Gardening: tips on late summer scorchers
The soft pink peonies, deep blue delphiniums and purple cranesbill geraniums may have faded from my borders - but there are some sizzling oranges and reds in their place, bursting into bloom and hailing the fact that summer isn’t over.
Spikes of vibrant red Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ rub shoulders with dazzling Helenium ‘Moerheim Beauty’, whose rich orange daisy-like flowers provide a wonderful clash of colours, intermingling with chocolate-leaved heucheras and backed by the intense, deep purple flowers of Buddleia davidii ‘Black Knight’.
It’s at this time of year you realise that late summer blooms can almost be more eye-catching and long-lasting than those which bloom earlier in the season and if you haven’t given a thought to how your borders are going to look in August and beyond, maybe it’s time to turn over a new leaf.
Thanks to the unusually warm spring, much bedding has been blooming its heart out since April or May and has just about run out of steam, so if your tired-looking petunias have gone soggy and drooped in the recent rains or other blooms are past their best, bite the bullet and replace them with some sizzling patio stalwarts which can be replanted later in the border.
Dahlias have made a comeback in recent years and there are some stunning varieties which will merge into a hot scheme. Consider the vermilion-red semi-double blooms of D. ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ alongside the deep yellow D. ‘Bishop of York’, wonderfully offset by dark foliage in the border. Types like the single ‘Mount Noddy’, with its velvety red flowers, are best planted en masse.
In exotic schemes I love red hot pokers (Kniphofia) which provide colour and structure with their tall, striking stems and red and yellow rocket-shaped flowers. A good option is ‘Ice Queen’ if you fancy the calmer hue of creamy yellow flowers but want a plant which grows to around 1.2m (4ft) tall. For smaller, daintier varieties which could be placed nearer the front of the border, ‘Toffee Nosed’ or ‘Little Maid’ are better choices.
Tubs and troughs of vivid, vibrant nasturtiums can also provide late summer interest, in shades of reds, oranges and yellows, while black-eyed Susan, or thunbergia, will twine itself up trellis or tumble over hanging baskets in a sunny, sheltered spot until October.
Other stunning additions to the border which do well in lightly shaded areas are hemerocallis (day lily), astilbe and astrantia.
If you’re not into brash and bold, you can opt for the softer hues of summer phlox in a variety of colours, from white to deep pink, some of which have variegated leaves.
The globe thistle (Echinops bannaticus) produces eye-catching soft blue spiny globes on top of silvery stems, which grow to around 1.2m (4ft) high, while Aster x frikartii ‘Monch’ bears lavender-blue flowers on thick stems through to October.
Most of these plants don’t need staking or dividing often. As well as producing late colour, they also provide leaf interest throughout the year.
For immediate impact, plant them closely in groups. Salvias including S. uliginosa (blue) and S. fulgens (red) do well planted in groups, as do Chinese aster, coleus, zinnia, penstemon and rudbeckia.
Other good bets include the purple coneflower Echinacea purpurea, which has pretty basal foliage and bears big, purple-pink daisy-like flowers. Its petals surround a large central cone and it grows up to 1m (3ft) or more when fed. Good varieties include ‘Robert Bloom’ or ‘Magnus’.
To complement the coneflowers in your border, try planting Phygelius Aequalis ‘Yellow Trumpet’ in front of them. These plants, originally from South Africa, have a constant run of flower stems which hold tubular creamy yellow flowers and reach around 90cm (3ft) in height. They will need winter protection in cold areas.
Of course, no late summer border would be complete without the sedum, or ice plant, so called because if you touch the succulent leaves on a warm day they will be cold. A good bet is S. ‘Autumn Joy’, which provides flat heads of flowers in shades ranging from salmon pink to deep red from August to November.
Plant wisely and your sizzling summer may last much longer than you think.