Creating an Ornamental Garden; Mid Summer Colour

Collection of Red Poppies

There tends to be a gap in flowering from June to July as the lushness of early summer gives way to the more intense heat and light. It can be hard to keep the garden looking fresh during these weeks, unless you succumb to single-season bedding plants, which I try to avoid because of their plastic pots and pesticide saturated foliage and compost. It never ceases to amazes me that at a time when we’re all doing our best to help save pollinating insects retailers sell bee-friendly plants coated in bee-killing pesticides. It’s one thing to willingly spray pesticides on your garden but very few people are aware that the plants they’re buying to help insects may be doing them harm.

Here are some options that won’t have you rushing to the bedding plant section mid summer;

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Poppies (see photo above) may be short-lived flowers but there’s little to rival their vibrancy in the flowerbed in last June / early July.  They come in a huge range of colours from pale pink through to deep burgundy, all liking at least 6 hours of sun a day in well-drained soil.  There are many varieties of poppies but the main difference is between the annual varieties and the perennials. In my experience the annuals are easier to grow and self-seed prodigiously around the garden. The Oriental types are long-lived plants that flower earlier in the year and may die back during summer heat so plan for a potential bald spot and don’t over-water in an attempt to revive it. If it looks untidy just chop back the leaves and it’ll regrow fresh ones in a couple of week. Poppies do not like to be moved once they’re growing, which is why you don’t tend to see them for sale in garden centres. I’ve read that poppy seeds prefer to germinate in cool soil so sow in late Autumn for early summer flowers or early spring for later summer flowers. I don’t tend to recommend annuals because it can mean lots of foil-lined seed packets but as these plants like to self-seed this is easily avoided, just remember to remove the seed heads (or the entire plant) of annual poppies if you don’ want hundreds of seedlings around the garden.

Close up of Sea Holly Flowers

Eryngium (Sea Holly) is a very easy thistle-like plant that likes to grown in well-drained soil in full sun or partial shade.  Although available in white/ silver it’s typically bought in varieties that offer intense iridescent blue or purple flower that just pops out of the border, particularly in the evening light. These plants will die back in the winter and regrow fresh foliage each spring.

Close up of purple flower

Verbena Bonariensis looks it’s best in July, when it’s typically covered in pollinating insects. Unless we’re unlucky to get a summer storm this tall statuesque plant doesn’t need any staking and makes a feature at the back of a border or as a delicate screen between two areas. These will also self-seed really easily so cut off flowers as they go over. I prune mine down to 1/3 their height at the end of the flowering season as they can get damaged by the wind over winter and I give them another tidy-up prune in early summer as I start to see new shoots growing.

Pink fluffy Flower Spikes

Astilbe is a woodland plant that like rich moisture retentive soil to produce plenty of frothy white, pink or red flowers spikes at this time of year. They prefer partial shade but can be grown in full sun, although with the need for additional watering and the risk of leaves being burnt by the strong midday sun. Some varieties flower earlier than others and some have larger, frothier flowers than others so for these reasons I would advise buying these in bloom to get exactly what you need/like. These plants will die back every winter, and only start to grow back in late spring so it’s very easy to mistake it for a dead plant so give it time before composting. If mature plants are producing less flowers simply lift, divide and replant in the Autumn.

Star shaped flowers on delicate stems

Triteleia flowers add a welcome touch of delicacy to the garden at this time of year and because they’re bulbs they require practically no looking after at all. Just pop them in the ground in Autumn and then forget about them until their strap like leaves appear above the ground in early summer only to be followed by tiny white or blue flowers suspended on slender stems that appear to dance above the ground. The leaves tend to go off just before the flowers open so if you’re a neatness freak just carefully tidy them up. Both flowers and leaves will die back completely by Autumn. They’ll grow in practically all soil types as long as it’s well-drained, like full sun and will come back year after year.

Bee in a blue flower

I absolutely adore the intense blue colour of traditional Cornflowers but you can get them in white, pink and purple.  They pack such a punch for such an easy to grow plant, are great for insects and make a great cut flower. As mentioned above I normally don’t feature annuals but like poppies these also self-seed readily and so you should only ever need to buy one packet of them in your life. You can sow them in the Autumn for early summer flowers or early spring for late summer flowers. Just score a pattern in a patch of raked ground, sprinkle in the seeds, cover with small bit of soil and water in.  As the seedlings germinate thin them out a little. The pattern will help you distinguish the cornflower seedlings from weeds so you don’t inadvertently week them out!

Red exotic looking flower

I’m not a fan of the most common form of Crocosmia, which is orange, but it’s red cousin Lucifer is really something special and makes a really good cut flower. It’s taller and has the most striking red flowers that jump out of the border. Depending on the soil and location it may not need staking but I find I have to give it a bit of support to stop it flopping over. A simple hoop in front of the plant does the job and is practically invisible. The plant prefers to be in full sun in soil that doesn’t get too dry. If it does dry out you’ll see less flowers being produced. All foliage will die back every winter and be replaced with fresh spears again in spring. Crocosmia comes in a variety of colours and growing heights and are great investments if you want a striking summer border.

Blue and White flower head on spike

Agapanthus is the ubiquitous summer border plant in recent years, primarily because of its stunning blue flowers on long flower stalks and easy-care nature. As long as it’s located in full sun in well-drained, but not too rich, soil you’ll be rewarded with great flowers year on year. If you deadhead the flowers on this plant it’ll help reserve the plants energy for next years display. The most common type has just solid blue, purple or white flowers but you can get varieties with graduating colour or a strips on the flowers.

Row of blue hazy plants

If you have the room for this statuesque herbaceous shrub Russian Sage is a great addition to any garden. It’s silvery grey foliage is attractive on its own but when the plant’s tiny lavender coloured flowers come out it creates a haze of bloom, particularly if you can let the plant get large or can plant in groups. Plant in well-drained soil in full sun and prune late Autumn / early spring to keep it tidy. As this is a plant that needs very little watering it also does very well in a pot.

I feel completely rejuvenated after finishing this article. I’m a total plant geek and get (almost) as much pleasure from looking at them online as I do in the flesh.

Check out the other articles in this series


PS – This time in previous years I’ve written about how sustainable living can save you money and clever upcycling ideas for your home

Published by Elaine Butler

I am a circular design consultant helping manfacturers prepare for the circular economy

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