Flowers for a country border

Monarda didyma known as bee balm is a bee lovers dream nectar plant. (Handout/TNS)
Monarda didyma known as bee balm is a bee lovers dream nectar plant. (Handout/TNS)

Life on farms, ranches and larger suburban home sites is all about country. It’s an unpredictable world of animals, plants, kids and weather that has defined American life for the past two centuries. You won’t find fabulous design or cutting edge modern here. This is our tradition in the hinterlands, where we aren’t creating just a pretty picture. We create functional sites that are maintainable and useful today, for us and our families. With all the chores to do, few have time to sweat the details, seek perfection or create glossy magazine looks. It’s just who we are.

To bring beauty and ecology into the barnyard or to help fence lines melt into the site, you need a special flower border that’s geared for the dust and neglect and trying summer heat. In early farms and ranches, the first perennials to arrive here are the stalwart wildflowers of range and prairie. Planted from gathered seed, or roots transplanted to the yard from wild stands, these big bold perennials took hold and flourished. They have proven to take the worst conditions and survive, to bring color, wildlife and flavor, without toxicity to pets, livestock or kids.


Monarda didyma is a vigorous north American native perennial that is short statured until it produces three foot tall stalks of incredible lavender flowers. In the colonies, it’s foliage was an alternative to boycotted tea after the Boston Tea Party. This is the quintessential bee draw, hence the name.


This perennial comes from the drier mesic prairie so it is a valuable choice in the west. Gaillardia pulchella grows low and dense, flowering flowers heavily, and then self sows for many new volunteers next year. This species is not as picky about soil quality for success in leaner gravelly ground.


Echinacea purpurea is best known as a supplment, but this is the finest native for borders. Huge magenta daisies take heat in stride followed by striking seed cones favored by song birds later in the year.


This plant is not a native but a curious hybrid invented a century ago by Luther Burbank. It is truly global with Japanese and British ancestry created in California. Snow white flowers of the original have many size variations, with the original proving as long lived and resilient as many natives.


This popular kitchen garden herb produces tall plants with umbeliferous flower heads that fill the air with these delicate forms late into the winter.

Because a fence line border is a linear application, it’s easy to pack it with plants for an overflowing floriferous look at peak season. More importantly, the plants will flourish so they grow together into a dense mass. This blocks sunlight to the soil beneath so weeds are less likely to sprout. Moisture is retained far longer in shaded soil too.

All of the above perennials can be found in garden centers coast to coast and are by and large quite cold hardy. Buy six packs of young plants for a larger project to cut your plant costs without sacrificing the ultimate density. On the farm, start the border with one gallon sized plants so you don’t have to give them all so much protection. Use a tube of chicken wire to keep rabbits and livestock from grazing on them until they’re taller. No matter how small the start, they all reach the same size in the end. Try sowing colorful florist’s sunflowers into the border to flesh out the planting until the perennials become larger.

Gardening outside of cities is a very different critter than the small backyard ideas. Our problems are larger and more challenging with wildlife and livestock and kids that do what kids do. This is America folks, with our unsophisticated yet intensely satisfying gardens filled with the plants we know, and love and grew up with.


Maureen Gilmer is an author, horticulturist and landscape designer. Learn more at