Most borders have flowered and faded by the end of July, but there are plenty of plants that will extend the show, right through till the first frosts. The daisy family alone can keep a garden full of colour in late summer and autumn with asters, dahlias, echinaceas, heleniums, anthemis and rudbeckias.
It’s a tough call, however, to create borders that will provide plenty of action throughout the year, especially when space is an issue. The smart move is to make an area where late-flowering perennials can exclusively shine - and the beauty of growing them in a group of containers is that you can move them to the spot where late-summer sunlight can cast its flattering golden light through the flowers and foliage.
"Grasses, flowers with spires such as verbascum and veronicastrum, or spheres of echinops and centaurea, or flat plates like those of achillea, can appear magical when backlit by the setting sun," enthuses plant nursery-woman Marina Christopher, whose book, Late Summer Flowers, details many of these great-value plants.
Echinaceas, the cone flowers of North American prairies, are one of the best; their blooms in rich, autumnal shades of deep pink, purple, oranges and russets, with contrasting orange central cones, have an exceptionally long flowering period and look great with ornamental grasses. Just cut them down after flowering in mid-autumn and, given a mulch in spring, they will put in a repeat performance the next year.
Keep to the fiery autumnal palette with tall-stemmed, daisy-flowered heleniums in tawny marmalade hues of rich yellow, gold, rust and red. Moerheim Beauty is the classic variety with deep red flowers but for contrast, team it with the clear yellow blooms of Butterpat. Both hold the RHS’s Award of Garden Merit.
Achilleas are valuable because their flowers provide a different silhouette: large, flat horizontal plates in shades of gold, salmon, terracotta and cherry red, that contrast well with vertical flower spires as well as ornamental grasses such as Stipa tenuifolia.
Christopher emphasises the importance of sharp drainage to prevent achilleas succumbing to wet winters, so work in plenty of grit when planting if your soil is typical London clay.
Red-hot pokers don’t need to be bright, brassy and overly large for the small town border: just seek out late-blooming Kniphofia Buttercup, a well-behaved beauty with shaggy flower spikes in a wonderful acid yellow. Team it with a Salvia nemerosa or superba, the blue and purple flowering plants that keep on giving, right through summer and well into autumn: like nepeta, you can coax them into producing a second flush of flowers by cutting back the first lot as soon as they have faded.
Salvia nemerosa Amethyst has pinky-purple flower spikes and Caradonna, with deep purple blooms and fabulous inky blue stems, is understandably the designers’ darling.
Both salvias are equally happy in containers or in the ground. The mass of colour they deliver is sharp contrast to the dainty crimson flowers held aloft on tall, wiry stems of Sanguisorba; from a distance the small bobble flowers look like hovering fuzzy insects.
Four-foot Red Thunder is one of Christopher’s favourites. Verbena bonariensis, with mauve flower clusters on tall, spindly stems has a similar airy habit. It is adored by bees, butterflies and all insects and is indispensable for the front of the border, where, grown in profusion, it veils everything behind. Which, if your late-summer border is not all it might be, can be very useful indeed.
Late Summer Flowers (Frances Lincoln) costs £16.99, but Homes & Property readers can buy it for £13.50 incl p&p by calling 01235 827702 and quoting 46HP LSF.
Pictures: Steven Wooster