As summer progresses into August in the Northern hemisphere, light quality changes - by the end of the month the sun is lower in the sky, and afternoon light is tipped towards the red end of the spectrum. This is the most evocative time of year for me - grasses, seedheads of earlier-flowering perennials and the drumsticks of spent alliums are all ripening, and the tone of the colours softens. The plants that are still doing their thing may have gloriously coloured and vibrant flowers, but with a gently fading background and less strident lighting these accents are not the eye-popping additions that they might have been a month or two earlier. We are at the cusp of autumn, and as large numbers of plants fade away, the performers that are really hitting their stride become increasingly valuable.
Many umbellifers (now grouped in the Apiaceae) shine at this time of year - fennels, dill, angelica and the rest invariably stand well through autumn, and even into winter, their skeletons gradually leached of colour and the seeds eventually released and dispersed. The heleniums, or sneezeweeds, contribute their mixed warm palette for months - the buttery yellows through to velvety mahogany shades in the petals, via burnt orange mean that there is something in the family for almost any situation. To extend their season I am experimenting next year with the 'Chelsea chop' - by taking a third off the tops of these plants in May I hope to push the flowering back to August, and reckon that if I do this for a third of the plants I will also get some valuable shorter, sturdier specimens to support those plants that escape the shears.
Eryngiums and thistly plants are all in full swing at present (see my earlier post) and Dahlias are beginning to have an impact in mixed borders. Plant dahlias with dark foliage and you won't go far wrong . Crocosmias, with a similar colour range to the heleniums, offer a valuable option for partially-shaded sites, or an interesting contrast of foliage and habit if mixed in with the sneezeweeds. My all-time favourite is Crocosmia 'Emily McKenzie' - petals in two shades of rich orange, with a purply-tobacco shaded throat.
Many herbs continue well into August - ornamental marjorams (Origanum) are good value, especially O. laevigatum 'Herrenhausen' with its glaucous foliage and clusters of purply-pink flowers.
The best thing about all these plants? They are crowded with masses of insects at this time of year, so the garden is alive with sound, movement and interest.Paul Ridley Design