At this time of year, prairie perennials, planted in drifts, are what make a late summer border look sensational, taking it through to autumn with plenty of pizzazz.
It’s not hard to emulate the prairie look if you have a large garden, but if your patch is small, restrict yourself to just a few plant varieties, or the prairie look will become the dolly mixture look.
One of the great features of this kind of planting — long-stemmed flowering perennials in rich, fiery shades teamed with swishy ornamental grasses — is the varied shapes and textures of the flowers themselves, such as the bobbly heads of sanguisorba, the large, flat discs of achillea and the fuzzy spikes of red-hot pokers.
Plant these contrasting silhouettes cheek by jowl and you get the most special of effects. Monarda Squaw, for instance, has the showiest of tufted, bright scarlet flowers, a bit like a cockatoo, and makes a great foil for the flat flowerheads of rusty-orange Terracotta, which has the bonus of very pretty fern-like foliage.
Like many prairie perennials, both of these plants form attractive seedheads, so don’t cut them back until early spring.
If you’ve never grown grasses, add a Stipa tenussima into the mix and you will see what all the fuss is about — silken, fluffy plumes that billow in the wind and shimmer with golden glints in the late-summer sun. All you need do is cut it right back in early spring.
Kniphofia Royal Standard is the classic red-hot poker in shades of red and yellow, but you could also plant a subtler-coloured, shorter kniphofia, such as Tetbury Torch, tinted a luscious apricot yellow. Both of these would complement the daisy-like flowers of velvety red Helenium Moerheim Beauty or my favourite, pure yellow Helenium Butterpat, with raised, golden-brown centres.
Prairie perennials will attract masses of bees and butterflies, but you could add to the busy buzzing by planting Sanguisorba officinalis Red Thunder, because the deep red, bobbly flowers atop the tall, slim stems resemble permanently hovering insects.
You could also cool things down with a late-blooming border — or group of containers — that sing the blues in high style. This covetable quartet of buddleia, salvia, phlox and verbena will also pull in the butterflies and bees, which are attracted to blue more than any other colour. If you have the space, mildew-resistant Aster frikartii Monch, with the familiar lavender-blue daisy flowers, could be included.
Buddleia is renowned as one of the finest nectar plants, but if you don’t have space for one, bring in a Buzz. Bred by Thompson & Morgan to stay compact, the four-strong Buzz collection boasts plants half the usual size — a total height and spread of about four feet — but with full-size flowers.
My own Buzz Sky Blue is currently blooming on stems just 1ft?7in long, content in a container. Verbena bonariensis, with those tall, wiry stems topped with clusters of mauve flowers, is indispensable for creating a veil at the front of a border, but offspring Lollipop is a smaller version at just two feet instead of six feet-plus.
Salvias are usefully drought-tolerant and famously long flowering, and Amistad, a glamorous newcomer, will produce its pinky-violet tubular flowers on long black stems until October, then start all over again next May.
Blue Paradise is the apt name for a Phlox paniculata with large trusses of fragrant lavender-blue flowers suitable for cutting, so that you can bring a little of the late summer border indoors.