Shrubs, Grasses and Perennials making a Border

Berberis, Feature Shrubs

My previous video showed a small border running down the centre of my Amsterdam garden. This second border follows the same line on the other side of the sundial and uses some of the same, or at least similar, plants in order to link the two schemes and make a bolder impact within the garden as a whole.

The end of this perennial border is shaded and the plantings are adapted to account for this – hostas, ferns, epimediums, astilbes and a few shrubs including hydrangeas and Japanese maples.


The first fern shown is Athyrium vidalii and the last image is of Dryopteris wallichiana and the dramatic yellow grass is Hakenonchloa macra ‘All Gold’.

Berberis and Hakenochloa grass



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Perennial Garden – Early Summer, Amsterdam

Helenium 'Luc'

The modern style of mixed perennial plantings uses repetition of the same plants or similar plants to create a total picture. The plants are woven together rather than being set out in contrasting blocks. Even in small gardens this effect is possible as shown here.

The flat topped, umbellifer flowers are Cenolophium denudatum and the bold early flowering spikes are provided by Veronicastrum sibiricum ‘Red Arrows’. The theme in June is violet and pink, but next month orange and yellow will play the leading role here.

Mixed perennial meadow borders


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Tulips in my garden

Tulips for garden borders

Now is the time to make a list of the spring flowering bulbs and especially the tulips you need to order for planting in the autumn. With the bulbs in flower in front of you – there is no better moment to make a plan; if you don’t, many of your inspired ideas will be forgotten when the bulb catalogues are finally published.

Perennial meadow planting

In perennial dominated plantings, spring flowering bulbs are their saviour. In this border in my own garden there are no tulips. I have been adding some extra clumps of daffodils for early interest (foreground), but within a week from now there will be a mass of (Allium) onion pompom flowers to enjoy; however, at the moment this border is just green.

Tulips for garden bordersAcross the path is a border featuring both daffodils and tulips that draw attention to this small area over a very long season; perhaps eight to ten weeks all told; tulips are the real stars here.

Triumph tulips for garden borders

Some tulips are long lived while others are best considered as annuals. These red Triumph Group tulips – ‘Jan van Zanten’ – will need renewing this autumn.

Tulips for garden borders

Early, mid-season and late flowering tulips are worth combining to extend their season of impact. These red Darwinhybrid Group tulips will fade in a few days time but already there is a layer of orange/red Truimph Group tulips – ‘Prins Willem Alexander’ – coming into flower under them.

Tulips for garden bordersMy new ebook on Tulips covers the best ways of using tulips in gardens as well as introducing you to the various groups of tulips to use in appropriate ways in your own gardens. Its time to get those bulb orders ready.

Price €5.99 Euros



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Dutch Garden Wave Tidy Up


Perennial plants in winter

The naturalistic style of planting popularised over the past twenty years by Dutch garden designers, including myself, places great importance upon perennials that look good throughout the winter by retaining their form either as dead skeletons or by way of their distinctive seedheads.


Perennial plants in winter

At this time chaos threatens and the urge to tidy away the dead plants becomes ever pressing. This year in the Netherlands winter ended with a long cold and wet period which coincided with the time, in February, I would normally be out in the garden hacking and chopping everything down.

Perennial plants in winter
This week the weather changed and finally the big tidy up could begin. Everything is either broken or cut into short pieces which are dropped on the ground amongst the crowns of the perennials. This technique of mulching feeds the soil, represses weeds and saves time carrying the debris to a compost heap. Four afternoons work is all it takes to tidy a 500 m? garden; a pleasing task with an instantaneous result – so long as you don’t mind crawling about on your knees.

Perennial plants in winter

Daffodils will now start to come into flower, followed shortly by tulips –  what a relief the show can finally begin.

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Whispering Grass

Perennial Meadow


As gardeners there are two groups of purple moor grass to be aware of: Molinia caerulea subspecies caerulea which flower somewhere between knee and hip height and Molinia caerulea subspecies arundinacea which top head height.


The taller of the two make diffuse fountains of flower stems that dance in the slightest breeze, however they need room around them to fully show off their dramatic form.

Molinia begin to flower in the second half of summer and above you can see a clump of M. c. subsp. arundinacea ‘Cordoba’ two months ago developing its warm golden autumnal colouring.

Invariably, their display, and ceaseless movement, continues until the second half of December when suddenly they collapse into an untidy heap. The lower-growing molinias don’t do this and remain effective as long as snow and wild weather permits; they are ideal in mixed planting schemes and work well as mass plantings. However, for the excitement of their taller-growing cousins we must pay a small price and be prepared to venture into the garden just before Christmas and tidy away their debris.


Unlike other tall-growing grasses which need cutting back hard using shears and secateurs; the purple moor grasses are one of the easiest grasses to tidy up.

Molinia caerulea subsp. arundinacea

Their leaves and flower stems break cleanly off at ground level leaving a hard mounded crown.

Molinia caerulea subsp. arundinacea

My winter workout lasted little more than five minutes, but the difference was worthwhile.

Molinia caerulea subsp. arundinacea

Looking forward to fresh start in the New Year.

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Tulips – Design & Plant – a new eBook

Tulips eBook
I have just released a new eBook on tulips.

Without tulips many perennial meadow and naturalistic planting schemes would be very dull at the beginning of spring. I mix them into my borders, dropping them into any spaces I find between the perennials. In spring they flower amidst the emerging foliage and sometimes the flowers of these perennials.

The Tulips eBook aims to summarise the important points you need to know about how best to use tulips in the naturalistic style. We are not interested in mass plantings as you see so often in public spaces and parks. In gardens, tulips need to be placed and combined sensitively with the other garden plants that surrounding them: shubs, trees, perennials and other spring flowering bulbs.

There are early and late flowering tulips and many that fit in-between. I explain which types fall into each category and, accordingly, how best to use them.


The different groups of tulips exhibit specific characteristics which we need to appreciate in order to use them well in our gardens. Their characters range from the exquisite beauty of some Viridiflora Group tulips to the brash vigour of the Darwinhybrids. Throughout a survey of these different types I recommend specific species and cultivars that have proved reliable in my own gardens.

Tulips eBook    Tulips eBook

Tulip bulbs can be planted any time up until the end of the year, so there is still time to be inspired and enjoy a stunning display in your own garden next spring.

Price €5.99 Euros



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Light Shining through the Autumn Garden

Perennial Meadow

Sun must shine in autumn to reveal what the season has to offer.

My bulbs are all planted, the garden is tidy and I have finished moving plants around that seemed in the wrong places. Now is the time to stop and enjoy the changes that occur on a daily basis in this special season.

In winter I do very little other than tidy any chaos that develops. February and early March will be when I reach for the sheers and chop down the dead remains of this years garden.

Now is the time to revel in details of form and texture that low-angled sunlight reveals.

Perennial Meadow Garden

Perennial Meadow

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Perennial Meadow Garden

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The Same Border July and November

Perennial border

By early summer this border had lost the fresh colours of spring bulbs and matured into a gentle green cavern.


Now in November, the fountains of ornamental grasses have brought movement to a space that sparkles in the season’s low-angled sunlight.

Perennial meadow garden in winterIn spring this area will be open and flat in anticipation of the dramatic changes that will once again occur. It never ceases to amaze me.

Enjoy the moment!

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Excitement in the Autumn Garden

Cercis 'Forest Pansey'

Perennials and shrubs continue to offer up surprises and pleasure in the late autumn Perennial Meadows’ garden.


Grasses making an important contribution include various cultivars of Miscanthus sinensis; some tall and dramatic, others stiffly upright and low-growing forms such as ‘Pagels’ (above) which is more interesting for its autumnal foliage colour than its flowers.

Miscanthus sionensis 'Kleine Silberspinne'

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Kleine Silberspinne’

Miscanthus sinensis 'Hermann Mussel'

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Hermann Mussel’

Back lighting is the key to placing plants such as these which flower or colour up in autumn.

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Both shrubs as well as perennials offer autumn colours that draw attention in this season. The transience of such spectacles makes them all the more worthwhile.

Clethra alnifolia

Clethra alnifolia

Amsonia hubrichtii

Amsonia hubrichtii

Whilst most perennials and shrubs are in a rapid transition to their winter states, some plants remain fresh and green. This Polystichum fern looks lush and is still unfurling new fronds at the very end of October. It will remain like this until the end of spring when it will completely renew its winter-worn foliage.


It wont be long before all these tints are just a memory – enjoy them whilst you can.


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Bulbs get eaten by mice and voles

Tulip bulbs in a perennial gardenAs you can see bulbs, and in particular tulips, are amongst my favourite flowers. However, six years ago I hit a big problem; mice and voles started eating the bulbs – every single one of them. In that year I had carefully planted over eight hundred tulip bulbs individually amongst the garden’s perennials!

Tulip bulbs in a perennial gardenI resorted to growing tulips in pots as the daffodils were being left alone. Each year I tried a few in the ground and most were eaten but sometimes a few were left alone – why?

Tulip bulbs in a perennial gardenA Dutch bulb grower offered two solutions to the problem: poison or interplanting with Fritillaria imperialis – Crown Imperials; apparently their smell is repugnant to rodents as much as it is to humans. Last year I tried this and it seemed to have worked, but the jury is still out as I explained in an earlier post on red tulips.

Tulip bulbs in a perennial gardenCrown Imperial bulbs are large and expensive and also difficult to grow well in my heavy clay soil. I can improve the soil when planting and will definitely add some more to the flower borders this autumn, but I am also going to try something else which may just prove to be more effective.

Fritillaria meleagrisFritillaria meleagris colonises damp soil sites by self seeding; its nodding flowers are charming, but more importantly its bulbs also smell and are very cheap to buy. My plan is to drop one into each and every hole I dig to plant my tulips. In theory this should be more effective in deterring the rodents than the occasional Crown Imperial placed one in every square meter or so. The nice thing is that, if it works, this easily grown fritillaria will seed around making the garden less and less attractive to mice and voles over the coming years.

Tulip bulbs in a perennial gardenFinally I placed my bulb order in spite of having planned to do it early this year, but fortunately they still had stock of everything I wanted. Next spring orange will be the theme featuring the sophistication of the Fosteriana Group tulip ‘Orange Emperor’ and the vibrant Triumph ‘Prins Willem-Alexander.

“Will it work?”, time will only tell.

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