Plants with form and texture make this scene pop from the page. Plants of note include (clockwise from top): euphorbia (Eurphorbia wallichii, Zones 6–9), catmint (Nepeta x faassenii ‘Dropmore’, Z 4–8), lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis, Z 4–7), and feather grass (Stipa tenuissima, Z 7–10).
Photo/Illustration: Todd Meier
Perennial borders are an excellent place to learn from failure. If I started where most people start—with the gardening books, magazines, and catalogs—I would do this: Choose my site carefully, decide on a style, and limit my color palette. I would also work with texture and form, use repetition, choose my primary season of bloom, and pick plants for foliage quality. Voilà! The design would then be complete. If it were truly this easy, I would see many more successful gardens than I do. Although all of these elements are important, I don’t believe the best borders evolve from this sequence.
Many people think they should sit down with magazines, books, and catalogs as a way to come up with a complete plan for a border. The first thing I notice about borders designed using this method is that color is nearly always carefully coordinated while texture and form are practically ignored. Yet texture and form are far more influential in the border than flower color since they play an ongoing rather than a transitory role. In fact, I’ve seen some awesome borders that were based solely on form and texture, whereas I have never seen a great border based solely on color.