Planning a Rainbow.

I’m sure all gardeners have had moments when garden visiting, that have so inspired them, that they can’t wait to get home and start changing part of their own garden. This is how it was for me when on holiday this year and I saw all the beautiful drifts of candelabra primulas, starting with these at R.H.S. garden, Harlow Carr.

Primula candelabra


As some of you may know, away from the house, we have a circular area, half of which is in shade from about 10am onwards (bearing in mind that the sun rises at 4.30 or 5am in the summer so plants will have at least 5 hrs sun, that’s providing it shines !)  and this border has an underground stream running below, so is always damp. These red Primula candelabra “Inverewe” were photographed  in Scotland, but I managed to buy some plants from a nursery on Dartmoor, thanks to the book, The Plant Finder.

Bog garden

At the moment I have this border planted up with bog plants which are lovely in the spring and early summer, but then the freshness fades as the months go by. I’ve been thinking for quite some time now that it could be a lot better later in the year.There is far too much Alchemilla mollis which has seeded itself throughout the border, they can all go, ferns are spreading everywhere, at least half can go into the woodland and other plants are ready to be split and moved,  so now seems a good time to reorganise this area.


Out came paper and pencil and lists started to be made of all the plants that like damp ground in semi shade,and because the border is a semi circle, that were also the colours of the rainbow.

Harlow Carr

Candelabra primulas were the first choice because of all the colours available.

P.florindae Coppertones

Primula alpicola are available in the indigo, violet range along with Primula florindae “Coppertones” for the orange section. Managed to find a nursery in Ireland selling this one, oh, the joys of shopping with a lap top and a debit card !!


Purple orchids for the violet coloured section, these are quite widely available from specialist nurseries.


Of course Meconopsis have to represent the blue in the rainbow.

I. Butter and sugar

That takes care of the early part of the year. There are already some iris in the border which can be split

I. ensata

and moved further back, for the yellow, blue and purple areas.


Next to flower would be the Astilbes, I have some red and purple ones that can be split and moved.

C. Lucifer

These would flower along side the red, orange and yellow crocosmias, with of course “Lucifer” starting off the rainbow. I think I will have to buy some Phlox for the lilac/purple areas and maybe some Monardas, Willow Gentians and Fillipendula.


These would flower along side red, blue and purple lobelias which are almost the last to start flowering in September. Just bought these from our local garden centre.

Primula seeds

Most of these plants I already have and they just need splitting and moving. Others I have already started growing from seed – the primulas which I brought back from Scotland, have provided me with lots of seeds  and are now sprouting nicely.

Hostas & ferns

Already in the border are various hostas and ferns, hostas can stay where they are and ferns can be moved to where the green section will be.


with Rogersias and a Rheum palmatum, some of the Rogersias will need moving.

It will take a couple of years for everything to settle in and start increasing, but in the mean time I can dream of my rainbow. Can anyone think of anything else I should add, apart from the crock of gold at the end !!!



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16 Responses to Planning a Rainbow.

  1. Alberto says:

    Dear Pauline, of all your beautiful rainbow the color I like most is definitely the green. To be honest your border was amazing the way it was. I love that pointed leaved hosta amongst ferns. Anyway some color will cheer up and add some character to this nice shaped border. Your idea is to refresh that part of the garden and I reckon you are on the right way to do it.
    What’s the plant between the white hemerocallis and the acanthus on the Lucifer pic? The one with tiny pink flowers. I like it.

    • Pauline says:

      Don’t worry Alberto, there will still be plenty of green contrasting with each other! Some plants had grown so big and spread too far, it seemed a good time to re-do the border while splitting the energetic plants. The small flower between the Agapanthus and Hemerocallis is Amsonia tabernaemontana with small blue flowers.It flowers here in June for about 6/8 weeks, lovely plant. The hosta ,by the way, is Jade Cascade and grows to about 4ft by 4ft !

  2. Alberto says:

    Jade Cascade. Must remember it! I know amsonia, I have a few plants of tabernaemontana as well but it flowers from april here and I did not think of it when I saw yours. I like it too.

    • Pauline says:

      Jade Cascade was the reason that I thought the border needed re-organising. It should be a really large plant by now, but the fern behind it is now taking over and crowding it out. If I don’t do something soon then I think the hosta will disappear, never to be seen again!

  3. wow Pauline a lotta work, to me your border looks great now, I can understand your wanting some colour other than green though, a rainbow sounds beautiful, sorry I can’t think of any more plants as I don’t know many to start with, Frances

    • Pauline says:

      Too many plants have seeded around too much Frances, and others are spreading too far. It really does need re-organising, in spite of the work, even if I didn’t make a rainbow, and I think making a rainbow in the garden will be rather fun!

  4. Hey Pauline,
    Greetings from Kansas USA., Pauline.
    I so enjoyed the peek under the tent of improving an already beautiful border. So many of your options can’t handle the heat and the cold extremes here on the prairie.
    If you read my bio you’ll see I lived in Sydney, Australia until we moved to Kansas at age 13 and primula were one of my favorites which i miss so much.
    I wish you luck on your redesign. From your thoughtful research, I’m sure it will be a smashing success.

    • Pauline says:

      Hello Patrick, thank you for visiting and for your kind comments. I agree, primulas would just give up in your heat, I will have to keep photographing them for you! I hope you will visit again and now I will explore your garden in Kansas via your blog.

  5. Christina says:

    The border looks great already but sometimes there is a point when you know it needs a lift (as you say too many of one plant because they are self seeding just to much). It’s great to be inspired AND know how to go about getting the results you want. It will be lovely, I look forward to seeing the progress you make next spring. Christina

    • Pauline says:

      The fern, Matteuccia struthiopteris, is making a take over bid, it really likes the damp soil, along with Alchemilla mollis and they really do need sorting out Christina. I will still try to keep the contrasting foliage together because I feel that looks interesting before the flowers get going , but hopefully the changes will brighten up the border at this time of year.

  6. P waxes lyrical and “oohs and aahs” when we see a clump of candelabra primulas. We used to grow them in the rich soil of Orkney. I don’t think they would do so well in the sandy soil here.
    I love the lobelia colour. It will give your borders a bit of a late zing!

  7. catmint says:

    Dear Pauline, Those primulas are sold here only in pots. I don’t they could ever naturalize in our climate. Good luck with your planning. I think you are describing the essence of gardening. The perfect border doesn’t stay perfect and things get out of sync. Gardens are human constructions even when we try to make them look natural. Happy gardening – and thanks for the enjoyable post. cheers, catmint

    • Pauline says:

      You’ve hit the nail on the head Catmint, sometimes I wish I could shout STOP, but the plants never listen ! Planning and re-doing borders is all part of the fun of gardening, well I think so anyway !! Thanks for your comment.

  8. Pauline says:

    Thank you Nancy, I appreciate you stopping by and leaving your lovely comment.

  9. Pauline says:

    In what way , a revelation? thanks for stopping and leaving a comment.

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