What is a Mixed Border?

Wide mixed border at Foggy Bottom, Bressingham
Mixed borders at Foggy Bottom, Bressingham

A border is a cultivated area of land set aside for growing decorative plants. Mixed borders combine different types of plants in one place: trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, grasses, bulbs and climbers on obelisks or against a wall. Anything you like to grow can be included – if you want to accessorise it with a birdhouse or seat or some form of artwork, so much the better!

Because there isn’t a fixed recipe, mixed borders are versatile and popular. You may well be one of millions of gardeners worldwide who are tending one.

In a mixed border, trees, shrubs and evergreens provide year-round structure. Herbaceous perennials die back to ground level in winter, reappear in spring and are at their finest in summer and autumn. Annuals or biennials fill any gaps, add colour and ring the changes from year to year. Bulbs and ephemerals fill in some of the gaps before the perennials reappear.

While the biggest advantages of mixed borders are their potential to give year round colour and interest, there are a few things to consider when planning one. They are not always as low maintenance as they may look. A mixed border will most likely need some attention all year round. As plants grow at different rates, some will become congested and need to be dug up, divided and replanted to keep them growing well and to maintain balance.

Bressingham Gardens offers a masterclass in this type of planting. The trees chosen have contrasting forms (branching, columnar, mounding) and green, copper or silver-blue foliage.  Shrubs include hydrangeas (including lots of Hydrangea ‘Annabelle’, pictured above), azaleas and rhododendrons. Herbaceous perennials are planted with rhythm, choices being limited to reliable varieties, including many released or popularised under the Blooms of Bressingham brand. Agapanthus, geranium, brunnera, sedum, rudbeckia are shown here.

For those in visiting mode and within reach, Bressingham Gardens cautiously reopened last month. A ticket booking system is in place for everyone, even season ticket holders, but availability seems to be good. Please check the website to find out what’s open and the latest position as I’m sure things will change over the next few months.

Shared for July Squares as the tiny garden seat helps give a sense of perspective.

44 Replies to “What is a Mixed Border?”

  1. There is a new hydrangea, a dwarf Limelight, that I am thinking about for my front border. Or an obelisk with a long-blooming clematis. I do enjoy your posts, Susan.

    1. Thanks, Pat – you’re very sweet to say so! I like it when the paniculata types have hints of pink – is that the way Limelight goes in the autumn, I wonder?

        1. Not quite the response I was hoping for!!

          Was kind of hoping you might offer to pop in next time you visit your daughter and sort it for me 😉

          1. I have just pulled out/cut back a load of stuff in my raised beds and wondering what to put in them! Also I have some rampant bamboo which could do with being dug out, and a clematis that is huge, but hardly flowered this year. I think I might need to pay for a garden service to come in and help me.

          2. Oh crikey, that’s a lot to do! Maybe you could find a horticulturist who has just qualified. Our neighbour has done that and she’s delighted

      1. You almost have to be a visonary to foresee how a garden will change and the plants spread (or dwindle) – unless you have done it before.

  2. I love the sense of depth, not just in perspective but in the border itself. The colors are wonderful! And, as always, I thoroughly enjoy the comments along with your posts. I have noted that gorgeous borders are often more work than they’d seem to be, but I think all gardens are more work than they seem to be; good gardeners just make it look easy.

  3. That’s so pretty, I have tried to produce a garden similar, but so far not very successfully. Still trying! Did you know there is a Foggy Bottom subway station in Washington DC? It’s cool to know there’s a Foggy Bottom somewhere else too!

    1. That’s why it was so hard to find ‘our’ Foggy Bottom when I looked online. Ours is not as famous. Good luck with the border!

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