Perennials for late summer colour

By Andy McIndoe

While shrubs excel when it comes to autumn foliage colour, perennials steal the show in late summer.

Dahlias, crocosmias, heleniums and a host of showy characters can provide masses of dazzling colour alongside annual additions that include sunflowers, cosmos and zinnias. However bold statements are not to every gardener’s taste and there are plenty of more subtle subjects to satisfy those that just want a little floral embroidery in the border.

The Japanese anemones carry their elegant blooms on slender stems high above the foliage. There are both tall and short varieties in shades of pink and white, both single and double flowered. They fall into that category of unpredictable garden plants that thrive and spread invasively in some gardens and refuse to establish in others. They like shade and are perfect against a backdrop of dark evergreens. Plant strong pot grown plants for a wonderful display next year. Anemone x hybrida ‘September Charm’ has tall stems carrying open pink blooms with golden stamens.

Anemone x hybrida ‘September Charm’

Michaelmas daisies, like Japanese anemones have a delightful old-fashioned charm. Some, such as the charming Aster (Symphyotrichum) ‘Little Carlow’ are widely used in prairie planting schemes, a far cry from the simple herbaceous borders of five decades ago. ‘Little Carlow’ with its mass of mid blue flowers blooms for weeks and is the perfect partner for just about any other colour. It works particularly well with the widely grown Sedum ‘Herbstfreude’.

Aster ‘Little Carlow’

The sedums, like the asters have become victims of the botanists’ re-classification. Both now have unpronounceable and totally unmemorable generic names and will probably be known by their original handles for many years to come. Sedum (Hylotelephium) ‘Red Cauli’ is a wonderful alternative to the old favourite ‘Autumn Joy’ (‘Hebstfreude’). The blooms of ‘Red Cauli’ positively glow at the front of the border and it is a better performer than most of the dark-leaved varieties.

Sedum 'Red Cauli'

The purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea has given rise to many cultivars. However the species is one of the easiest and most reliable and suits more naturalistic planting.Some cultivars are rather brash and solid and do not leave those elegant seedheads in the border for winter interest.Echinaceas seem to dislike heavy, wet soil, although they do need adequate moisture. They make wonderful, long-lasting cut flowers. Best results are usually achieved by planting strong young plants in spring, rather than large plants when they are in flower.

Echinacea purpurea

The other coneflowers, the rudbeckias are usually easier to grow, but their strong yellow daisy blooms are not to everyone’s taste. Rudbeckia subtomentosa is an altogether more subtle subject with tall, branched stems carrying dark eyed blooms with subdued yellow quill-like petals.It will appeal to those that avoid yellow and is a good choice alongside cornus grown for their winter stems.

Rudbeckia subtomentosa

The perennial sunflower Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’ is a showier character forming dense clumps of 1.5m stems topped with several pale yellow sunflower blooms.The colour is pale enough to sit alongside most colours and its cheerful brightness is a welcome addition whatever the weather.A popular plant with bees and late butterflies it will appeal to the wildlife gardener. Reasonably tolerant it does need enough moisture and will show its displeasure if conditions are exceptionally dry.

Helianthus 'Lemon Queen'

‘Lemon Queen’ is a natural partner for anything blue, lovely with Aster ‘Little Carlow’ and particularly attractive with the blue salvias. The inky dark blue Salvia ‘Amistad’ is a stunning contrast. However the cobalt blue Salvia guarantica ‘Blue Enigma’ creates a livelier, more uplifting combination.

Salvia guarantica 'Blue enigma'

Heucheras are best known for their striking foliage; at their best at the front of the border or in pots and containers.All produce flowers, usually earlier in the season, but these are secondary to the leaves. Heuchera ‘Paris’ is an exception. It does have very attractive sage-green marbled foliage but above that branched stems carry showy coral-red flowers.It also has the ability to repeat flower freely in late summer, adding valuable colour is semi-shade. A really useful plant, especially in small gardens.

It may not be the biggest or the showiest plant in the late summer garden, but it will probably attract the most attention.

Heuchera 'Paris'

The appearance of the hardy cyclamen, Cyclamen hederifolium heralds the onset of mellower days and promises weeks of delicate blooms from these modest little plants that thrive in sun or shade in the most difficult growing conditions.Plant seed-raised, pot grown plants and let them seed and naturalise. No garden should be without it. When the flowers are over the lovely marbled leaves are a feature throughout the winter months.

Cyclamen hederifolium

Andy McIndoe

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