Create your own Indian Summer
By garden designer Liz Saward. Let's face it, by the middle of September, most people's gardens are looking tired and a just a litte bit brown.
The glory of the roses seems a distant memory and the borders have often run out of steam.
The trouble is that many people are away when their garden is at its peak. We return from summer holidays to find everything has gone over, and there is nothing much to look forward to, just the prospect of having to tidy it up ready for winter. How depressing.
Wouldn't it be so much better if you returned to a garden determined to squeeze the last bit of enjoyment from the September sunshine? It would prolong that holiday feeling just a bit longer! So why not try creating a late summer border, or adding a few late flowering plants to your existing borders to keep things going?
There is a wide range of perennials that are in flower now, all lapping up the last of the summer's rays. Glorious reds, oranges and yellows hint of the bonfires to come. Whilst Dahlias and cannas are obvious choices for their fantastic late summer show, they have to be lifted at the end of the season and overwintered which can be off-putting for gardeners looking for lower maintenance.
Easier options are those perennials that just get on and do their thing without any fuss and bother. A perfect example of this is the Sedum, particularly 'Herbstfreude' (Autumn Joy), which manages to look great all year round. Tight rosettes of fleshy leaves appear in the spring, which by midsummer are round domes of waxy, jade green buds. Eventually in early autumn the flattened flowerheads open, a deep pink turning bronze and copper-red as they age. Add in winter frost effects on the flowerheads, its tolerance of drought conditions, and the wildlife value to butterflies, bees and birds, and the Sedum must be the most perfect all-year round plant. Partner it with the billowing grass Stipa tenuissima and you won't go far wrong.
Other fiery late flowering perennials include Asters, Echinacea, Rudbeckia and Helenium. These can also be combined with grasses to great effect. If blue is your colour then try Russian sage, Perovskia 'Blue Spire' with delicate silver foliage and flowers that create a lavender blue haze when planted en masse.
As you will have gathered, grasses should definitely not be overlooked in the late summer border. They are invaluable for their texture and movement, their bleached gold colours, and their seed heads which sparkle in the low autumn sunlight. This year's Chelsea favourite was Stipa gigantea, and for good reason. It gives height to a border, but in a light airy way that does not dominate. Plant it where it will catch the sun from all angles, and it will light up the garden. Other good grasses include Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster' which has a very upright habit, or Pennisetum villosum with fluffy white caterpillars for flowers which children love to stroke.
Finally, it's not just perennials that keep the show going. There are many shrubs that flower in late summer into autumn. A particular favourite of mine for a sunny, sheltered spot is Caryopteris x clandonensis (e.g. 'Kew Blue') which has grey-green aromatic foliage and clusters of delicate blue flowers that are a magnet for bees and butterflies. Another stunner is Ceratostigma plumbaginoides which has the most amazing electric blue flowers. The bright green leaves turn a rich red/purple as autumn arrives and combine with the flowers to produce a stunning effect.
The autumn is the perfect time for planting, so why not plan a boost of late summer colour for your garden now? Then next year when you return from holiday you'll have fireworks in your garden rather than a box of damp squibs!