It’s not uncommon to hear gardeners lamenting the lack of colour in their garden towards the end of summer. I’m quite pleased at how much colour I have still and confidently expect it to carry on for some time yet.
Let me set out my approach and the principles I follow.
Parks departments, and to some extent gardeners, used to bed out annuals on a grand scale, using plants like Allysum, Lobelia, Antirrhinums, Begonias and so on to have masses of flower from June until September. Bedding is out of fashion amongst gardeners, though parks still do quite a bit. The great thing about bedding plants is their ability to flower for several months rather than a couple of weeks.
Herbaceous plants can be very floriferous but with very few exceptions only flower for a few weeks. You can have a succession of things flowering so you have some colour over the season or you can have everything flowering at roughly the same time so you get a bigger splash for a shorter period.
There are groups of perennials that flower over a long season and I have lots of them. Dahlias, Salvias and Penstemons are great but not always easy to carry over from one year to the next. Salvia ‘Amistad’ is in a class of its own for flowering season. Alstroemeria ‘Indian Summer’ and Geranium ‘Rozanne’ are outstanding hardy perennials.
Bedding plants as small patches of strong colour can be useful; if they’re in pots they can be placed where they are most needed and where their colours work best. Begonias can be very effective used in this way.
Annuals, especially taller ones, can be used to fill gaps and provide points of colour amongst plants that have finished performing. I have found Tagetes ‘Cinnabar’, Hibiscus trionum and Ricinus effective this year.
Amongst shrubs the two real standouts are Fuchsias and Hydrangeas. I’m finding the double flowered Hydrangeas last even better than the singles, though the serrata forms are mostly not very good. Many of the newer varieties have been bred to keep on flowering through the summer and autumn. Fuchsias mainly flower better if hard pruned in spring, but start to bloom later, sometimes not until August.
Much of my early summer colour comes from Aquilegias and foxgloves; things that have all but disappeared now. Earlier still I had masses of primroses and other primulas which don’t mind being shaded by other plants during the summer.
Strong colours, especially reds, have more impact for a given amount of flower than other shades. I have a vibrant red Dahlia ‘Red Velvet’ which jumps out of every picture I take. The pale lilac-blue Hydrangea is very subdued by comparison.
Foliage can contribute but while yellow foliage looks very bright in bluish winter light and with minimal competition, it doesn’t have the same impact in summer. Red leaves, such as Ricinus and some Eucomis varieties, has more impact.
What the eye sees is contrast and that can be of texture as well as colour. The strong lines of grasses or the exotic foliage of Begonia luxurians or Schefflera add a little more punch to the mix.
Don’t rule out fruit trees, some Apples are probably better for their visual contribution than their eating quality.
Dead head Dahlias and Alstroemerias to get more flowers. Water when dry or many things will stop flowering. That’s about it.
Still can’t compete with my seed raised Dahlias up the allotment.