From late July into August, many gardens can start to look a bit tired. The first flush of blooms has passed and the exuberance of fresh foliage has started to yellow and look a little tatty. Here’s some tips from Chiltern Garden Design on some great late summer planting combinations to fill your beds and borders to give them extra zing through the summer holidays and into the autumn.
Artichokes and Golden Hops
We grow edible artichokes (Cynara scolymus) in the main garden, not the kitchen garden, because they are such beautiful, perennial plants. They have fantastic structure, which they retain through the winter, and if you don’t scoff all the delicious buds, let some bloom. They have amazingly vibrant thistly petals, which are magnets for bumble bees and other pollinators, which we see upending themselves into their spectacular large heads to get to the pollen and nectar they contain.
Set their electric blue heads against a backdrop of climbing golden hops (Humulus lupulus ‘Aureus’) and you have something really special on your hands. Here we’ve teamed it with a swathe of Verbena bonariensis to mirror the violet colour in a different form, a trick which really works well with different planting associations. Verbena is also loved by butterflies, whose long tongues alone can reach into their deep nectar stores.
Echinacea and Lavatera
Native to the North American prairie, Echinacea purpurea is late to bloom and so perfect for this time of year, once the irises, peonies and delphiniums have faded. Its strongly structural form is unusual, with cone shaped daisy heads and petals that fall downwards in elegant fashion. There’s a white form (Echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan’) but it isn’t as vigorous and may not be as long lived. With either variety you can let the seed heads stay on into winter for an interesting structure and food for the birds.
We do like to pair Echinacea with similar colours but differing forms, like this Lavatera ‘Loveliness’ grown from seed. It’s an annual that blooms continuously for months, and doesn’t need dead-heading. The petals simply drop off themselves to leave neat little buttons which are the seed heads. Also available in white, the bright pink form adds extra oomph to the late summer border, and tones in well with the Smokebush, Cotinus coggygria ‘Golden Spirit’ behind, which has started to take on some autumn colour at this point.
Echinops and Russian Sage
Continuing the theme of matching similar tones but contrasting shapes, here’s an electric blue pairing for you. Echinops ritro ‘Veitch’s Blue’ has fantastic globular heads which start out silvery green, turn blue and then return to a faded green. They’re a magnet for bees and other pollinators, and contrast well with other shaped flowers like daisy heads and clouds of semi-transparents like grasses and Gaura. They are very long lasting, late flowering and grow in a surprising number of locations, including difficult shady spots. They’re quite tall, so consider carefully where you want to put them in the border, and they’re easily raised from seed.
Here we’ve paired them with one of our all time favourite plants – Perovskia atriplicifolia ‘Blue Spires’ otherwise known as Russian Sage. This easy to grow perennial has gorgeous silvery grey foliage which blends well in any planting scheme, is highly scented, and come late summer, sumptuous wands of lilac to blue flowers. Plant them in swathes, as one on its own is too light and airy to stand out – it’s when you get a few together that this plant has real impact.
Hydrangea paniculata and Aster frikartii
Hydrangeas are such versatile shrubs, flowering late in the summer and into autumn, with great big blooms that contrast well with the smaller flowers of a typical decorative border. Opting for an unusual shaped bloom gives you a talking point, such as with these marvellous pointy Hydrangea paniculata ‘Vanille Fraise’ which start off pure white and slowly turn light pink, like ice cream cones that look delicious enough to eat!
We’ve paired the hydrangeas with Aster frikartii ‘Mönch’ – a delightful long flowering variety that has strong lilac blooms and doesn’t tend to succumb to wilt or fungal diseases like some others. In the background you’ll see the soft gauzy flowers of the smokebush Cotinus coggygria ‘Golden Spirit’ which tone in beautifully with the pink softness of the hydrangea’s blooms and whose foliage helsp to give it a lovely, zingy backdrop.
Happy late summer planting!