The pelargoniums are still blooming and the strawberries have fruited all over again as a result of our Indian summer, but the still-warm soil means that conditions are perfect for permanent planting. Settle shrubs in now so they get their roots down before the big chill and have a head start for next spring; leave roses, bare-rooted, for the cold months.
© GAP photos/Friedrich Strauss
Evergreens are the solution for the town garden that is always on view, so it's hard to understand why more Londoners don't plant one of the most glamorous: Japanese native Pittosporum tobira, which has glossy green leaf sprays and, in early summer, waxy white flowers with the most amazing orange-blossom perfume.
It thrives in sheltered urban gardens, either in the ground, where it will reach six feet or more, or in pots, where it makes a terrific tub shrub; to keep it in check, buy the compact version, Pittosporum tobira Nanum, a mere 60cm or so in height and spread.
The second evergreen I would always give bed or border room to is Choisya Aztec Pearl, which, with its finely dissected green leaves and scented white flowers in spring, is a high-style chameleon that fits into any kind of planting scheme.
Give your garden more than a passing nod to autumn with a seasonal shrub or three
For more solid screening, however, a mature Viburnum tinus makes a sound investment; in summer it might get lost in the crowd, but right through the coldest months, in sun or shade, it bears continuous white flowers for which you will be truly grateful - and so will bees, which are attracted to the nectar and pollen, and birds, which use it for nesting and shelter.
From the same family, guelder rose Viburnum opulus adds a woodland note to the town garden. The luscious berry clusters that dangle like glass earrings all over the bush at this time of year, and the white lace-cap flowers in late spring, make it equally attractive to wildlife; before the leaves fall, they turn a burnished red. Like its parent, the golden-berried Viburnum opulus Xanthocarpum is usefully content in shade.
It's heartening to have a few shrubs that you cut right back to the bone - then watch as they unfailingly regenerate the following year. Fuchsia magellanica var molinae is a case in point: prune it back hard in late winter, and it will produce cascades of slim, elegant bellflowers the following summer of an exquisite ice pink.
© GAP photos/Geoff Kidd
Buddleia is another can't-kill shrub that benefits from a simple hard prune in early spring; still number one for bringing in the butterflies, buddleia will bloom later if you prune it later, so buy two - Nanho Blue has gorgeous violet-blue flowers and silvery-green leaves - and extend their flowering period by judicious pruning.
Give your garden more than a passing nod to autumn with a seasonal shrub or three. Japanese maples guarantee fiery fall shades but my number-one choice is Euonymous alatus Compactus, which is a manageable metre high and has simply the best leaf colour, a sizzling, intense crimson; the berries are small, but spectacular in colour too: vibrant orange and purple.
Few shrubs flower at this time of year, so compact, rounded Ceratostigma willmotianum, the Chinese plumbago, is a good front-of-border choice, because it has the prettiest periwinkle-blue flowers on deep red stems as well as green leaves that turn shades of rich russet.
Phormiums are great showcase shrubs, making dramatic foliage fans in border or container; crimson-striped phormiums such as Sundowner and Evening Glow are striking all year round but when that late-day autumn sun shines through those large, sword-shaped leaves, they're simply sensational.