That Front Border

There is a narrow semi-circular border at the front that forms part of the in-out drive imaginatively called, “That Front Border”. When we arrived, it was planted up with a small tree (later discovered to be a white ornamental blossom) and straggly lavender between a pair of moth-eaten Viburnum Tinis shrubs.

I’ve actually been working on this border on and off since we moved in. One of the first things I did was to improve the aspect ratio of the border width to its length. I thought the border was mean and far too narrow for its length so I raked some of the gravel back to widen the semicircle, keeping in mind that cars are supposed to be able to go through, which constrained how far I could come out. This small tweak made a big difference as now the border feels much more generous and not as though it had been strait-jacketed against the fence.

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Unfortunately, I wasn’t organised to take an original, untouched picture of the border “as we found it”, but here all I have done is pull the gravel back revealing compacted soil and stones underneath. The original border line is hidden underneath the shrubbery and reigned in by deteriorating log roll.

That front border is the very first border expansion project of the new house. Though small, this border is seen not only by passers-by and neighbours, but also by the other half, whose study window looks out onto the front. It was another one of those high-impact and high-visibility projects so I wanted that front border to look good from the start and not wait years before I got round to doing anything with it.

With the bordered widened, the task was to clear most of the existing plants. The tree stayed but the Viburnum Tinis went as did the straggly lavender, but not before taking a tray of cuttings that are currently on the way to rooting. The lavender was easy to pull up but the viburnum was thick, woody and difficult. During the clearing I discovered there were also a few daffodils, tulips, kniphofia and a pair of hydrangea. It was obvious that this was an “instant border”, created and planted all at once, presumably when the driveway was made. I wanted to completely remake it in my style.

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Long-time followers will recognise the bird bath that we brought with us from the previous garden. At this point the border is cleared, revealing the original boundary marked by the log rolling and the extent of the expansion. Thyme, grown from seed last year and brought with us, has been planted into the gravel drive and behind it is lavender, taken from cuttings a few years ago. I had been hanging onto the thyme and lavender for a while, not really knowing what to do with it until this opportunity appeared. The lavender is planted at the new border boundary while the thyme is supposed to soften the edge and spread into the drive. That’s the plan. Before continuing, those viburnum stumps had to come out and that was no small job.

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Next I placed an online order for too many bags of compost and rotted manure. When they arrived, I dumped several bags of each onto the border, raising the level by almost a foot in places. Mixing well and forking in I discovered the soil to be very light and sandy. It would need bulking up with a great deal of compost, organic matter and fertiliser to bring the soil back from light sand and allow it to better retain moisture during dry periods. That front border faces east but the open aspect means it essentially faces south and while the tree does cast dappled shade, much of the border is exposed to the sun making it ideal for plants that like to bake.

At this point we took a diversion to re-paint the fence. When we did this we noticed how rotten the wood was in places. We might get another few years out of the existing fence, then it will be time to replace it with an equivalent plastic version, but that’s another project.

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With the fence repainted (note the missing piece that was held on by old paint), the manure and compost mixed in, the border edge was tidied and the line between the gravel and soil marked by unearthed stones. I am planning to make the edge more attractive by buying in rounded pebbles. The border is gently sloped down to the gravel to reduce erosion, but heavy rain may still wash some soil onto the gravel, we shall have to see.

Finally, after all that work the fun of planting began. I spent some time thinking about what could go in that front border. I dreamt up all sorts of designs, planting schemes, patterns, themes and so on, but it all came down to what was available, plants I like and what I felt like at the time. I had planned for the whole border to be just sunflowers this year, which is why I had four trays of young sunflower plants, started off from seed, waiting to go in, however the chance discovery of 13 sets of Dahlia tubers in a rubbish heap at the bottom of the garden changed all that.

Those dahlia tubers were rescued and potted up and they emerged into leaf as the weather warmed. They couldn’t say in their pots all year and I had no other space available so I decided they would all go in that front border. I have no idea what the dahlias are like, it will be a complete surprise. Throw in a couple of irises, clematis to grow into the tree and a pair of roses to clamber up the obelisks and that front border is set for the year.

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There we have it, complete with recommissioned bird bath and feeders. It was a lot of work for such a small space, but the difference is striking. All the plants will need time to establish, particularly the roses and clematis, which have been knocked back two years by the upheaval.

I can’t wait to see how the plants will mature and fill out the space. In the future, the planting may change dramatically or may just need tweaks. The roses may stay or they may go. The soil condition will determine which plants will do well and which are unsuited. I plan to continue adding well rotted manure to improve the soil so that it can support the high density of planting I am used to.

That front border together with the six clematis-in-a-trug that line the front of the house should make for an eye-stopping front garden and place us significantly ahead of the neighbours, which of course, has been the plan all along.

12 Comments


  1. Go lad! That is a lovely little job, Sunil. I really like the fact that a “nothing” has been turned into a lovely little area that can be seen from the house as well as the street. Do I spot a red hot poker there? I had a miniature cream one in my yellow and white border, but for three years running the bloom stems were eaten by slugs, so I gave up (organic gardening is trying!). Someone has given me a huge clump of the red, large one, and that has gone in somewhere else…. Don’t forget to take more pics as the summer progresses.
    Mrs Mac.

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    1. Hi Mrs Mac, yes, it is. We inherited it and I decided to keep it in (simply because it would be more effort to remove it). I looks a but straggly at the moment because the old viburnum bushes were on top of it. I think we have more in another border in the back (also currently undergoing restoration).

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  2. Your last sentence is so funny. 🙂 The new border is fabulous! How incredible to have found a pile of dahlia tubers! This will be a Surprise Garden this yeat while we wait to see what they all look like. Good luck not driving over the thyme. 🙂 You’re in my Blogger Spotlight. I’m way overdue!

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    1. Hi Tammy, thank you, though we took a trip to Mottisfont Abbey today, which put this border to shame, but since I only just planted it I’ll need to wait a few years (always the hard part). I’ve got high hopes for my two favourite roses planted there to become friends with the tree, along with the clematis. The end-of-season picture with the sunflowers should look nice it we have some good weather and all goes to plan. I’ll need to think of what to do for next year then too.

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  3. Hi Sunil, How satisfying to have created this interesting border. Keep us posted on the progress, I cant wait to see the dahlias which you have to show us in a couple of months time.

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    1. Hi Alistair, I can see small flower buds on the dahlias, but they’re still too small to tell what they may be. Together with the sunflowers it should be a rather good late summer display.

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  4. Hi Sunil, this is my first visit to your blog, and it has been very enjoyable! How I love virtual gardening … heavy work is completed seemingly without effort, and has nothing of the sweat and tears entailed in the real world! All those bags which had to be lifted/carried/tipped etc were done, as if by magic!
    I also wish that I had a compost heap which yielded dahlia tubers! fantastic! I look forward to seeing the bed mature and develop.

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    1. Hi, thanks for visiting, I’m glad you enjoyed reading and hope you come back. I can’t wait to see how the front bed develops, this year and in subsequent years too. It’s the very first newly extended, dug and planted bed of the new house so there’s great expectations riding on it.

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  5. What a great improvement! I bet the dahlias will look great. Your neighbors and the other half whose study looks out over this should all be very appreciative of your efforts. 🙂

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    1. Hi Jean, the other half likes to go out and smell the roses during breaks, I can’t wait until they get established again. These will be the first dahlias I have ever grown but I’m just leaving them to it at the moment. I don’t know how they will grow after having spent time in the compost heap and having been rescued.

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  6. I am so excited to see how the dahlias do! You know they are my very favorite (for some time now!). I brought some with me and they are quite disappointing so far . They went from cold CT to hot hot Georgia in a matter of days. I will be watching for your photos as the summer progresses. I admire your energy – you’ve done so much already and it looks great!

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    1. Hi Jayne, it’ll be the first time I’ve had dahlias, so the performance of these will heavily determine whether many more appear in the garden. Thanks for your compliment, it is very much appreciated, I’m doing the high-traffic/high-visibility areas first for maximum impact before moving onto the larger projects.

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