Never underestimate the power of a well-placed pelargonium in a terracotta pot. Just a few pink or scarlet market stall geraniums, placed at intervals along the edges of a border or a patio, will liven up the jaded late-summer landscape no end.
Dahlias are another short cut to brighter borders, delivering a blaze of colour for weeks, provided you keep deadheading. Buy several now — none will disappoint, whether spiky cactus, voluptuous waterlily or the simpler and equally charming daisy flower. Pot them up, if necessary, into larger black pots and then sink them into the soil.
The word “salvia” might as well be short for salvation, because this wide range of sun-loving perennials can single-handedly pull a border back from the brink, and give a container display fresh life for weeks. Newcomer Salvia Amistad is widely available, with violet-blue tubular flowers on tall, wiry, blackcurrant-coloured stems.
Late-flowering Mexican sages are all stunners, so as well as the deep blue shades such as guaranatica Black and Blue, get yourself a sizzling raspberry red salvia such as S greggii Lipstick or microphylla Hot Lips, which has two-tone red-and-white flowers. None are fully hardy but will thrive in a container or will be fine in a sheltered town garden, in a protected corner.
The shrub-heavy garden is likely to be looking very green and rather dull by now. Redress the balance with an exotic tree hollyhock that would relish a spot against a sunny wall or fence. Hibiscus syriacus Oiseau Bleu throws out its outsize deep blue, plummy-centred trumpet flowers for the next several weeks.
Given neighbours of banana plants, phormiums, fatsia or any green architecturals, hibiscus will raise the heat to tropical. Compact and daintier, but with rounded flowers of a similar searing blue, Chinese plumbago Ceratostigma willmottianum is ideal for the small garden. The flowers keep on coming in autumn, when the pretty, pointy leaves turn from lime green to rich russet.
CLIP AND SHAPE
Clipping bays and box will create order from chaos, while shaping straggly lavenders into rounded cushions will make them look better and set them up for bushy growth next year.
If you are missing the fragrant flowers, late-season substitute Perovskia Blue Spire, lavender’s looser, later-flowering equivalent, has taller, hazy-mauve flower spikes. The aromatic, finely cut leaves carry a different kind of scent, living up to perovskia’s common name, Russian sage.
Bees and butterflies appreciate late sources of nectar, and sedums, with their flat, open sprays of flowers, are great favourites. Reliable Sedum spectabile Brilliant has the brightest deep pink fuzzy flowers and, like all sedums, is a drought plant that will grow more robustly without fertiliser. Several growing in a group look terrific and make more of a nectar draw.
Sedum Matrona’s deep olive foliage flushed with carmine, and deep red stems, offer more drama. Groundcover Sedum Lime Zinger, a usefully low-growing sedum that has curvy green foliage with a fine red edge, is at its best spilling out from a border on to a path. However, the lime will only zing if it is planted in a sunny position.
WATER, WATER, WATER
Anything you plant at this time of year, drought plant or not, will need generous and regular watering. You will also need to soak the roots before you plant, add moisture-retentive compost to the planting hole and, ideally, mulch the plant after you have settled it in and watered. And buy big — small plants will have less time to put on any real growth before the cold weather sets in.
Once climbing roses and clematis have flowered, walls and fences can look bereft. Keep them clothed in colour with three late-flowering clematis that will pump out blooms until late autumn.
Clematis Etoile Violette is smothered in open, violet flowers while C texensis Princess Diana has intensely pink, fluted tulip flowers. C tangutica has bell-shaped flowers with thick petals rather like lemon peel in form and colour, followed by showy silken seedheads. How could you choose between them?