THE MODERN MINT BLOG

Oct06

How To Make A Flower Border From Scratch (Part 2)

In Part One of How To Make A Flower Border From Scratch we told you a little about our first forays into making a flower border – the curiosity we had at the start, the sheer numbers of questions and time we spent asking people just ‘how do you do it?’

This follow on blog explores soil dynamics and how it encourages a different way of looking at a border, seeing what is derived from nature and how it could reduce the number of plants you lose…

Read Part 1 of How To Make a Flower Border from Scratch

Starting with the part of the garden you want to plant up, you decide you want something absolutely amazing, full of flowers and giving you as few hours of hard work in the garden as possible.

How do you go about it?

Look at your soil dynamics – the fertility of your soil, or how well plants will grow without you helping them. Most books on designing a flower border tell you to check the type of soil you have – clay, sandy, loamy, stony, silt… and that is important.

But the Modern Gardener will look further into that – for example, if we have clay soil, it means there will potentially be lots of nutrients, a higher water table, and some of the finest growing conditions we can imagine. If we can make the texture a touch lighter, this clay soil could give us the best flowers we can possibly hope for. But…

… a clay soil will have a high soil dynamism. Because it holds water and lots of nutrients, the most robust (aggressive?) plants are able to tap into that and enjoy the conditions far easier than something a little more delicate and graceful.

If you were to plant a huge range of different plants you will find that these tough, vigorous choices will oust the little ones, reducing the diversity of flowers and foliage you had spent ages planning and deliberating over.

In nature, an example of a dynamic soil is the soil along a river bank – lots of water, lots of nutrients, means it becomes a home for nettles, rosebay willow herb, bindweed, brambles, willow, thistles and a few non-native plants as well. The ground is also churned up, the soil constantly disturbed, by animals, people, boats, flooding, bank erosion… the instability of these conditions means plants that take a little longer to get established never have the chance…

Leaving us with the most brawny and durable in huge patches. You will see it for yourself next time you are by a canal or river – count how few different types of plants there are, how few fragile beauties sit amongst the huge leaves and tall stems.

What can you do about your soil dynamics?

For a wider range of flowers you need to reduce the dynamics of your soil – if you garden on clay, then this means creating a sterile seed bed in which to sow the plants you want and LEAVING THE SOIL UNDISTURBED.

At the Olympic Park Meadows in 2012, they laid sand in order to create that sterile border and then sowed into that. This meant that no weed seeds had been turned over in the soil and exposed to the light, which means they could not germinate, enjoy conditions and then take over the huge array and diversity of flowers that had been designed and sown.

It was a very smart move and all stemmed from what the creators – James Hitchmough, Nigel Dunnett and Sarah Price – had seen happen in nature. In areas of low fertility, like chalk downland, which heats up quickly and has very little goodness to share around the plants, it reduces competition and so you get a higher diversity of flora. This plant, this plant and this plant can all grow together in a tiny space, because none has a bigger advantage.

What this means for designing the border in your garden…

Before trying to decide which plants you want and what colours match, check the soil dynamics of the area you wish to plant and allow that to guide your plant choices.

Is it a shallow, hot border with poor soil? Fantastic, you can mix and match plants that don’t mind the dry conditions to your hearts content!

Or is it a wet piece of land that the dog and children keep playing hide and seek in, constantly stepping on plants and creating bare soil with their footprints? In that case, get the robust plants of the daisy family and the knotweeds in!

This is another way of looking at how to start a flower border from scratch, of thinking a little deeper about what it is you want to plant – by looking at how to design a landscape inspired by the plant conditions derived from nature, which in turn reduces maintenance (and plant failure!)

An added bonus for your border!

Jan12

A Topiary Calendar – When To Prune

When do you prune? Below are a few pointers on when you need to think about your topiary and hedges this year, so you can make sure you clip at the best time and not waste any effort doing work you don’t need to do… January & February Roses, fruit trees and wisteria is where the focus lies. Yes, it is cold and the work can be unpleasant because you are often stood on a ladder with your secateurs, barely moving enough to warm the body, but get these jobs done well, with care, and you can enjoy the fruits …

READ MORE

Jan11

The English Garden Magazine – On Our Topiary Workshop

Last September when I and topiary artist (and mentor) Charlotte Molesworth ran a weekend of topiary masterclasses we had a visit from the garden writer Non Morris. You can read more about Non and her garden design work and writings here. She has written a lovely article for the February 2022 edition of The English Garden Magazine about her afternoon working with us and learning about topiary – I’m really thrilled by the piece, because she mentions not just a little of the wonderful history of Balmoral Cottage and how the garden grew, but also shares a little of how …

READ MORE

Nov17

Topiary Provocation Autumn 2021

This Autumn I have presented another ‘Topiary Provocation’ to keen gardeners and designers. If you want to know more about topiary, the report on what we discussed and where modern topiary is going can be read by clicking the link below: Topiary Provocation Report Autumn 2021 This report is free to post on your own website or blog, just credit Modern Mint, and don’t change anything within it. Alternatively you can just share it with keen friends… or enemies? I did a similar meet-up with garden designers in spring 2021. Here is where you can read the Topiary Provocation Spring …

READ MORE