How to create colour in your garden at this time of year

How do you create colour in your garden at this time of year? September is a funny time of year for plants; some like my sweet peas have decided to flower forever this year while my sunflowers are coming to an end. So what happens now and how can you fill the gaps that may appear?

Whenever I plant a part of my garden I always try to imagine what my plants will be like throughout the year. I know some will shrivel up, others will lose their leaves while many wait to do battle with the first frosts. And that’s where we need to remember that it is not only flower heads that create interest but also stems, leaves and seed-heads.

Pink sedum heads

First on my list to provide inspiration is the sedum. These slowly unravel from the ground during the spring with leaves and stems that may be light green or almost black. During the summer you can see the flower heads forming but it is not until September when the colour really starts to come out.

This plant is hardy and will do well in both droughts as well as wetter summers however it prefers an open-airy spot in the garden. Then once the winter sets in it leaves behind an amazing mass of dried flower heads to take you through to the next year. Sedums can be ground-covering or tall and bushy like these and you can get a range of orange, white, red and pink flowered sedums.

Close up of a green headed aster

I always know September is here when asters start to make their way onto the flower stand in supermarkets. I have both white and purple asters in my garden and although they are not out at the moment I know that in a few weeks they will add some sparkle to an overly green corner. However my ‘Emerald Isle’ aster has made such an impact in my garden that I may be tempted to grow some more from seed next year.

Although my asters are hardy they can also be susceptible to slugs and snails when new shoots emerge in the spring as well as mildew so this may be something to bear in mind.  That said there are varieties out there that are said to be mildew-resistant such as Aster x frikartii ‘Monch’.

Purple and dark blue staticLimonium or statice (as I know it) is another autumnal flower. It forever reminds me of being lumped in buckets outside my childhood greengrocer’s.

It doesn’t smell but even as a plant it still has that dried, harvest festival kind of feel about it. These plants have been growing for two years before they were planted out and survived last winter although they were in my cold-frame in a sheltered spot. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with them this year apart from dig them up but they’ll be worth it. This year I’ve had a range of blues and violets but you can get this plant in yellow, pink or white as well.

Statice will do well in any soil but needs to be in a sunny space. I’ve planted these in between hollyhocks to fill in any gaps in the border and they seem to be doing just that. They are drought resistant and mine have actually thrived during hotter spells and have come in pretty hand for using as cut flowers. So you shouldn’t need to worry about watering them during the summer.

Some forms of dianthus or carnations have this wonderful greyish foliage complete with straight spiked leaves. And some of my carnations have even started to flower again. You will never lose this foliage although it may need cutting back when it starts to look slightly ragged and but this will give you both texture and colour all the year round as well as some gorgeous scent in the summertime.

Creamy-white scabious head

If you’re looking for a plant to flower from the summer into autumn then you can’t go far wrong with scabious. We have scabious grown from both seed and also brought from a garden centre and they have both flourished once more in a sunny place.

Some forms of scabious are fairly tall and wiry and may need staking in strong wind other types are more compact ground-spreading plants. Scabious is a usually a more short-lived perennial so you may need to propagate by division or cuttings if you want your plant to last more than three years. I’ve found these great space-fillers useful both in flower arrangements as well as being wildlife friendly.

Pink pelargoniums and violet geraniumsThis little beauty of a Pelargonium ‘acetosum’ (seen here with Geranium ‘Joy’) has flowered non-stop since June and is slowly creeping over my terrace wall.

I know I will have to take it indoors before the first frosts but to me that’s worth it. The gentle salmon-pink almost starry flowers fill a space with ease. Again this has enjoyed basking in full sun and in well-drained but fairly dry soil. If you keep this in a pot you should avoid over-watering.

However what I find most unusual is the almost webbed, rubbery texture of the leaves which surprisingly for pelargoniums do not leave behind an attractive scent.

Mint green and white leaved shrubI needed a plant to liven up a rather dull corner that gets some sun but not a lot and even less during the winter months. I was actually browsing another plant nursery website and happened across this Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Silver Queen’.

Its’ variegated leaves bring some light relief and because it is an evergreen it will show these off all year round and provide an amazing backdrop for whatever you decide should go in front. It should also produce a few purple flowers but mine hasn’t yet. It is also worth noting that this foliage is useful in flower arrangements as well.

This pittosporum will need protection from cold-drying winds and prefers full sun which will create a better leaf effect than if it is planted in shade. It will grow up to four metres in both height and width and prefers light, well-drained soil.

Nothing can really eclipse seeing a host of Japanese anemones all huddled together in a flower bed. Mine have only been planted this year so will need some time to get established but they are already gracing flowerbeds that would otherwise be struggling for colour. These perennials show off a green-foliage in spring and will suit both full sun and partial-shade, along with most soil types. I’ve grown these in clay soil and haven’t had any trouble but the soil needs to be well-drained.

A row of teasel headsWe didn’t plant these teasels but they are irresistibly tactile (although caution should be exercised as the spikes on their heads are sharp) and they look good right throughout the summer and into autumn.

Not only will they look great at the back of borders, individually or in groups but they are also wildlife friendly. They provide shelter and food for bees, butterflies, frogs as well as many other insects and if you’re really lucky a goldfinch may take some of the protein-rich seed that forms.

These are biennials, so will look like small florets of green in the soil in their first year. Only in their second year will they grow their trademark stem and head.


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