Cultivation of a Herbaceous Garden

When dealing with a bare-earth bed, be sure to dig it a least one spades depth, and remove all weeds you may encounter. You can use a garden fork if perennial weeds are present, to reduce the risk of damaging the roots of your plant. Break up any lumps of soil and incorporate a 4” layer of compost and bone-meal fertilizer at 2 oz. per sq. Yard to give the soil a bit of body.

If you have a heavy soil, you can open it up and lighten it by adding in some grit. Keep in mind that this is your last chance to work the soil thoroughly for a few years. This is about the time that you will need to separate and rework some of your plants and bed.

"Astilbe x arendsii "

Add perennial Astilbe to your herbaceous garden

Choosing the Right Plants

There is seldom any problem with finding perennials plants as most garden centers have a large selection. Many nurseries will have pictures labels that will also have cultural instructions on growing each plant. Be sure to examine the plants before you buy them and only choose the ones that look healthy and strong. Try to avoid getting your plants in the late summer or early spring when plants are not at their best.

Be selective when offered plants from friends and neighbors. Check them out and make sure you know that they are non-evasive and safe to introduce into your garden.

You should make sure you are aware of each plants height, spread, season of growth and bloom, and be aware that some plants have very attractive foliages that can add texture and variations to your bed.

Be sure to plan your color scheme to allow for a range of heights, while making sure that dwarf plants are not screened by taller varieties and that each plant’s overall spread is taken into consideration when planting. If you are ever in doubt, allow for 36” between plants. If that don’t utilize all of the space, you can fill in with others to complete your overall design.

Herbaceous beds must have the following:

  1. Moisture retentive soil
  2. No perennial weeds
  3. Shelter from wind
  4. Site in the sun with some shade
  5. Slug and snail control

10 Recommended Easy Perennials

  • Alchemilla mollis (lady’s mantle) is a great plant for the front of the bed.
  • Astilbe x arendsii Guaranteed to flower
  • Bergenia “Ballawley’ (elephant ears)
  • Digitalis purpurea Excelsior Group (foxglove) just right for even a cottage garden look
  • Geranium ‘Ann Folkard’ Will spread quicky in moist soils
  • Kniphofia ‘Bees Sunset’ (red-hot poker) flowers best if it is not disturbed
  • Lupinus ‘Chandalier” (lupine) Easy to grow, with the disadvantage that slugs love them
  • Papaver orientale ‘Allegro’ (poppy) Probably the best known of the perennial poppies
  • Rudbeckia fulgida var. Sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’ Flowers from mid summer until late fall
  • Stachys byzantina (lamb’s ears) Wooly gray ground cover

A well planted herbaceous bed will provide long periods of interest and color, as well as smother out all but the strongest weeds. A perennial variegated grass (Arundo) and purple-leaved cannas are ususual and eye-catching choices that can also be added.

*Tip- make sure the plants you choose are suited to growing in your temperature zones. Check out a USDA Zone map if you are not sure of the zone you are in.

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