There are several advantages to leaving the herbaceous border standing over winter. Firstly, the dried seed heads of Sedums, Verbena, and Echinacea (to name a few) are beautiful. They provide a monochrome of the shapes that were there over the growing season in different shades of brown. With some evergreen plants growing in between, this then looks like a shadow of what has been and what is to come. The standing plant matter provides a habitat for over-wintering invertebrate, which would otherwise find themselves homeless. Finally, the standing plant matter will protect the underlying soil, slowing leeching and helping to prevent erosion. There is plenty of time to cut back and tidy in early spring before the new season’s growth.
Grasses create height, movement and texture in a border, and many of these will continue to do this over winter. There are many options with different blade thicknesses, colour, ultimate height, and flower heads. My favourites include Stipa tenuissima, which is fine and delicate, Stipa arundaceae which has an orange/red tinge and Pennisetum ‘Little Bunny’ which is low growing, with little, tufty flower heads. Our hellebore collection is currently in flower. These little herbaceous gems are almost evergreen, showing some large, dark foliage through most of the year before flowering over the colder months. The lack of leaves on the trees allows the understory to get more direct sunlight, causing them to flower for our benefit.