Useful plants that will provide your garden with extra days of glorious summer colour.
If your summer garden is fading, with a little attention you can extend the season and let late summer become one of the richest and most colourful seasons in your garden. Bright stars of the late summer border include fiery orange crocosmias, purple-pink echinaceas, golden yellow rudbeckias, scarlet cannas and ruby red dahlias. These reliable performers that began flowering in summer will continue to colour the autumn garden if regularly deadheaded, watered and fed.
Seedlings of summer annuals such as marigold, salvia, celosia, dianthus, vinca and verbena, can still be planted to add vibrant colour to borders, rockeries and containers, extending their blooming season well into autumn. Introduce colour to shady parts of the garden with impatiens, coleus and bedding begonias.
Day lilies that were reliable in the summer garden will continue to give pleasure with their wide-ranging colour palette of cream, lemon and gold, peach, apricot, pink and lavender, orange, red and burgundy. Day lilies flower well given six hours of sunlight, and make the most impact when planted in large drifts, or in groups in the border.
Late summer is a wonderful time to create a meadow-style garden with colourful members of the daisy family combined with grass-like plants. The annual chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum carinatum), the gaily-coloured blanket flower (gaillardia), marmalade shades of the gloriosa daisy and black-eyed Susan (rudbeckia), pink echinacea, white Shasta daisy and sunflowers enjoy an open, sunny aspect.
Other flowers that suit this style of gardening, and are as unpretentious in their appearance as the daisy, include the pincushion flower (scabious), flat-headed yarrow (achillea), white lace flower (Ammi majus), blue lace flower (Didiscus caeruleus), gaura and feathery fennel. The shrubby Salvia leucantha with purple and white woolly tubular flowers, and the arching indigenous grass-like Chlorophytum saundersiae (anthericum) with tiny white star-shaped flowers would also be suitable.
Bulbs that flower at this time include Eucomis autumnalis with cylindrical spikes of green, cream or purple flowers and a 'topknot' of leaf bracts, giving rise to their everyday name of pineapple lily. They make an attractive and unusual grouping under trees.
Nerine Bowdenii Pink
The umbels of rose-coloured flowers of the March lily (Amaryllis belladonna) appear in late summer and early autumn before the leaves. This is a true bulb that resents disturbance and may not flower for several seasons after transplanting. Nerine bowdeni, with tall stems of pink flowers is best planted in groups with bulbs just below the surface of the soil. Only divide and replant when clumps become overcrowded, as the plants take a while to settle down.
Colour combinations are about harmonies and contrasts, and in the midst of all these strong, rich colours, graceful Japanese anemones flower in white and shades of pink. Their delicate flowers belie their robust growth habit, as the plants spread rapidly, given ideal conditions of moisture and light shade.
There are other dainty flowers that are worthy of a place in the garden. Pink and white butterfly-like flowers of Gaura lindheimeri and its cultivars, rose pink 'Siskiyou Pink', pale pink 'Blushing Butterflies', 'Crimson Butterflies' and soft pink 'Sunny Butterflies' held on arching stems are useful for creating a light, 'see-through' effect. Grow them among or behind sturdy plants to help support the wiry stems.
As delightful as the butterflies they attract, cosmos colour the late summer and autumn garden and brighten road verges with their silky pink, white and maroon petals held high above lacy green foliage. There is still time to scatter seeds or plant cosmos seedlings in the border where they will flower until the first frosts.
It is the combination of shapes and textures that make a garden more interesting. The Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus), an upright shrub suitable for inland gardens, has pink, white or mauve flowers in summer. Grow the mauve variety alongside Russian sage (Perovskia 'Blue Spire'), a sub-shrub whose dainty lavender-blue flower spires and aromatic silvery-grey filigree foliage create a feathery effect and an effective backdrop for the stars of this grouping - 'Knock Out' shrub roses with cherry-red, cup-shaped flowers. Carry the colour through by giving the roses a ruffle of mauve scabious.
Use plants with good structure to add interest to the late garden. An effective combination for a sunny position would be Leonotis leonurus with tall
upright stems of tiered orange furry flowers, and Metarungia longistrobus with apricot flowers similar to those of the shrimp bush, both favourites of sunbirds. Team these with the smooth plum coloured leaves of cannas and dwarf Phormium 'Bronze Baby' with strap-like foliage.
As late summer mellows into autumn and burnished leaves fall to the ground, roses, whose beautiful blooms faded in the fierceness of the summer sun, now show off their rich colours. Michaelmas daisies in lavender and pink shades make good companions for roses, as do purple-blue Salvia 'Victoria', Salvia 'Mystic Spires' and Plectranthus 'Mona Lavender'.
The first of the camellias, sasanqua, begin to flower in early autumn. Their evergreen, graceful growth habit makes them suitable for screening or as accent plants, with their glossy, dark green leaves a pleasing foil for the satiny pink, red and white flowers. Chrysanthemums are perennial favourites of the autumn garden. Their single or double, daisy-like, pom-pom or quilled flowers are available in white, lemon, gold and bronze, pastel and dark pink, lavender and maroon. Echo their colourful display in the garden with containers planted in a single colour or in a mixture of colours.
Image on right: Plectranthus
Subtle shades of mauve and purple add depth and shadows in the autumn garden. Plectranthus provide a long-lasting show of pink, lavender and purple flower spikes on low-growing, medium and tall shrubs in dry shade, as does the bush violet (Barleria obtusa) and the ribbon bush (Hypoestes cristata).
As the season progresses, many of the plants including agapanthus, Japanese anemone, liliums, echinacea, gloriosa daisies, sunflowers and grasses that flowered so generously in the summer garden fade and die gracefully, leaving behind seed heads that, if left, will provide additional texture and structure to the autumn garden, and a food pantry for birds.