Gardening tips: how to reach a colour peak in the late summer sun

Here’s what to plant to keep the excitement and colour going — even with autumn just around the corner...
Christopher Masson’s south-west London garden is full of colour at this time of year, and the flower show will carry on through October, too.
 
The established garden designer purposely planted his plot to hit its peak in late summer. “There is so much excitement still to be had,” says Masson. “People don’t work towards late summer and that’s the time when you can relax in the garden. I always tell clients to think beyond May and June.”
 
A series of curved steps leads to  Masson’s main garden with a slightly off-centre York stone path — he likes to keep things less symmetrical for a more natural look — and at each step, there is much to admire.
 
To the right of the terrace, down a low wall, there are alternating cascades of filigree greenery from Choisya ternata Aztec Pearl and a Hebe parviflora. Although they are evergreen shrubs, Masson craftily prunes them hard so they act like trailing climbers.
 
He plays with different textures and tones through the garden, too, so that evergreen shrub Itea ilicifolia trails its long, pale green tassels in between the white mophead blooms of Hydrangea arborescens Annabelle on one side, and the conical, mint-green flowers of Hydrangea paniculata Limelight on the other.
 
Above them, shell pink climbing rose Madame Alfred Carrière prepares for her second flowering in autumn. “I delay pruning because I don’t care about not having early summer flowers,” he says. “I’m quite ruthless.”
 
The garden faces north-east, is high on a hill, gets cold winds and a lot of it is in shade, but nonetheless Masson grows all kinds of hardy plants, such as yet-to-flower ginger lilies, oleander, scarlet Salvia involucruta and the striking violet Salvia Amistad, and they all thrive.
 
“What I do is harness the light,” he explains. “Wherever there is sun in the garden, I’ll exploit those areas by using them for siting plants that need the warmth and light.”
 
He also repeats evergreens through the garden so that there is a rhythm. “The plants I use myself and for clients are those that will grow in light or shade so can be used right through the garden.
 
These are camellia, escallonia, griselinia, itea, fatsia, eucryphia, which I love for its white flowers in late summer, and the evergreen jasmine, trachelospermum.” This last, in his own garden, grows in a novel pepperpot shape, because Masson coaxes it to swarm over a partly cut-down column, and keeps it clipped.
 
Nearby, another green pepperpot with interesting leaves started life as a stray oak seedling.
 
Throughout the garden, the eye is drawn up not just to eye level, but higher, with yew bolsters and pillars holding pots on high. A column rescued from a skip has part of a myrtle bush twined around it — another Masson manipulation — and an old marble-topped table holds a verdigris copper of smoky green agave erupting from a bed of trailing Euphorbia myrsinites.
 
“You don’t want to look down at pots on the ground, and in London gardens, which are basically stagnant bowls within walls, you have to elevate plants to get them to the light.”
 

The plants Masson grows — and recommends — for a glorious garden in September and October are salvias, fuchsias, dahlias, hydrangeas, calamintha, Clematis texensis, cosmos, China roses and groundcover geraniums, notably blue-flowered Rozanne, which blooms for months.
 
Another groundcover gem is Begonia evansiana, which is just hitting its stride in his garden, throwing out endless sugar pink flowers above pretty curving leaves until the frosts.
 
Masson even built the summerhouse to benefit from the later, lower light. “I angled the building to get the south-west winter sun,” he says.
 
“There’s a couple of recliners on the roof and I haven’t been up there yet, but soon the sun will be off the garden and on the roof, and I will be there.” 

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