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How to Extend Summer Interest in your Garden

We asked gardening expert Sally Harley-Martin for her top tips on how to keep your garden looking spectacular throughout the whole of summer and beyond…


“I often encounter gardens which deliver on early excitement but fizzle out as the Summer extends into July and beyond. Now more than ever, with our longer Summers and warm Autumns, we need the interest in our gardens to last as long as our BBQ season. A good planting scheme should carry you through the Summer with the flowering baton passed from plant to plant or have a core of really good long flowerers that can manage the marathon from May to October before trees take over with Autumnal bonfire bright colours.

♠ I love paniculata Hydrangeas for the big blowsy structural boosts they give to the late Summer garden. Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’s green flower heads mature to pure white, whilst ‘Vanille Fraise’ begins white and ages to a classy vintage pink. Both make strong statements in a mixed bed, or as an impactful border in their own right.

♠ Japanese Anemones are hard workers in the late Summer border. They take a season or two to establish, but patience will pay off. From the pure white Anemone x hybrida ‘Honorine Jobert’, through pale pink of ‘Queen Charlotte’ to the deep double pink of ‘Pamina’ they give strong pops of colour and height to a mixed border or threaded amongst grasses; happy in sun or part shade.

♠ In for the Summer long marathon are many repeat flowering Roses which give interest way into Autumn. I recently used pretty pink floribunda Rosa ‘Nathalie Nypels’ to great effect underplanted with the small lime green Alchemilla erythropoda. It flowers from May to October given a feed or two and regular dead heading.


♠Persicaria in hues of pink and burgundy can flower from July to the first frosts, with their upright bottlebrush flower structure making strong vertical statements in a planting. Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Orangefields’s soft coral pink combines well with blues and purples whilst ‘Fat Domino’ adds an unashamed flash of deep red.

♠ I find Crocosmia useful because their lance-like leaves make good foliage contrast in plantings way before they flower, earning their place until mid to late July when they flower. For the bold, a fiery red Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ adds heat to a planting perhaps in combination with the rusts of Helenium ‘Moerheim Beauty’ or in bright contrast with yellow Rudbekia fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’. I like to use the warm yellow Crocosmia ‘George Davison’ with blues such as Perovskia, Salvias and Penstemon.


♠ The cool blues of Russian Sage, Perovskia atriplicifolia ‘Blue Spire’ and the more compact Perovskia ‘Lacey Blue’ give a transparent filigree to a bed flowering from July onwards. My experience is they don’t like crowding, so give them space or they grow away from competitors at odd angles.

♠ Equally transparent, but taller, is Verbena bonariensis which climbs up to a heady 2m in height in a season with tiny glowing purple flower heads which, en mass, create a gauzy curtain to peek through to other plants but equally gives pin pricks of purple through tall grasses.

♠ The chunky succulent foliage of Sedum (which we now call Hylotelephium) fills its space in late Spring, giving textural contrast before it flowers late Summer attracting butterflies aplenty. Sedum spectabile ‘Stardust’ is a pure white form which looks striking in combination with evergreen black grass Ophiopogon planiscapes ‘Nigrescens’, but equally good amongst soft pink Roses. More traditional are the pinks of ‘Matrona’ and ‘Autumn Joy’ or the recently bred (and supposedly less floppy) ‘Xenox’ and ‘Autumn Fire’.


♠ I have had my head turned recently by Aster hervyi, a shade-tolerant lavander blue Aster, 70cm tall ,which I am trialling in my semi shady woodland; In the sun I am a fan of Symphyotrichon novae angliae ‘Violetta’ (also was an Aster) which flowers late September in a proper purple hue, as well as Aster x frikartii ‘Monch’ which adds a warm lavender right into September.

♠ Finally, given my unforgiving clay soil, an indulgence of mine is planting Pennisetum x advena ‘Rubrum’ in pots for their fluffy rust coloured seed heads, glowing warmly in late Summer evening sun. It is not a hardy grass, but it is an annual treat.

Think of late Summer and early Autumn as glorious middle age when the garden tries new things; there are plenty of plants to make it happen.”





Sally Harley-Martin is a garden designer living and designing gardens in North Hampshire, and further afield, as well as gardening her own sloping, flinty clay, windy garden. For more information visit:


* Main body images courtesy of Sally Harley-Martin

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