How to get late summer colour in the garden

 In Hardy perennials, Seasonal Gardening, Summer colour

How to get late summer colour in the garden? Here’s how you do it –

Keeping the show going in August can be a challenge!

The early summer flowering perennials and shrubs look tired and lackluster. The roses are past their best and needing dead heading. Lavender is jaded and in need of pruning back. Even most of the pinks and hardy geraniums have very few flowers now.

But all is not lost and there can be vibrant colour around you and not just from bedding and hanging basket displays!

Where to get some inspiration

Monty Don, Gardeners World, Alan Down, Felicity Down

Alan and Felicity Down chat late perennials with Monty Don at the University of Bristol Botanic Garden

There are fine examples of planting around. They demonstrate how to get colour in what is often a flat period. That is before the autumn colours really kick in.

I am impressed by the ‘hot colour’ beds at Bristol University Botanic Gardens. These are filled with wonderful day lilies [Hemerocallis]. And day lilies are such useful, tough and easy plant to have in the garden!

My wife Felicity Down and I are seen here discussing their merit with TV garden presenter Monty Don.

Monty Don has planted a garden he calls The Jewel Garden which comes into its own at this time of the year.




Plants to grow

The Sneezeweed [Helenium] is getting into full swing there too and it has colours in the ‘hot’ end of the colour spectrum. The bronze colours of these tend to be best but there are yellows too.

How to get late summer colour in the garden, Rudbeckia Goldsturm

Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’

For the best yellows I would always plant Black Eyed Susan [Rudbeckia]. The variety ‘Goldsturm’ is first class but for a shorter equally good version look out for ‘Little Gold Sun’.

Yarrow [Achillea] may not have the stamina to give you a good display right through August. But those flat headed blooms – in shades of gold, white, pink, orange and even red – give a great colour palette to play with! And they are wonderful plants for insects too.


Red Hot Pokers

Traditional Red Hot Pokers [Kniphofia] will have finished their main flush of flower but with judicious dead-heading they might be encouraged to repeat the performance.

Kniphofia, Rudbeckia

Kniphofia ‘Mango Popsicle’ with Rudbeckia

However the newest introductions from North America have made me re-assess this border perennial. I’m especially impressed with the Popsicle kniphofias.

I’ve grown ‘Mango’, ‘Lemon’ and ‘Papaya Popsicle’ and all produce far more blooms than any other I’ve seen. They also bloom over a very much longer period. They are short and so need to be planted in a sunny spot towards the front of a display.




Other coloured perennials

Veronicastrum, garden plants

Veronicastrum virgatum

Another good perennial with spire like blooms is Culver’s Root [Veronicastrum]. I expect that this is a plant better known by its Latin than common name.

It has wispy spire like flower spikes that can reach a full 2 metres high. Consequently it might require some support. Nevertheless, it is worth the effort but should certainly be positioned right at the back of a border!

The earliest monbretia [Crocosmia] will be going over soon but there are now so many good varieties to choose from. Late flowering ones keep on blooming for longer!

Bristol Botanic Garden has the old variety ‘Star of the East’ which is impressive but I like the look of ‘Carmine Brilliant’ and of ‘Limpopo’.

None of these Crocosmia are happy in dry positions although the roadside discards seem to grow anywhere they are dumped! They prefer a moist soil.

Perennial and dramatic looking Lobelia also prefer to grow in water retaining soils which are not actually waterlogged.

Look out for the purple leaf but crimson flowered ‘Queen Victoria’ and the green leaf but rich purple bloomed ‘Hadspen Purple’.

Alcea, hollyhocks

Mixed hollyhocks

By contrast, Hollyhocks [Alcea] are quite the reverse!

They seem to flourish best where they choose to sow themselves!

And, as is often the case, if that is in a crack in the pavement hard up against a sunny house wall, they settle down and become a permanent and rust free fixture!




August offers few flowering trees but of those I would single out the evergreen Magnolia grandiflora. Its huge lemon scented blooms and its superb glossy leaves are spectacular!

Magnolia, grandiflora, Little Gem

Magnolia grandiflora Little Gem

The more compact form called ‘Little Gem’ is tiny enough for the average smaller garden of today.


Another space saving evergreen I must mention is also sweetly scented and white flowering.

This should be planted much more widely and is of course the Eucryphia. The blooms are tightly packed on the variety Nymansay. They are a firm favourite with honey bees!



Lacking scent, there is no denying the impact that hydrangeas have on the late summer garden. These are tough and easily cared for and do particularly well here in the West Country.

It’s worth planting Annabelle, Limelight, Hydrangea aspera villosa and indeed most of the Hydrangea serrata varieties.

But those trees, shrubs and conifers can be made to bloom again if you will accept that the colour comes from another plant. I’m referring to the opportunity that presents itself to train late flowering Clematis viticella varieties on your plants!

These late flowering Clematis will be at their very best in August and are hard pruned every year so that they do not look untidy when not blooming.


Back to Perennials

How to get late summer colour in the garden, dahlia

Mixed pompon Dahlias

Sedum, Aster and single flowered Dahlia are popular with bees and butterflies.

The Ice Plants [Sedum] are strong in the red and pink colour spectrum and in August it is the blue flowered and powdery mildew resistant Aster x frikartii types that I recommend.

Dahlias of course offer the widest colour range imaginable. I especially like the dark leaf types such as those with the prefix of Mystic or Bishop to their name.

These tend to be harder than many others and may be left in the garden over winter if generously mulched to keep the frost out of the soil.



Ornamental Grasses

Although lots look their very best in autumn and winter, some ornamental grasses add significant effect to the August garden.

Cotinus, Stipa, grass

Stipa arundinacea with Cotinus Grace

Tufted Hair Grass [Deschampsia], gold leaf Hakone Grass [Hakonechloa], Switch Grass [Panicum] and Pheasants Tail and Giant Oat [Stipa] already look good.

Whilst not truly a grass – it’s more closely related to asparagus – Lily Turf [Liriope] is a useful addition to shady places. It will even put up with that most difficult of all regimes that is dry shade! The tightly packed purple spires of blooms above the evergreen leaves make this a very useful garden plant.

As you see, August certainly need never be a colour gap in any garden! And after the recent rain there is every reason to fill those gaps now!


I’ve written on other late flowering perennials here

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