Doing the Front Border – Again

It was all supposed to look so beautiful. A gleaming white picket fence, a formal half-moon, edged with naughtily ruffled thyme behind which were balls of lavender, then a mass of other planting that I hadn’t decided and boldly centered with a stately ornamental cherry blossom over-flowing with not one, but two magnificent clematis flanked on either side by the most exquisite and deliciously scented climbing roses. It was to be the perfect picture of a most arresting front border.

The reality turned out to be arresting alright, but for a very different reason. While we had the fence, the thyme, the clematis and lavender, the roses and tree have turned decidedly sour. The problem at heart is a lack of water. Bizarrely for a garden that stays underwater for so long, the front is actually sun-baked, exposed and very, very dry. I hadn’t appreciated how dry it could get until mid-summer last year, where the roses showed signed of severe stress and suffered from lacklustre growth, wilting flowers and disease. Teasing Georgia – a rampantly beautiful and voluptuous rose not only in flower but in growth, turned into a gnarly, twisted and diseased bush, a mere shadow of its former self. Gertrude Jekyll didn’t like being shaded by the ornamental cherry and complained by defoliating completely. The tree itself became covered in ant-farmed blackfly that stunted its growth and caused unsightly curling of leaves. Pigeons flew in to snack, decimating the blossom and shredding the fresh new leaves. In winter, this tree hangs on to its dead leaves even as they hang limp and rotting in some kind of macabre film-noir.

Ornamental White Cherry in Winter

The overall effect was a disaster. Everyday for many months now, I’ve had to look at the failure that is the front border. It was all supposed to look oh-so beautiful but the dry conditions have turned it into a parched hell. It’s unacceptable and it’s not going to be put up with any longer. The front border has now caught the full, unyielding and unmerciful wrath of my attention, the “Eye” shines on this border and I’ve decided.

A Visual Representation of my Attention

It’s all going to go. The roses, the clematis, the herbaceous plants, and that truly horrible, stunted, infested tree. I could attempt to remedy what I have by trying to control the ants and trying to water more often in the summer, but I can’t make it rain in the front as much as it needs to and I can’t be doing with micro-managing small parts of a garden this size. It doesn’t work and so it’s time to rip it out and try something different.

Given a week of dry evenings and some grim determination, the job is almost done. The two climbing roses have been cut back hard and moved to the back to start afresh this year. The rose towers have gone. The Clematis has been dug up and moved elsewhere. The thyme and lavender will stay as they don’t mind the sun-baked conditions. The remaining plants in the border have also been moved, some to nursery beds and some in the borders. The fence is staying as it is also drought tolerant and finally, that hideous tree has gone, stump and all, leaving a clear, open (but still dry) space to start again.

Re-doing the Front Border in 2016

There will be no more blackfly and ant infestation, no more worrying over the sickly roses, no more wondering what to do and how to make it better. Now that I’m left with the fence and the edging, I have a new border to fill and this time, I’m going for drought-tolerant plants that won’t mind being sun-baked. I’m thinking of phormiums, Cupressus Sempervirens (Italian Cypress) and lots of Madeiran Agapanthus (they are grown from the seed of the plants that were grown from seed from the seed heads of Agapanthus growing in the mountains of Madeira).

I might not get it right the first time and I might not even be right this time, but I will get it right, eventually.

8 Comments


  1. ….. and that’s what it’s all about, gardening, isn’t it? How were you to to know about the ants? How were you to know about how dry it got in the summer? etc etc. You haven’t been there long. If you like the look and the smell can I suggest Rosemary. There is an upright one that grows like a conifer. But which ever you have, bees love it, it smells good, it’s evergreen and it requires no care. I have a huge bush which was planted (not by me) in a little northfacing corner, underneath a huge hedge, soil so poor it’s povertystricken, and every year, it performs, the bees come, and I go on using it for cooking! Also curry plant (sorry can’t remember name but smells like curry and has bright yellow flowers and grey leaves).

    I have a mostly South facing garden, top of a hill dry as a bone in summer, and with a couple of spots that are real problems because “something else” has been there before, and as I can’t identify the something else, it has been a hit and miss kind of patch, whereas other areas perform brilliantly!

    I do feel for you, Sunil, but I know you will get it right eventually – and if all else fails, plant a sundial! By the way, I got myself a good sized and shaped amelanchier which I am feeling really pleased about.

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    1. Hello Mrs Mac, you’re right, this is about the third time I’ve done this border and it feels more “right” this time. Previous times were just “filling the gaps” with plants that I had as over stock. I’m hoping that by electing the right plants, I can turn this problem corner into a stunning border, unlike anything in the back garden. With the plants I’ve put in, there’s a real “Mediterranean” feel about the border. I hope that when this border has established, it will remind us (and other people) of their holidays in the warmer places in the world.

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  2. Add nepeta, salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’ and sedum since they all all love to be hot and dry, as does achillea ‘Moonshine’. Those are what I added to my hot dry butterfly garden along with lavender and thyme. Rudbeckia hirta and miscanthus grass also thrive in brutal locations. The miscanthus will add a wonderful sense of movement and has a beautiful arching form. It took me about 10 years to design my front garden with plants that worked with what I wanted it to look like. I’m sure it will take you 9 years less. 🙂

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    1. Hello Tammy, those are great suggestions, however we do have a truck-load of plants that are waiting for their turn in this border first but if there is any space left over afterwards, I’ll look to these. I like the idea of grasses and the movement against the static fence.

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  3. Oh, dear. Well, kudos for confronting the problem head on. Your old plants are better off put out of their misery. Sounds like you are off to a good start with plants that will be better adapted.

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    1. Hello Jason, I think it’s better for everyone in the end. I don’t have to look at a wasteland and the plants that are left/swapped/replaced are happier.

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  4. Sunil, what a pain, I don’t know how often over the years this sort of thing has happened to me. Like yourself, I never give up. Our garden happens to be similar, it is overly wet for six months of the year, the other six, seriously dry, mind you, unlike yourself, I have all the time in the world for watering. Good luck with the new plans.

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    1. Hello Alistair, the front is very dry over the summer that the existing plants simply weren’t suitable and it took two years to find that out. It is much, much wetter in the back but the contoured borders and slope of the garden have made things even more complicated, creating terminally wet areas with bone dry areas barely feet away. It makes for a challenge in planting but lets me put lavender next to hostas!

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