Love those flower borders!

What’s the secret to a great flower border? Sandra Ross gathered some clues at Holland’s once-in-a-decade garden extravaganza, Floriade.

“I had the great good fortune to see Floriade twice last year. This huge horticultural event lasts a full six months so what you see early in the show is very different from what has grown into magnificent maturity come September. It starts like this – with a blaze of colour in tulips, daffodils and grape hyacinths.

RP floriade (1)

In other beds early perennial growth is just waking up. You can see it here where just a sprinkling of golden daffodils highlights the lime green of fresh euphorbia. Later in the season these beds will become flowering borders that tower shoulder-high and are a wonderful mix of textures.

Spring bulbs Holland

The key to the success of these flower beds is how cleverly the Dutch use grasses to give their borders lightness and movement. You can see what I mean in this light and lacy border.

3. Floriade lace border

I love the muted colour palette: pale green, cream and pink with hints of crimson to give it depth. That and the wonderful extent of it!  Even though it runs on and on, it is all softness and light due to that clever combination of textures: flower umbels gently turning to seed; and soft grasses filling spaces with plumes of flower. Can you spot the dark, almost black scabiosa? There’s pink and blue salvia in there too, as well as grey helichrysum, blue scabiosa and the halos of cow parsley (Anthriscus).

This next border is a bit bolder in colour with pink, mauve, purple, blue and touches of cream. It’s planted on a slope and the flower spires add to the sense of height so that you feel you are facing a mountain of flowers.

Floriade Pink border

Lots of willowy gaura and veronica give it movement in the wind. The spires of liatris add another texture as do the grasses that soften the backdrop. You can spot the dahlias, mostly pink pompoms and magenta water lily varieties. The pink daisy-like flower with dark centres is Echinacea (Cone Flower). Blue asters are tucked right in front.

In this bed, the colour glows under Holland’s less than sunny skies. Cream, coral, peach and apricot dahlias are the main planting. Those in front have deep crimson foliage, which anchors the whole scheme. Grasses soften the mood, and add vertical interest, along with movement and texture. The large horizontal blocks of yellow daisies with dark centres are perennial rudbeckia. Hints of blue come from perennial asters and verbena. Impressive don’t you think?

Floriade yellow border

Can you see what I mean about how well  the ornamental grasses soften and lighten the beds? Where too many flowers can look a bit heavy – like an overladen buffet table, the grasses allow the flowers a bit more breathing space. Another part of the appeal here is the movement that the grasses add to the borders. I found myself mesmerised by the slight breeze rippling through the beds.

Here’s one more.  This is one half of a double border that ran alongside one of the main thoroughfares of the site.  Both sides were at their peak of flower by the end of the summer. On this side soft grasses spilled onto the pathway with upright grasses at the back. The opposite bed was a much simpler composition of fine pink grass heads and matching flowers of Sedum matrona.

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There is a warning on ornamental grasses in Australian gardens though – it’s important not to use free-seeding varieties of grass that become weeds. Lambley Nursery has some enticingly beautiful and safe options. I’m already making plans.”

Photos: Robin Powell and Sandra Ross

Comments (2)

  1. I repeat an Australian grass called Poa labillardierii in this way trhoughout my beach border. It has irridescent blue leaves aging to oatmeal come autumn. I must admit I am eager to cut them to the ground in early winter as they pop back up in my coastal garden the brightest blue – a foil for silver wave, artichoke, flannel flowers, eriostemons, sea lavender, purple kangaroo paws and drumstick allium. I am hoping clumps of purple roses like Ebb Tide will give me the splashes of colour the dutch do so well. now you have me thinking dahlias…hmmm kangaroo paw and dahlias – a first? Poa has popped up from seed once or twice but is easily plucked out or transplanted somewhere else.

    • Kangaroo paw and dahlias. Hmmm. My mind screams no, but I bet they have already been used together in Europe where Angus Stewart has introduced millions of paws. Gardeners there would not be familiar with the demarcation lines we set up where we have either a ‘native’ garden, or not. So why not dahlias and paws – go for it!

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