ADVICE on how to make the best of your outdoor green oasis.
Late summer scorchers
THE soft pink peonies, deep blue delphiniums and purple cranesbill geraniums may have faded from my borders - but there are some sizzling oranges and reds in their place, bursting into bloom and hailing the fact that summer isn’t over.
Spikes of vibrant red Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ rub shoulders with dazzling Helenium ‘Moerheim Beauty’, whose rich orange daisy-like flowers provide a wonderful clash of colours, intermingling with chocolate-leaved heucheras and backed by the intense, deep purple flowers of Buddleia davidii ‘Black Knight’.
It’s at this time of year you realise that late summer blooms can almost be more eye-catching and long-lasting than those which bloom earlier in the season and if you haven’t given a thought to how your borders are going to look in August and beyond, maybe it’s time to turn over a new leaf.
Thanks to the unusually warm spring, much bedding has been blooming its heart out since April or May and has just about run out of steam, so if your tired-looking petunias have gone soggy and drooped in the recent rains or other blooms are past their best, bite the bullet and replace them with some sizzling patio stalwarts which can be replanted later in the border.
Dahlias have made a comeback in recent years and there are some stunning varieties which will merge into a hot scheme. Consider the vermilion-red semi-double blooms of D. ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ alongside the deep yellow D. ‘Bishop of York’, wonderfully offset by dark foliage in the border. Types like the single ‘Mount Noddy’, with its velvety red flowers, are best planted en masse.
In exotic schemes I love red hot pokers (Kniphofia) which provide colour and structure with their tall, striking stems and red and yellow rocket-shaped flowers. A good option is ‘Ice Queen’ if you fancy the calmer hue of creamy yellow flowers but want a plant which grows to around 1.2m (4ft) tall. For smaller, daintier varieties which could be placed nearer the front of the border, ‘Toffee Nosed’ or ‘Little Maid’ are better choices.
Tubs and troughs of vivid, vibrant nasturtiums can also provide late summer interest, in shades of reds, oranges and yellows, while black-eyed Susan, or thunbergia, will twine itself up trellis or tumble over hanging baskets in a sunny, sheltered spot until October.
Other stunning additions to the border which do well in lightly shaded areas are hemerocallis (day lily), astilbe and astrantia.
If you’re not into brash and bold, you can opt for the softer hues of summer phlox in a variety of colours, from white to deep pink, some of which have variegated leaves.
The globe thistle (Echinops bannaticus) produces eye-catching soft blue spiny globes on top of silvery stems, which grow to around 1.2m (4ft) high, while Aster x frikartii ‘Monch’ bears lavender-blue flowers on thick stems through to October.
Most of these plants don’t need staking or dividing often. As well as producing late colour, they also provide leaf interest throughout the year.
For immediate impact, plant them closely in groups. Salvias including S. uliginosa (blue) and S. fulgens (red) do well planted in groups, as do Chinese aster, coleus, zinnia, penstemon and rudbeckia.
Other good bets include the purple coneflower Echinacea purpurea, which has pretty basal foliage and bears big, purple-pink daisy-like flowers. Its petals surround a large central cone and it grows up to 1m (3ft) or more when fed. Good varieties include ‘Robert Bloom’ or ‘Magnus’.
To complement the coneflowers in your border, try planting Phygelius Aequalis ‘Yellow Trumpet’ in front of them. These plants, originally from South Africa, have a constant run of flower stems which hold tubular creamy yellow flowers and reach around 90cm (3ft) in height. They will need winter protection in cold areas.
Of course, no late summer border would be complete without the sedum, or ice plant, so called because if you touch the succulent leaves on a warm day they will be cold. A good bet is S. ‘Autumn Joy’, which provides flat heads of flowers in shades ranging from salmon pink to deep red from August to November.
Plant wisely and your sizzling summer may last much longer than you think.
Best of the bunch — Echinacea
These stately plants, also known as coneflowers, with stiff, branching stems topped with large daisy-like flowers which form a flat circle around the prominent central cone, make a really eye-catching statement in the border.
Their height, up to around 1.5m (5ft) makes them effective at the back of the border, but they’re also great for cutting, so you can have a better look at that impressive flower.
Echinacea, which flower between July and September, do best in the sun in moist but well-drained fertile soils, although some varieties will do well in drier areas.
They attract bees and butterflies and are at home alongside monarda and globe thistle, while some varieties can be combined well with fuchsias and blue salvias. White varieties such as ‘White Swan’, make good planting companions against tall, slender blue plants.
Good enough to eat — Parsley
The frilly kind may have gone out of fashion but flat-leaved parsley is widely served as an addition or garnish because it has more flavour than its more ornate relative and it is really easy to grow in fairly rich soil.
Sow seeds between March and June where you want it to crop or in small pots which can be planted out later and thinned out when the seedlings are large enough. Water the plants regularly and give them a liquid feed every few weeks, removing yellowing leaves and replacing the plants when they run to seed.
If you’re growing parsley on your windowsill, sow new seeds every three months and you should have parsley all year round as it’ll continue growing throughout the winter months.
Parsley is usually treated as an annual, although it will come up again in the second year but it won’t do as well and tends to run to seed early.
Three ways to... Improve results with climbing roses
1. When tying in branches, bend them down horizontally to help produce more flowers and keep the plant in its allotted space.
2. If your soil is light and sandy, install an automatic watering system to reduce the incidence of fungal disease.
3. Mulch twice yearly in spring and autumn and leave the pruning of repeat-flowering climbers to spring.
What to do this week
As the display in most rock garden is past its peak, plant fill-in bedding to add colour to the scene. Trailing plants can look particularly effective.
Lift bulbs of Dutch and Spanish irises and store them in a warm, dry place to ripen until September.
Mow the lawn once or twice a week and raise the cutting height slightly in prolonged dry weather.
Order new lily bulbs.
Feed pelargoniums grown in tubs, window boxes and hanging baskets regularly with a liquid tomato feed.
Keep the base of hedges weed-free, feeding with a general purpose liquid fertiliser if the hedge looks undernourished.
Continue to cut sweet peas to promote further flowering.
Plant out potted-up softwood cuttings of shrubs taken in May in their final planting position.
Thin out water plants with secateurs or shears and remove excess growth from submerged oxygenating plants with a rake, if necessary.
Fill in the space of harvested early summer crops such as broad beans and shallots with follow-on crops such as endives or cabbages.
Harvest the first self-blanching celery.
Harvest and continue sowings of turnips until the end of the month.