Adopt a colourful approach to late summer gardening

Kentish Pip Wild Summer Sparkling Elderflower Cider

It’s important to remember that the gardening season is not all over by August. It continues well into autumn – as long as you plan a tapestry of rich tones into beds, borders and pots in order to bring your garden to a late colourful crescendo.

Grasses are a favourite of mine as they bring a lightness to most planting schemes and the seed heads last long into autumn. Pennisetum alopecuroides ’Hameln’ is a soft, pretty perennial grass that forms a compact, low mound and produces long-lasting, soft, pinkish, brush-like flowers in late summer that resemble squirrel tails. Its bright green leaves turn yellow in autumn and then brown throughout winter and I would advise to plant en masse for the greatest impact.

Another variety to try is stipa tenuissima, a wispy grass with pale yellow and green leaves topped with fluffy plumes of silver-green flowers, maturing to blonde-buff. This versatile deciduous grass is ideal for introducing movement into a planting scheme since the fluffy flower heads and foliage billow in the slightest breeze. I mix it with a pink, ground cover rose and salvia guaranitica ‘Blue Enigma’ for colour that will continue into autumn.

Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’ is an eye-catching small ornamental grass, which forms cascading hummocks of vividly striped bright yellow and green foliage in late summer and autumn; pale green, slender flower spikes appear, giving a billowing lightness to planted drifts. It is useful as a simple enhancement to light shrubs and as a soft edging to paths or steps. The clean, minimalist style of this grass makes it a good choice for formal courtyards and contemporary containers.

Agapanthus africanus ‘Albus’ is a striking white form of African lily, which produces globes of trumpet-shaped flowers from July to September. This bold perennial provides a perfect focal point for a sunny, well-drained border or in a patio container; it makes a strong, simple planting combination when it’s mixed with hakonechloa.

Late summer perennials keep the season going. Many heleniums flower from July to September but some, such as ‘Riverton Beauty’, stay the course until late October. ‘Sahin’s EarlyFlowerer’ is shorter, robust and free flowering and at one-metre tall with orange flowers streaked in yellow until November, it makes a wonderful companion for ornamental grasses and yellow, white or earth toned flowers. Oh and bees and butterflies love it!

Other exceptional performers are aster x frikartii ‘Mönch’ (80cm) and thomsonii (120cm) which produce pale mauve daisies with yellow eyes non-stop from late July to October.

The perennial rudbeckias and helianthus with their yellow daisy heads will also brighten the garden. Mixed with white Japanese anemones and stipa tenuissima this makes a bold border going into the late summer.

The real riches of this season lie in half-hardy annuals and tender perennials. Dahlias are the most vibrant, bold and showy in rich reds, oranges and pinks. ‘Bishop of Llandaff’, 150cm tall, is an earthy red on almost black leaves. It looks striking with rich, deep blue salvia ‘Indigo Spires’. Both sit next to rosa ‘Florence Mary Morse’, another deep red and hardly out of flower from late spring until autumn. For me ‘Witteman’s Superba’ is the most striking of all, its small, scarlet, semi-cactus flowers held rigidly above green leaves at 120cm.

Among others I like include dahlia ‘Nuit d’été’, a semi-cactus dahlia mixed with ‘Jescot Julie’, a double-flowered dahlia which has a burnt orange upper surface and a rich plum base, creating an interesting and colourful mix.

Two trees that make a bold colour statement from June onwards are the yellow-leaved catalpa bignonioides ‘Aurea’, and the dark plum cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’, both of which I adore.

The cercis has heart-shaped leaves on a spreading, often multi-stemmed, tree which turn to gorgeously bright shades of orange, red and yellow in autumn, bringing a lovely burst of colour before the new season wends its way to the garden.

Top tips:

Many heleniums flower from July to September, but some, such as ‘Riverton Beauty’, last until October

Grasses bring a lightness to most planting schemes and the seed heads last long into autumn

Plan a tapestry of rich tones into beds, borders and pots in order to bring your garden to
a late colourful crescendo

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