The low sun and mellow light this week has shown off late summer colour to full effect. You’ve got to hand it to the flowers of late summer, they toddle round the track all summer looking tardy and mediocre then spurt to the finish line to win the gold medal as other plants have blazed and faded.
It’s always amazed me how some plants need such a long run up before they flower. Some buds develop with all the speed of a retreating glacier. How can they take so long? Impatience melts away once they bloom though, and it all feels worthwhile.
Here are six of my favourite plants for late summer colour, flowering right now in the garden.
The middle distance runner of the herbaceous border, dahlias put in a good paced performance from high summer but really show what they’re made of come autumn, when the plants will be bulky and covered in flowers. Only frost will bring their flowering to an end.
‘Bishop of Oxford’ is the only new variety introduced to my garden this year. It’s a delightful single tangerine orange variety with bronze leaves. Planted amongst Knipfofia ‘Alcazar’, they’ve really taken a long time to get going. This patch is in my new tropical garden border and the planting is a flagrant copy of a planting scheme I saw in 2019 at the Savill Garden.
Meanwhile so many other dahlias are flowering their socks off so here’s a little collage for you all. That’s what I love about dahlias – there’s a colour scheme or shape for every garden. Those new to dahlias can read more about how I grow them here.
Aster ‘Spider Chrysanthemum’
These explosions of colour are from a mixed pack of seeds sown last spring. I’m so glad I took the trouble to sow and grow them on as they look fabulous down in my pond garden alongside acid green Eucomis and also with the orange Agastache aurantiaca ‘Navajo’.
Aster ‘Spider Chrysanthemum’ is described as a half-hardy annual, usually grown as an annual. I may try overwintering some but it’s a packet of seeds I will definitely be buying again next year.
Sedum – Hylotelephium spectabile
This is such a useful plant to have in the border, especially if you like flower arranging. Early in the season the clustered flowers are lime green and look great in a mixed arrangement as a foil to pink flowers. They turn a stunning deep red in late summer and are a magnet for bees and butterflies. It’s mesmerising to sit near the sedum heads and watch the insect life.
I do find sedum a bit floppity by early autumn so when I remember, I given them the “Chelsea chop” in May (chopping the growing stems down to roughly a thirds of their height), this delays the flowering slightly but means the stalks are stockier and don’t need staking.
Michaelmas Daisies – Symphyotichum
These pretty daisy-shaped flowers are well worth the wait and are invaluable for late summer colour. Many are tall but other varieties are suitable for the front of the border and like the Sedum, I have found they respond well a “Chelsea Chop” in May. Mine were all inherited or given to me by friends so sadly I don’t know any of the names but hopefullly the pictures will give a flavour of the variety available.
They are great for flower arranging too. One of my favourite vase combos is this white Michaelmas daisy with white Dahlia ‘Blanc y Verde’.
Japanese Anemone – Anemone x hybrida
These are stunning flowers which add a sense of class to the garden. For some reason I think of statuesque ballet dancers when I see them, probably because they waft about on long slender limbs. Both the white and pink varieties are worth planting at the back of a border but beware – they spread by rhizomes below the soil so can get a bit out of control over time if left to their own devices.
I usually think about perennials when planning late summer colour but it’s important not to forget annuals. Whilst some annuals are straggly and ready for the compost heap by September, others are still motoring and looking fresh and colourful.
Down in the tropical border, annuals I planted in June have really filled out and are looking fabulous, notably the coleus, impatiens and salvias. These are not plants I usually crave growing but in the right context they look great and if you want colour they’ll give you that in spades. These have been great value and brassy as they are I can’t imagine this bit of the border without them.
This seasonal diary is part of a weekly link-up of garden bloggers from around the world, called Six on Saturday. For more information and links to other blogs crammed with gardening activity, check the blog of host The Propagator.