Never has the sisterly horticultural divide been greater than this summer. I berated Caroline last Saturday for using a photo of Elaine wearing a fleece (unthinkable this week – she would keel over with heat exhaustion) and she hissed back that it was (her words) ‘pissing with rain again in Edinburgh’.
So our sibling suggestions for winning perennials in August may differ. Down here in the overheated Southern counties, Darwinian survival of the fittest is operating, driving the endangered damp loving species like rodgersias, astilbes and inulas (our feature picture above) to migrate north beyond the Watford Gap, and favouring perennials that have deep tap roots that will suck moisture from underground aquifers.
1. Japanese anemone is one such, which you will know if you have ever tried to dig it out, but no matter that it is harder to shift than lockdown weight gain, it’s been a real tonic to see its succulent buds popping open this week saying ‘heatwave? no it’s just pleasantly warm….’
2. Another winner in the heat is Althaea cannabina, which has the valuable attribute of staying helpfully tucked away until late July when it sends out an array of eight foot stems, covered in small hollyhock style flowers that dance like butterflies in the breeze.
3. My next choice is actually one of those species that needs a damper soil but I can’t live without it so have had to remove it from the border and create its own little artificial watery home. Salvia ulignosa, the bog sage, is another one of those helpful plants that fiddles around for the first part of summer then comes through with a surge of growth and the most beautiful sky blue flowers.
4. My final choice is a whole Genus of plants rather than a single species, Oenothera, the evening primrose. For years I dismissed this group of plants as I only had experience of Oenothera biennis which was a rather coarse plant in a vulgar shade of yellow with a weedlike propensity to turn up where it wasn’t welcome. But I now have the lovely Oenothera stricta ‘Sulphurea’ greeting me every morning with its pale lemon fading to apricot scented flowers, and it’s cousin Oenothera speciosa doing the same but in delicate pale pink.
I’m still after Oenothera versicolor ‘Sunset Boulevard’ and only found out by gatecrashing one of Elaine’s many WhatsApp groups that she had grown some of these from seed this year and given them all away to her friends…honestly!
Sorry, sis, you’ll just have to be quicker off the mark next time. I’ll grant that Laura’s choices for August lovelies might pretty up a corner, but their pastel colours might lack the pizazz needed in the strong light of August – I’m after plants with more ‘heft’.
5. Thus, my first choice is a glowing red rose R. ‘Ruth Leuwerik’. Ruth was a very popular German actress of the 1950’s apparently, and I reckon she was pleased to have this jolly rose named after her. It’s a Floribunda which produces heaps of bright red fragrant semi-double blooms. Forget ‘demure and ladylike’ – this is a girl who likes to strut her stuff on a big stage.
6. Next, I want to point you in the direction of a medium-sized shrub – Berberis thunbergii atropurpurea ‘Gold Ring’. As you might expect from a plant with such an imposing name, this bush has a real presence about it, and though rather gawky, forms a fabulous backdrop for strong yellows, oranges, reds or even purples in a summer border. Its spring flowers are nothing compared to its showy leaves – purply-red with a gold edge to each one. I do like the way that it’s not ‘blobby’ (as a lot of shrubs can be), but has these long shoots that insinuate themselves among other plants. Red berries (very popular with the birds) will follow as the foliage turns orange in the autumn. Beware the thorns though – they’re fearsome!
7. Here is a lovely graceful shrub if you want to add white to the garden – Hydrangea paniculata ‘Kyushu’. Its conical flowerheads of fertile (the little closed flowers) and showy sterile florets look particularly lovely at twilight, I think. It would be a gorgeous choice for your favourite sitting-out spot on a summer’s evening……
8. I have to just mention one more plant that is putting a smile on my face, and it’s good old Cosmos. Talk about saturated colour! So stupidly easy from seed (I used Thompson & Morgan Sensation Mixed) and, as long as you take off the dead flowers, so generous with its blooms among all that ferny foliage. Even Caroline couldn’t mess that up, surely?
Actually I don’t want to show off but I can sort of mess up cosmos as it happens. I germinated some Cosmos sulphureus ‘Bright Lights’ seeds this year imagining big saucer flowers similar to Elaine’s but in a glowing electric orange. Actually I got small but cheerful yellow flowers similar to an enthusiastic buttercup. Oh well.
9. Now to be honest I can’t see past Inula hookeri for yellow in August. If you can ‘half-inch’ a tiny bit of root from someone, you’ll have a forest of these carefree daisies in your high summer border for the rest of your life. Laura reckons her garden is too dry for them but, living in Scotland, I have no idea if they dislike drought. I often find bees spreadeagled and comatose on inula flowerheads – passed out after a massive nectar binge. I don’t judge.
10. Finally, I’d 100% recommend Eupatorium maculatum Atropurpureum. To my sisters’ incredulity (surely they know my limitations by now?) I only discovered this last year, but what a smashing late summer perennial. It shoots up to about six feet and produces a lovely fluffy clump of purple flowerheads from July to September.
Going out where Laura came in, Eupatoriums likes a bit of rain, and clearly doesn’t mind a lot. Best of all in our windy climes, it doesn’t need staking. Well that’s every box ticked up here – we like a stiff stem in Scotland.
Louise’s August winner seems to be able to look stunning no matter what the weather throws at it, have a look by clicking on the box below….
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