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10 of the Best Plants for Late Summer Colour in the Garden

Many people say their gardens are messy in late summer, but there are so many wonderful late-flowering plants that will put on a great show

Houzz UK contributor and award-winning landscape and garden designer. Claudia de… More

There’s no need to say goodbye to summer just yet, as there are so many late-flowering plants that will keep blooming for months to come, lifting the spirits and the garden. Garden centres typically sell these plants in 2 litre pots, ready to plant straight away for instant joy, so take note of just a few of the many varieties that will brighten up your patch right now, and become staples in your garden for years to come.

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Aster
The aster, or Michaelmas daisy, has long had an image as a rather old-fashioned style of garden plant; it can often also suffer from mildew. However, for good late colour with a splash of purple, nothing looks better than Aster x Frikartii ‘Mönch’. This lovely variety has good, dark green foliage and is mildew-resistant. It’s also the longest-flowering aster, providing a rich source of nectar for bees and butterflies, and is great as a cut flower.

Plant asters among grasses such as Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’, with its pinkish tufts of brush-like flower heads, or with dark-coloured rudbeckias. Talking of which…

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Rudbeckia
For a splash of bright summer sunshine, opt for helenium and rudbeckia, also know as black-eyed Susan. Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’ is a dark-eyed, neatly round-headed golden daisy and, being more robust than other varieties, doesn’t need staking. This is another great plant for attracting bees and butterflies and, if you leave the seedheads on well into autumn, birds will reap the benefit during the winter.

Plant in drifts to provide golden autumn light in the border. Rudbeckia partners well with grasses such as miscanthus and the tall, aromatic, purple-silver-stemmed Perovskia atriplicifolia (Russian sage).

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Sedum
This succulent perennial is a low-maintenance plant that will benefit from the ‘Chelsea chop’ in May to ensure a bushier plant later in the season. The tiny, star-shaped flowers attract bees, hoverflies and butterflies. Choose a sunny, well-drained spot for planting and select either ground cover or the more upright varieties.

For a dark-leafed, almost black, variety with red to purple heads, try the striking Sedum telephium ‘Purple Emperor’; for white blooms, go for Sedum spectabile ‘Iceberg’. Plant with grasses, erigeron or asters. Leave the heads on sedums right through the winter for added structure and shape in your borders.

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Japanese anemones
These plants really come into their own in September and are especially good in the more shady areas of the garden. The classic white single variety ‘Honorine Jobert’ will naturalise over time and is one of the few varieties that don’t have to be staked.

For smaller gardens with a more compact habit, and especially if you like a splash of pink, opt for ‘Pamina’, which produces large, double, deep pink flowers with deep green leaves.

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Echinacea
Also known as the coneflower and used in herbal medicine for colds, echinacea is the ultimate prairie plant. It has daisy-like large flowers, from soft whites to pale pinks and vibrant oranges, that sit on stiff stems. It’s a great plant for extending the seasons, as well as being a magnet for bees and butterflies.

However, these lovely perennials can be temperamental if our winters are too wet and do best in full sun. Planted in large drifts, echinacea looks good as late meadow flowers mixed with grasses. If you keep dead-heading, you’ll encourage a second flush of flowers. There are many cultivars to choose from, but the main two are Echinacea purpurea and Echinacea pallida.

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Agapanthus
Agapanthus, aka the African lily, gives your garden a Mediterranean or semi-tropical feel in late summer. Best in full sun and grown in pots, as they like their roots restricted, these bold, architectural plants, look very at home in small urban gardens as well as in larger spaces.

There are deciduous and evergreen varieties. The longest-flowering ones are the deciduous and hardier species: ‘Northern Star’, ‘Midnight Cascade’ and ‘Headbourne Hybrids’.

The best evergreen is ‘Peter Pan’, a more compact variety with sparse flower heads more suited to a small container or a front of the border position; it may need winter protection.

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Hydrangeas
These wonderful shrubs provide late summer and early autumn colour and range in shade from pale pinks, lilacs and whites to deep crimson and vibrant blues. There are various varieties, the best-known being the mophead and lacecap. They change colour according to different soils and the ph levels, which affect the aluminium availability. For example, pink blooms tend to turn blue in acidic soils, turn mauve in acidic to neutral soils and stay pink in alkaline.

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Grandiflora’ is a particular favourite for planting en masse in a large border. It has large, conical heads of white flowers, which fade to pale pink as it ages. It also does well as a cut flower. For a smaller variety, choose ‘Limelight’, which has dense clusters of flushed, lime-green blooms.

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Penstemon
These vigorous, frost-hardy evergreen or semi-evergreen perennials produce bell-shaped flowers that keep bearing blooms well into the autumn if you keep dead-heading. There are endless cultivars to choose from, which come in various colours, from the palest of pinks through to blues and reds to the deepest burgundy.

The bell-shaped flowers resemble those of a foxglove and the plants will form dense clumps in the borders and seem to be slug-resistant. My favourites are ‘Raven’, ‘Sour Grapes’ and ‘White Bedder’.

For late summer, plant among grasses or under Japanese anemones.

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Ornamental grasses
Ornamental grasses really come into their own in late summer, not just for added colour but for their shape, as this becomes more important in the garden as the season progresses. There are dozens of grasses to choose from and it can be tricky to remember the many varieties, including miscanthus, pennisetum, stipa and festuca, to name a few.

They come into growth at different times, so check the label when planting. For a delicate, small grass, try Deschampsia cespitosa ‘Goldtau’, which has frothy, cappuccino-blond flowers. For a taller grass, opt for the silvery and very dramatic Miscanthus sinensis ‘Malepartus’ or the variegated, feathery-topped Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Overdam’ (pictured).

Leave seed heads on your grasses; not only do they look good on frosty mornings, they will provide much-needed food for birds.

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Ceanothus ‘Autumnal Blue’
If you’re looking for a shrub and burst of blue in your garden in late summer, look no further than Ceanothus ‘Autumnal Blue’. This is a reliable, upright, medium-sized evergreen plant with glossy, dark green leaves and compact oblong trusses of mid-blue flowers.

‘Autumnal Blue’ is also ideal if you want to train it across a wall or fence in a sunny position. Underplant with the pale pink semi-double Anemone x hybrida ‘Königin Charlotte’ for stunning, late summer colour.

How do you keep your garden full of colour as the seasons change? Share your tips in the Comments below.
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