Editing The Late Summer Borders

After a few weeks of high winds sweeping our hilltop, many of the Verbena bonariensis stems went from rakish angles to almost horizontal, leaning heavily on their neighbours.

Attempt to stake windswept Verbena bonariensis

I coarsely staked the worst-affected clump closest to the house, to assess whether supporting them would be viable, but it was clear that they were rather beyond staking as I couldn’t easily lift them beyond an untidy 45°. Given how their horizontal recline was endangering the emerging aster and anemone to their left, it was time for a more drastic approach.

Initially I cut the offending verbena stems back to leaf nodes about a foot above the ground, and pondered leaving them to see whether they would overwinter and return – straighter – next year.  Stepping down into the garden, there was a sudden sense of airiness at my side; the six- or seven-foot tall plants had felt slightly oppressive by contrast, and now the border seemed to breathe deeply and relax.

Space after cutting Verbena bonariensis

As the Verbena was unlikely to survive a hard winter after such drastic blade-work at this time of year, it wasn’t long before I accepted that there was enough of it drifting further down the border, and it was no longer necessary, or quite working for us, here. A few minutes with a spade, and the clump was liberated completely. The space was quickly filled with a young Helenium, The Bishop, waiting patiently in a pot, whose yellow flowers should work well against the blues and oranges nearby.

With the thicket of Verbena removed from this section, the blues of salvia, geranium and campanula sing out. I was happily surprised when two or three of the Crocosmia corms that I left in place around the Echinacea turned out to be a lovely golden yellow, rather than the standard orange type which romp nearby.

Yellow crocosmia flowers

The yellow forms a lovely contrast with the dark stems of the Echinacea, also working well with the pinky purple flowers above, and the deeper blues nearby, and really ties the colours in this area together.

Echinacea purpurea, Campanula pyramidalis and Crocosmia

The yellow Helenium will continue this, along with a Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’ that has just opened its first flower nearby, against the last red blooms of Crocosmia Lucifer.

Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’ flower

I continue to edit other bits and pieces in the border, removing one of the sprawled Salvia turkestanicas whose flowers were fading fast, to give the lovely (and previously rather clashing) Helenium ‘Moerheim Beauty’ breathing space. Working in this border is much more pleasant without the slightly sweaty scent of the salvia, though I shall leave its brethren in the opposite border to set seed and hopefully return, as I have loved their display all summer.

Helenium 'Moerheim Beauty'

This border is busier than ever with bees and butterflies, a dozen or more Small Tortoiseshells fluttering every time I pass, so I don’t feel too bad about removing one of their favourites.

Late summer border; echinacea, crocosmia, gaura, verbena etc

Still plenty of Verbena drifting through the border


18 thoughts on “Editing The Late Summer Borders

  1. The border is very pretty, I’m surprised that you say the Salvia turkestanicas has only a slightly sweaty smell, it’s common name (obviously dating back to a different age) is house maid’s arm pits! I’ve noticed that it doesn’t begin to smell until the flower opens which I think is interesting. I leave then on the slope but can’t abide them nearer the house. The Verbena is probably not able to stand straight this year because of all the rain you’ve had this year. In drier conditions they grow tough and strong and are strongly vertical, another year they will be better, mine seed freely all over the garden and some overwinter, I just move them to where I need them. Christina

    • Thanks Christina, I haven’t found the smell from the salvia too overpowering unless you touch it, there are lots of nicer smells from the bergamots and salvias most of the time – and the tobacco plants in the evening fill your head with their sweetness.
      These Verbena overwintered after flowering from seed last year for the first time, which bodes well. Suspect they will always be a little floppy in our garden due to our rich heavy soil, Welsh rain and high winds. I have a young one of the shorter Lollipop plants too, will be interesting to see how that compares.

  2. I’m amazed that my verbena bonariensis have remained upright so far this year but somewhat apprehensive that they may flop if tomorrow’s weather forecast materialises. That yellow croscosmia is a most attractive colour Sara. I’m on the look out for one that flowers now. Is that a salvia behind the pink echinacea fourth photo down?

    • Fingers crossed they’ll stay standing. The crocosmia is lovely isn’t it? Very lucky.
      That’s our Salvia nemorosa Caradonna with its delicious deep purpley-blue spires, though they’re almost over. One of my favourite salvias. I must take cuttings to spread it about the garden more! You can glimpse it at the front in the top two pictures too.

  3. My verbena remarkably are still upright which is more than can be said for many of my other plants. Getting verbena to overwinter has been quite hit and miss for me. I had 4 plants survive last winter and then lots of self seeded plants but last winter was quite mild. The previous 2 cold winters though were too much for them. Who knows what this winter will bring?
    Your border looks beautiful.

    • Good that yours is still standing tall. At least I know it grew easily from seed, if we lose them all in a hard winter!
      Thank you – I love that long view down that border from the house, you can’t even see the gaps from there 🙂

  4. I love your use of the term “Editing”! How about trying a “Cut-and-paste” now?
    A garden is truly a dynamic entity, isn’t it? How could you ever consider one to be 100% complete?

    • Ahh there’s definitely some cut-and-pasting to do in a month or two, there are a few things that I want to move around. I don’t think a garden ever stands still…

  5. Floppy overgrown plants is a source of much, if not most of the work in my garden once past the midpoint of summer. Of course, I like very tall plants so I bring much of this on myself. I admire your courage in taking bold action on the Verbena bonariensis! I just got rid of some wild rye ornamental grass because of its floppiness, replacing it with upright Panicum.

    • It can be a bit of a wrench to remove a plant that you like, but I don’t regret it for a moment, the border feels so much better for it. I do like Panicum, have grown some Shenandoah from seed this year, it’s out in the garden now, should start to beef up next year and put on a show.

  6. Hi,

    Lovely borders; I can understand you removing some of the v. bonariensis – I’m actually no great fan of this and much prefer v.hastata which I also find attracts more wildlife. I do still have bonariensis though but I do also get fed up of having to protect its base or waiting anxiously to see if it’s survived winter!

    I love your colours – every shade in your borders, it seems!

    • Thanks – yes this is the most rainbow-coloured border. Our garden just isn’t large enough to grow everything I want and have grown-up colour segregated borders, so while I’ve tried to place things relatively carefully and the hot colours are mostly concentrated up by the house, it is a riot of every colour.
      I sowed some V hastata seeds this spring but they failed to germinate. Will try again next year. The V. bonariensis is always absolutely covered in butterflies at the moment, the small tortoiseshells in particular seem to be favouring it over the buddleia even!

  7. Sara your post is timely for me as I see v. bonariensis on so many blogs and website and the ones at Beth Chaotts were lovely I had been wondering if to try it but now I think my first thoughts were correct it’s just too windy here, I think it was the wind not the wet that caused yours to flop as BC garden was very wet but her sheltered plants were standing tall,

    I love your border and it has come on sooo much this year it’s exciting to see, so many lovely plants and combinations, your wood fence makes a nice backdrop to them too, I noticed BC used the pale orange and yellow crocosmia much more than the stronger/brighter coloured ones and I felt they mixed better with other plants, Frances

    • Ah, yes I suspect it was indeed the wind that did for ours, so perhaps not one for your windy site. The new ‘Lollipop’ cultivar is a shorter version though, perhaps worth trying that instead? We have a little one to try.
      Lucifer is the only crocosmia I planted here, the rest were inherited – and I dug up bucketful after bucketful to throw away when preparing this border. Can imagine the more muted colours look lovely, though there is something about a few spots of high colour as the days start to shorten again.

  8. I think verbena bonarenisis works best when you can see through it rather than by a fence. To my mind its qualities are the airiness of the stems so you need to emphasis that.

    I have been editing my cottage garden border and I think I may be over edited as its looking quite bare!! However, it has made me look hard and come up with a slightly different planting scheme which I think will work better than the mishmash I currently have.

    • Hmm, I think V. b. can still look good even with a fence or hedge as its background – in the herbaceous border at Wisley for instance.

      In our case, plants in this border have both aspects – the view from some of the windows, and indeed the patio, is down the length of the border, as in the last shot, where the airy stems of verbena have worked well, until their collapse. Of course the aspect is different as you walk into the garden and pass level with the border, where the view is ‘flat-on’ as shown in the top picture. As the stems had fallen towards the house, a picture from the top didn’t really show their collapse, which is why I took the photos from sideways on.

      It’s good sometimes to create more space – the remaining plants and new additions or transplants will soon fill in again, and it’s necessary if you are changing the planting style there. Look forward to seeing pictures.

  9. It really is amazing how much a border can be improved – or at least its character drastically changed – just by taking out one plant. I love your riot of colour almost as much as the bees and butterflies, and I think I will try the shorter form of verbena myself, since we also get a lot of both wind and rain. And thank you for the comment about the salvia stinking! I was having trouble editing my plant wishlist for the front garden down, but the thought of armpit smells has confirmed I will get my purple and blue spires from other plants!

    • Ah, yes, S turkestanica is very beautiful, and I’ve only noticed the smell when very close to it, but it’s not the nicest… I still have a hankering for the purple and white spires of Salvia Phyllis Fancy since seeing it at RHS Wisley a few years’ ago, that is a very beautiful salvia…

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