This summer has made casualties of many London gardens, though our lawns remain gloriously green. However, even with the dog days of August upon us, you can revive a border or patio with some nifty patch and repair work.
© Gap Photos/Juliette Wade
The first move is to bring out your dead - and bury them, preferably in the compost heap. If you cut away decaying foliage - bin blackspot-covered leaves and diseased box stems - the landscape will look a whole lot better, and new growth is likelier to sprout from old. Cover any bare patches of soil with bark chippings.
'Dahlias are hitting their stride this month and will give you more than your money's worth right through to the frosts'
Second, focus on the foreground: make the front line look fabulous, and nobody will look at the also-rans behind. You could, however, try a little fakery in faraway corners where the lack of scent and perfect, plastic petals will not be questioned.
Use in-season flowers on long stems that are easily prodded into soil or compost, such as white regal lilies, birds of paradise, or else import an exotic counterfeit palm or banana tree to provide dramatic, no-shred foliage. Just remember to store away the incriminating evidence before winter.
Cannas are having their moment. Several of these fabulous tropical statement plants will provide enough fireworks to light up a whole terrace or border. If you haven't grown your own from tubers, buy them ready-sprouting then repot them or simply sink them, pot and all, into the soil.
Choose varieties such as Phasion and Striata that offer as much excitement in the finely striped foliage as in the flowers themselves. Another look-at-me, late-summer flowering bulb is eucomis, called the pineapple plant because the tufted-top spike of waxy flowers resembles the fruit. It's a curiosity that will lift a group of lacklustre container plants.
Dahlias are hitting their stride this month, and, provided you can keep slugs and snails at bay, will give you more than your money's worth right through to the frosts. The rich, jewelbox shades are gorgeous but the more commonplace white and lemon shades will stand out on grey days and at dusk.
© Gap Photos/Jenny Lily
Bring in exuberant fans of foliage with phormiums in startling bands of crimson, deep pink and bronze - garden centres always carry a good stock of these - and place them where the late summer sun can shine through the sword-like leaves, making them gleam like stained glass.
If bedding is thin on the ground at the garden centre, scour the conservatory section: what needs to be indoors in winter can stay outdoors in summer.
Kalanchoe, the small, pretty succulents with more flower than leaf, are basic stock that tend to be overlooked. Instead, look them over and pick out five mixed colours such as pink, apricot and yellow; take them out of their pots, plop them into a wide bulb bowl, fill the gaps with compost and you have a striking centrepiece for the patio table. Kalanchoe also makes a perky substitute for any weedy-looking specimens in the window box.
© Gap Photos/Visions
Make tabletop or windowbox displays of succulents that you can lift when summer's over and give them fresh life as houseplants indoors. If you're going on holiday - or just hate watering - this huge family of no-maintenance plants are ideal. Plant a diverse group together, top with grit and a few pebbles, and you have an eye-diverting xeriscape (that's a low-water sustainable landscape).
Most of us who sowed tomato seed or bought baby plants have been rewarded with few fruits or worse yet, blight. See what specimen veg plants the garden centre has to offer: aubergines, peppers and unusual tomatoes such as yellow peardrop are still available and, at large sizes, make showcase plants that will look good plus provide a decent crop. This is no time to feel guilty that you didn't grow them: desperate times, desperate measures.