Ever wondered how to get late summer colour in the garden? Well here is how you do it-
Keeping the show going in August can be a challenge! The early summer flowering perennials and shrubs look tired and lacklustre. The roses past their best and needing dead heading, lavender jaded and in need of a prune back and even most of the pinks and hardy geraniums have few flowers now.
But all is not lost and there can be vibrant colour around you and not just from bedding and hanging basket displays!
There are some fine examples of planting around and they demonstrate how to get colour in what is often a flat period before the autumn colours really kick in. Locally, I am impressed by the ‘hot colour’ beds at Bristol University Botanic Gardens. These are filled with wonderful daylilies [Hemerocallis] and this is such a useful, tough and easy plant to have in the garden. My wife Felicity Down and I are seen here discussing their merit with TV garden presenter Monty Don recently. Monty Don has planted a garden he calls The Jewel Garden which comes into its own at this time of the year.
The so called Sneezeweed [Helenium] is getting into full swing there now too and it has colours in the ‘hot’ end of the colour spectrum. The bronze colours of these tend to be best but there are yellows. For the best yellows, although perennial Sunflowers [Helianthemum] are good, I would always go for Black eyed Susan [Rudbeckia]. The variety ‘Goldsturm’ is first class but for a shorter equally good version look out for ‘Little Gold Sun’ which we grow lots of at Cleeve Nursery.
Yarrow [Achillea] may not have the stamina to give you a good display right through August but those flat headed blooms in shades of gold, white, pink, orange and red gives a great colour palette to play with and they are wonderful insect plants too.
Traditional Red Hot Pokers [Kniphofia] will have finished their main flush of flower but with judicious dead-heading they might be encouraged to repeat the performance. But the newest introductions from North America and elsewhere have made me re-assess this border perennial. I’m especially impressed with the Popsicle Kniphofias. We grow Mango and Papaya Popsicle and both produce far more blooms than any other I’ve yet seen and over a very much longer period. They are short and so need to be planted in a sunny spot towards the front of any display.
Another good perennial with spire like blooms is Culvers Root [Veronicastrum] and I expect that this is a plant better known by its Latin than common name. It has wispy spire like flower spikes that can reach a full 2 metres high and might require some support. Nevertheless, it is worth the effort but should certainly be positioned right at the back of a border!
The earliest monbretia [Crocosmia] will be going over soon but there are now so many good varieties to choose from that keep on blooming for longer that I hesitate to mention a name! Bristol Botanic Garden has the old variety ‘Star of the East’ which is impressive but I like the look of ‘Carmine Brilliant’ and of ‘Limpopo’. None of these are happiest in dry positions [although the roadside discards seem to grow anywhere they are dumped!] and they prefer quite a moist soil. Perennial and dramatic looking Lobelia also prefer to grow in water retaining soils that are no actually waterlogged. Look out for the purple leaf but crimson flowered ‘Queen Victoria’ and the green leaf but rich purple bloomed ‘Hadpsen Purple’.
By contrast, Hollyhocks [Alcea] are quite the reverse! They seem to flourish best where they choose to sow themselves! And, as is often the case, if that is in a crack in the pavement hard up against a sunny house wall, they settle down and become a permanent and rust free fixture!
August offers few flowering trees but of those I would single out the evergreen Magnolia grandiflora with its huge lemon scented blooms and its superb glossy leaves. The more compact form called ‘Little Gem’ is tiny enough for the average smaller garden of today. Another space saving evergreen I must mention is also sweetly scented and white flowering. This should be planted much more widely and is of course the Eucryphia. The blooms are tightly packed on the variety Nymansay and are a firm favourite with honey bees.
Lacking scent, there is no denying the impact that Hydrangeas have on the late summer garden. These are tough and easily cared for and do particularly well here in the West Country.
But those trees, shrubs and conifers can be made to bloom again if you will accept that the colour comes from another plant. I am of course referring to the opportunity that presents itself by allowing late flowering Clematis viticella varieties scramble over your plants! These will be at their very best in August and are hard pruned every year so that they do not look untidy when not blooming.
Sedum, Aster and single flowered Dahlia are popular with bees and butterflies. The Ice Plants [Sedum] are strong in the red and pink colour spectrum and in August it is the blue flowered and powdery mildew resistant Aster x frikartii types that I recommend.
Dahlias, of course offer the widest colour range imaginable but I especially like the dark leaf types such as those with the prefix of Mystic or Bishop to their name. These tend to be harder than many others and may be left in the garden over winter if generously mulched to keep the frost out of the soil.
Although lots look their very best in autumn and winter, some ornamental grasses add significant effect to the August garden; Tufted Hair Grass [Deschampsia], gold leaf Hakone Grass [Hakonechloa], Switch Grass [Panicum] and Pheasants Tail and Giant Oat [Stipa] already look good.
Whilst not truly a grass [it’s more closely related to asparagus!] Lily Turf [Liriope] is a useful addition to shady places in the garden and will even put up with that most difficult of all regimes- dry shade!
As you see, August certainly need never be a colour gap in any garden and, after the recent rains, there is every reason to fill those gaps and get late summer in the garden now!