Before you start digging a new border, think about the best place for it. Try taking a photograph of your garden from an upstairs window, or from a seating area, to see where you need color and interest. Also consider where the sun falls at different times of the day, and the types of plant you would like to use. Many summer-flowering plants need sun to bloom well, while large leafy types often prefer shade, and others are happy with both, so check what your chosen plants need before buying them.
When to start: Early autumn
At its best: Summer
Time to complete: 2 days
You will need: Tape measure, hose, half-moon turf cutter, spade, fork, rake, well-rotted organic matter – such as manure, horticultural grit (for clay soil), granular fertilizer, watering can.
Mark out the border
With a tape measure, mark out the length and breadth of your border, making sure that it is not too narrow – a minimum width of 3 ft (1 m) is best. Use broad sweeping curves or a geometric design; avoid wiggly shapes, which look messy.
Use a garden hose to mark out curved borders or pegs and string for straight edges. Carefully following the outlines, cut through the grass using a half-moon turf cutter or a spade.
Lift the turf
Cut the turf into squares within your marked out area. Turf is heavy, so to make the squares easier to remove, make them a little smaller than the width of a spade blade. Use the spade to slice through the grass roots under each square before lifting the turf.
Prepare the site
Remove the turves and store them upside–down and out of the way. Clear the site of large stones, debris, and weeds, removing the roots of perennial species, such as dandelion, dock, and bindweed. Break up large clods of soil with a garden fork to give an even texture. Then, check your soil to see if it is sandy or rich in clay.
Enrich the soil
Whatever your soil type, it will benefit from an application of well-rotted organic matter, such as manure or garden compost. Either use the “single-digging” method, or dig in organic matter by spreading a 3 in (8 cm) layer over the border and mixing it into the top 6 in (15 cm) of soil. If you have heavy clay, also dig in some horticultural grit to improve drainage. Rake the surface smooth.
You can use turf removed from the border to patch up holes in lawns elsewhere in the garden, or pile it up and leave for about a year to rot down. Grass turves make excellent compost, which you can apply as a mulch to your border in early spring, before the perennials start to shoot.
Set out your plants
Now that the border is prepared, it is time to start planting. Make sure you buy plants that will suit your site and soil conditions, and the style you wish to create. This free-draining, sunny site suits a prairie-style design. Set out your plants in their pots and step back to see how the arrangement looks.
Water plants well
Check that tall plants will not shade the smaller ones, and position the perennials in groups of three or more. Water them well before planting, either with a watering can or by plunging the pots in a bucket of water, waiting for the bubbles to disperse, and then removing the plants to drain.
Check planting depths
For each perennial plant, dig a hole twice as wide as the pot, and a little deeper. Place the pot into the hole to check that the plant will be at the same depth after planting as it is in its pot. Lay a garden stake across the hole to help judge the right depth.
Remove plants from pots
Fork the bottom of the hole to break up any compacted soil. Then squeeze the sides of the pot and turn it upside down. With your fingers threaded through the stems and holding the soil, give the bottom of the pot a tap. The plant should slide out easily, but if not, tap the pot until it does.
If the roots have circled around the root ball, gently tease them out. Place the plant in the hole. Add some granular fertilizer to the excavated soil, and use this to fill in around the plant. Firm it in with your hands.
When you have planted the whole border, use a hose to water the plants thoroughly. A good soaking will settle the soil around the plants, helping them establish. If any roots are exposed by the watering, cover them with soil.
Caring for your plants
Apply a mulch to the whole border. Perennials take about a year to establish fully, and if planted in spring, they should have a healthy root system by the autumn. Until then, the plants will need to be watered regularly, even daily during periods of drought. After planting, feed them every year in spring with an all-purpose fertilizer and reapply a mulch.