August is always a strange month for me. A doldrums of a month. It feels like everyone else is on holiday. As the month progresses work emails return with the increasingly familiar ‘out of office’ reply. The weather doesn’t help. It’s as if it knows the schools have finished for the summer break, and with almost precision timing any hint of warm sunshine and blue skies disappears, only to return when shiny new uniforms herald the start of the new school year.
The garden and allotment seem to reflect my mood. For me the late summer garden is about taming. Invariably there are plants I should have supported with canes and twine or something fancier like a rusty metal hoop, but didn’t. Wrestling matches ensue with flower laden stems that have sagged under the weight of a torrential downpour, a ball of twine and whatever I can find to prop them up. Plants left too long in their sprawled state develop stems with twists and kinks as the flowers stretch up towards the sun.
Deadheading is worthwhile – it’s a fine line between the natural looseness of August’s plants and something that looks unkempt. A quick 10 or 15 minute spell of snipping off dead and ‘seen better days’ flowers can be easily squeezed into most busy lifestyles and it’ll help prolonging flowering. It also gives a gardener something to do. August has to be one of the quietest times of the gardening year. Even weeds seem to slow down their growth rate now as they sense the days starting to shorten. The garden is perched on the cusp of autumn activity, but for the moment there’s little to do other than pick edibles and recharge the batteries before bulb planting begins.
While your garden might have passed its summer peak that doesn’t mean you need to write it off till next spring. The prairie style planting of designers such Piet Oudolf and Tom Stuart Smith have introduced us to a whole range of fabulous plants that don’t really start doing their thing until late summer. By incorporating some of these herbaceous perennials and grasses in among the early summer flowering plants you’ll extend your garden’s seasons of interest and help lift your borders and containers out of their summer slump. Plants such as rudbeckia, echinacea, helenium and persicaria will go on flowering well into autumn.
Make sure you keep any plants you pop in the ground at this time of year well-watered, particularly during any dry spells as their root systems won’t have developed sufficiently to seek out water by themselves.
Garden centres and nurseries have will have plenty of plants to choose from over the coming weeks to give your garden a boost. A couple of my own late summer/early autumn favourites include Hydrangea ‘Limelight’ with its panicles of ivory white flowers that appear at the end of July. As summer merges into autumn the petals take on tinges of pink before fading to attractive papery seed heads.
Origanum ‘Herrenhausen’ is an ornamental version of the herb oregano, with purple-green foliage and tiny pale pink and purple flowers, which are loved by pollinating insects.
And no late season garden should be without a sedum or two. These succulent-leaved perennials emerge in early spring, but it isn’t until August that there flowers finally start to appear, much to the delight not just of gardeners but also bees and butterflies.