Well, that’s it then.
August Bank Holiday over, children back to school and we are all on the slippery slide into autumn.
It’s not been much of a summer – well what does one expect living on an island at the edge of the Atlantic! – and it hasn’t lasted long enough by a long chalk, it never does.
But seasons are there for a reason and gardeners have much to look forward to over the coming months.
Now is the time of year that the garden can explode into a riot of colour.
Late summer perennials are renowned for their vibrancy and many last well up to the first frosts.
Rudbeckias (Coneflower) come in a variety of heights from the stately and very tall R. ‘Herbstonne’ with its bright yellow, daisy like flowers to the clump forming and more golden R. fulgida ‘Goldsturm’.
They form a good contrast with the bushy Heleniums (Sneezeweed) such as the striking copper coloured ‘Moerheim Beauty’ and the taller, bright yellow H. hoopsei.
The tall, scarlet flowered Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ and the shorter, more compact varieties of Crocosmia, such as the orange ‘Emily McKenzie’ and the Yellow ‘Golden Fleece’, provide strong bursts of colour and work particularly well when small clumps are dotted throughout the border.
These modern varieties of Crocosmia are not to be confused with the rather invasive plant formally known as Montbretia (now known as C. masoniorum) which could quickly become a nuisance.
Modern Crocosmias may be planted with the assurance that they are easily managed, requiring well drained soil, may be a top dressing of mulch before winter and division in spring to keep them in check.
They will then reward you with a blast of long lasting colour for the border and for the flower vase.
Many of the late flowering perennials are happy to develop quietly while their earlier flowering neighbours are doing their thing so there is no need to keep an area just for this time of year.
The use of shrubs within a late flowering border will help to keep things looking busy and will greatly enhance the colours if some thought is given to colour and form.
To really set a ‘hot’ planting scheme on fire, look no further than purple-leafed plants.
Shrubs such as Sambucus nigra ‘Black Beauty’ (Black Elder) and Physocarpus ‘Diabolo’ both have striking, dark purple foliage and, although their flowers are pink and may not work well with orange and yellow, these are long over by this time of year and, in many cases, have developed into luscious dark berries.
S. nigra ‘Eve Price’ has finely cut leaves in the darkest purple, providing yet another dimension to your planting scheme.
There is no doubt that contrast between foliage and flower is striking and this can sometimes be achieved within one single plant.
You would have to look hard to beat the glory of Dahlias such as ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ and ‘David Howard’, whose bright blooms simply sing against contrasting dark foliage.
Of course, to some, the clamour of colour is all too much and for those preferring more muted tones, this time of year need not be a problem.
Asters (also known as Michaelmas daisies) are now coming in to their best and are available in a huge variety of colour, form and height.
Modern varieties such as the novae-angliae and novae-belgii are more resistant to the mildew which can so badly afflict this group of plants.
Their pink, blue and mauve colours mix well with Echinacea purpurea (Purple Coneflower) and the gorgeous Verbena bonariensis with its delicate waving purple flowers.
Flowers in this group of colours often look at their best when panted with silveyr foliage such as that found on Artemisia ludoviciana ‘Valerie Finnis’ (Wormwood) and Artemisia abrotanum (Southernwood).
Picking out hues in variegated foliage also works well.
Try Berberis thunbergii ‘Rose Glow’, whose reddish-purple leaves are splashed with cream and pink, with the white flowers and silver foliage of Anaphalis margaritacea (Pearl everlasting) and the lilac flowered Aster frikartii ‘Monch’ and the whole combination will lift in a way that just could not be achieved if these plants were grown separately.
Playing about with colour is one of the joys of gardening.
There are no hard and fast rules; doing what you like is the order of the day.
Sometimes planning pays off, at other times happy accidents simply occur and you are always kept safe by the thought that if it doesn’t work, pull it out and try something else and then you have something to look forward to next year.
Gardens in the area with good late summer displays include Helmsley Walled Garden, The Walled Garden at Scampston, the herbaceous borders at RHS Harlow Carr, Harrogate, the gardens at Newby Hall near Ripon (whose herbaceous borders are shortly to be overhauled) and our own Pannett Park, which has looked simply stunning of late.
Plant of the Month
A clump forming perennial with velvety dark green leaves and saucer-shaped deep purple flowers carried from mid summer to the first frosts.
It provides good ground cover and is happy scrambling about in anything from light shade to full sun.
The real beauty of this plant is that, if given good light levels, the leaves turn to a glorious reddish brown throughout late summer and autumn and provide a stunning contrast to the flowers.
Like all geraniums it is easy to grow and requires little maintenance.
Propagation is from semi-ripe cuttings in late summer or by seed or division in autumn or spring.
Other geraniums with good late leaf colour include G. marorrhizum and G. maculatum.
Geranium wlassovianum is one of my ‘Plants of the Year’.
More details in the next Around the Garden.