Dependable late Summer colour


Lee Bestall
1st August 2021

As Summer ages and the freshness of autumn awaits us in the months ahead, is your garden looking a little jaded? A common problem of British gardens in particular, is their tendency to be full of flowers in spring and early summer, but then colour slides away leaving late July through the rest of the summer looking a bit lacklustre. Of course, this is why so many of us love summer bedding plants. 

The ability of many summer bedding plants to flower all summer long, all the way until the frosts bite them at the end of the season, often comes from their wild ancestors. In nature, many of these plants come from very hot and dry climates, often on very poor soil. They await the arrival of rain, and when it comes they either grow from seed as quickly as possible (e.g. californian poppies), erupt from tubers waiting in the soil (e.g. dahlias), or burst from tough woody stems (e.g. pelargoniums). With the abundance of sunshine and the long-awaited rain, they flower their little hearts out for as long as possible, because they just don’t know when the next opportunity to flower and set see will be.

Our native plants generally don’t flower for so long. Our warm season is fairly short, and our fairly dependable and stable damp climate allows plants to just flower in spring and set seed in autumn, so plants here have not evolved the capacity to just keep flowering, because they simply don’t need to.

The obvious issue with bedding plants is that they are tender. This means we need to either bring them under cover over winter, or buy more every year. Many are also annual, meaning we need to sow them from seed every spring. With interests in sustainability growing and the demand for lower-input gardens that demand less of our time to maintain them, many gardeners have come to use a lesser-known range of hardy herbaceous perennial plants that just flower on and on until the frosts. Many of us grow the flowers we saw in our grandparents gardens, so these more recently cultivated plants are often underused. If you plant them together to create a meadow effect, they stand up without extra support and have strong structure and seed-heads that bring texture, form an warming blonde and rusty colours to the garden through winter. 

Small plants;

  • Erigeron karvinskianus (mexican fleabane)
  • Viola labradorica (labrador violet)

Front of a sunny border;

  • Hardy Geranium, but you need the varieties that flower all summer long - 'Orion', 'Patricia', 'Rozanne' and  'Ann Folkard'
  • Nepeta - cut it back to keep it flowering

Mid-heigh colour explosion;

  • Salvia - make sure you get the hardy ones
  • Knautia macedonica (macedonian scabious)

Tal and airy;

  • Oenothera lindheimeri (used to be called Gaur lindheimeri)
  • Verbena bonariensis (purpletop vervain)

Late summer and early autumn is a good time to plant, when the soil is warm and damp. May these perhaps unfamiliar plants, become your best friends!

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The Author


Lee Bestall

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