Light The Way

Clare Foster talks to Arabella Lennox-Boyd, who has designed a cool, calm and harmonious white border with plenty of structure for year-round interest

Known for her elegant gardens that are influenced by both the English countryside and her Italian roots, Arabella Lennox-Boyd is one of the most admired garden designers in England. She has created many a white border, where a palette of green, silver and white is set against the evergreen backdrop of yew. ‘Green and white make a garden look so fresh, whatever the time of year,’ says Arabella.

This formal design contains two borders opening up to a grassy area, with double rows of pleached crab apples on either side. Each side of the border mirrors the other, giving it a clean symmetry, with four striking Cornus controversa ‘Variegata’ specimens for structure. ‘I always try to mix shrubs into my herbaceous borders,’ says Arabella. ‘They provide contrast in shape and texture, as well as creating a good background for other plants. I also use evergreen hedges and topiary to break up a long herbaceous border, making everything more interesting in winter.’ Pleached trees are another excellent way to add structure. Here, Arabella has chosen Malus x robusta ‘Red Sentinel’ underplanted with Iris pallida and cushions of Hebe topiaria.

Cornus controversa ‘Variegata’

Euphorbia amygdaloides ‘Purpurea’

Euphorbia cyparissia

In the main border, a block of Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’ runs along the spine, picking up the colour of the cornus, while a smaller block of Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’ is planted between the two corner seats. Lilium regale is dotted through the pennisetum, the smooth, shapely flowers of the lily contrasting with the soft, tactile flower heads of the pennisetum. The miscanthus, too, will be broken up by self-seeding thalictrums in years to come. ‘I tend to plant in blocks rather than drifts,’ she says. ‘Then, after the first year, these blocks will start to merge into each other as plants self seed. Drifts look wonderful on plan, but once planted they are much more difficult to manage.’ Ornamental grasses are another essential component of Arabella’s plans: ‘They are so useful for extending the season, and their softness contrasts beautifully with clipped evergreens.’

Colour is important to Arabella, but she favours subtle colour rather than garish hues. ‘I’m very bad with oranges and yellows.’ Greens and whites allow the eye to notice more subtle shades and textures than might otherwise be the case with brighter plants. ‘I always try to think about the border without flowers,’ says Arabella. ‘Foliage shape and texture is just as important.’ Euphorbias are used here for different shades of green: the earlier flowering, ground-covering E. cyparissias and wood spurge, E. amygdaloides ‘Purpurea’, and the taller, summer-flowering E. schillingii with its striking foliage. The rose adds a softer note, with the pink-tinged flowers straying slightly from the strictly white rule. She has also brought in more pink in the form of Astrantia major, as well as the pearly grey-blue of Aconitum ‘Stainless Steel’.

To extend the seasonal interest of this border, you could add Scilla siberica ‘Alba’ for spring, or the annual white cleome for late summer and autumn. Arabella suggests weaving Allium multibulbosum in with the miscanthus, or Allium atropurpureum with the artemisia. She also suggests underplanting the cornus with an unusual orchid, Cypripedium ‘Birgit Pastel’, as well as Bergenia ciliata to mark each corner of the border. All the plants have been selected for an open, sunny site in a good, loamy, well-drained soil.

Artemisia absinthium ‘Lambrook Silver’

Gillenia trifoliata

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’

Thalictrum delavayi ‘Album’

Featured image Dianthus ‘Mrs Sinkins’ Photography Sabina Rüber Illustrations Viola Lanari, Thea Pheiffer