Gardens have regular performers: reliable shrubs and perennials that bloom on cue year after year.
But there are always gaps in beds and borders which cry out for the addition of long-lasting summer colour, not only to fill the spaces, but also to maintain the colour and interest when the main players are taking a rest. The real heroes of the hour are the perennials and annuals that can be planted in late spring an early summer that start blooming without delay. Most of these also make great subjects for cutting and for attracting bees, butterflies and pollinators.
Achilleas are delightful perennials with feathery foliage and plate-like flowerheads made up of many tiny blooms. The colour range is vast, but all are long lasting and offer a different flower form in the border. Tall varieties like Achillea ‘Gold Plate’ and ‘Moonshine’ are perfect with blue salvias further back in a border. Shorter varieties such as the seed-raised Achillea New Vintage Violet add colour and interest in the front row. Plant as decent sized plants for quick impact. A hilleas grow best on chalk and dry alkaline soils.
The giant hyssops are prairie perennials with mint-like spikes of pollinator friendly blooms through the summer months. Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’ is a favourite with rich blue flowers on tall stems of aromatic foliage.It is ideal amongst taller grasses and mixes well with prairie daisies: rudbeckias and echinaceas. It thrives in sun but will tolerate partial shade and is a good choice to extend the spike blooming salvia season.
Everyone loves the simple, symmetrical blooms of cosmos, Cosmea bipinnatus which are enhanced by clouds of pale green feathery foliage. Although easily raised from seed, in most gardens they are best started indoors and planted out when large enough and after the frosts. Although they are annuals they provide months of garden colour and great blooms for cutting. If you missed the boat on seeds ready grown plants are widely available to plant for instant impact. Great for filling gaps in new planting schemes.
Dahlias come in all shapes and sizes. They were traditionally grown from dormant tubers started indoors, planted out and then lifted in autumn for winter storage, safely guarded from winter frosts. Today they are increasingly sold as pot grown perennials that are left in the ground overwinter where they survive from year to year. Single blooming dahlias such as The Bishop Series fit in to most planting schemes where they provide fantastic mid to late summer colour. Blooms are produced right into autumn and make great cut flowers. Dahlia ‘Bishop of Leicester’ is a good example.
Gaura is perfect for adding light height to beds and borders. The delicate white or pink blooms are carried on wiry stems above the foliage.Although there are shorter, compact varieties it is the taller ones that waft in the border that are the most valuable. Gaura ‘Rosy Jane’ is a lovely variety with white booms delicately edged with deep pink.
If there is one perennial that really delivers quickly after planting it has to be Geranium ‘Rozanne’. A small crown of leaves planted in early summer quickly grows for form a billowing mat of saucer-shaped azure blooms.Great to fill space at the base of roses and shrubs, lovely in pots, and great to tumble over walls and banks, it is a versatile plant that delivers in full sun and partial shade. Can be cut back during the season to maintain a more compact habit.
Nepeta, cat mint is another long blooming blue. There are shorter varieties for the front of the border and tall ones such as Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ to plant further back. They bloom from midsummer right into autumn and few plants are more attractive to bees and butterflies. The aromatic grey-green foliage is as valuable as the soft blue flowers.
Penstemons are usually most widely available in late spring and early summer. These evergreen perennials bridge the gap between shrubs and herbaceous plants and can become long lasting garden subjects. Some are cutting raised and are regarded as long-lived perennial plants, others are grown for the seasonal bedding market. Penstemon ‘Amelia Jayne’ is just one among many with spikes of foxglove-like blooms freely produced well into autumn.
Salvias offer a wide variety of woody and herbaceous varieties. Mostly aromatic, some hardy, others are more tender and needing winter protection. Salvia ‘Caradonna’ is one of the best, tall herbaceous varieties with strong, upright stems and long-lasting violet-blue spikes that positively glow in the border. Strong and robust, it needs no support.
Salvia ‘Love and Wishes’ has proved to be a major hit in recent years. This tender salvia (needing winter protection) has dark stems tipped with spikes of deep purple calyces and long tubular deep purple-red blooms. It flowers freely and is wonderful at the front of a sunny border with silver foliage and lavenders or in a pot with purple heucheras.
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