When you stay home for the summer, the garden becomes your holiday retreat. This is where you should be able to relax, with tequila rather than trowel in hand. And you will relax more easily once you realise that just because you are in the garden, you don't have to be gardening. The key is to accept that the last rose petals have fallen, the cat-mint has delivered its second flush, and to let the borders, for the duration of your holiday, go hang.
Instead, decorate the areas where you will be sitting or dining: think of them as a pop-up patio or terrace, set up for your back garden vacation.
Eye-candy plants in fiesta shades or chic Riviera whites are what to go for, so make this the moment you throw subtle, good-taste plants to the summer breezes and bring in the bougainvillea, oleander and brugmansia, with its huge Angel's Trumpets. These three exotic heavyweights, simply planted in standard terracotta pots and grouped together, will have you imagining tropical butterflies. They will, however, need a calm and warm corner to thrive, and once summer turns to cooler autumn and winter, will all need protection.
Bank up the container bedding so it looks fabulous for this month and next. Come September, you can pull it apart at the same time you put away the deckchairs and the roll-up matting.
Many garden centres are currently selling six-packs of busy lizzies, pelargoniums and petunias on a buy one, get one free basis. At this late time in the season, plants won't spread, so buy generously, without the usual space allowances. Go for looks, putting together whatever takes your fancy, because for such a short time, they will endure less than perfect conditions.
If plants are puny but have potential, don't dismiss them: last week I bought three slim bargain-bin begonias that, as individuals, looked insignificant, but grouped together in one container they looked like one exuberant specimen with several dangling orange flowers.
Palm trees can also cast the right kind of shade. Find 8ft specimens of Butia capitata, the glamorous South American palm with long, curving linear leaves, for just £100 apiece, reduced from £500, at The Chelsea Gardener's summer sale, from this weekend to mid-August.
Buy a yucca — Homebase have good ones for £14.99 — and you have a pretend palm for summer, and a first-rate indoor plant for the rest of the year.
For something less tropical, more Provençal, head to Clifton Nurseries, where outsize lavenders and full-bloom hydrangeas are waiting to be snapped up on the bargain shelf that is open at the end of this week and every week, Fridays between 4pm-6pm. Everything on the shelf, whether herb, shrub or climber, will always be offered at the same seductive 50 per cent discount.
Standard grapevines are currently starring at most garden centres and street markets. Expect to pay upwards of £50 if you want clusters of fruit as well as a parasol of vine leaves, and although the cost might not buy you a vintage year, it brings more than a dash of the Dordogne to any London patio. Given some TLC, as well as regular doses of tomato feed, your vine should prosper for years to come.
Finally, if you can set up an irrigation system — it can be something as simple as a hosepipe with alternating holes snaking around the garden, hidden just beneath the soil, or as bootlace piping around the containers — you truly can pull off your gardening boots without guilt, lie back on that lounger and enjoy what's left of the summer.
Photographs: Gap Photos / Friedrich Strauss