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Ideas for late summer From prairie planting to hot flowers - August gardens with Robin Pargeter

It’s fair to say that for most English gardeners, May and June are when their gardens are looking at their best with traditional plants such as delphiniums, lupins and roses in full bloom. However, by August this initial flush of colour has faded and yet many weeks of the summer remain. This mid-to-late-summer period can be tricky but perhaps it is best to see it as an opportunity to try a different style of planting and to make full use of the entire growing season.

Prairie-style planting is a great way to do just that as in general they flower in later summer. They have a naturalistic feel to them and will shimmer and move in the gentlest of breezes. Even after the flowerheads have died in autumn, many keep an architectural quality through into autumn and look wonderful covered in frost.

Heleniums, Echinacea and Asters are suitable and easy to grow, but my favourite is Rudbeckia, known somewhat enigmatically as black- eyed Susan. These are deep yellow flowers with a black centre which form wide clumps once established. All these plants create a very different atmosphere to a traditional English garden, especially when combined with ornamental grasses, with the upright stems contrasting with flat- headed flowers.

Few plants are more out of fashion now than pampas grass, Cortaderia selloana, but it can be a show stopper if you can include it in a prairie planting scheme. The white brush-like flowers look wonderful above a sea of smaller warm coloured flowers. On a smaller scale is Stipa tennuisima which has wispy feathery flowers

growing from a compact mass of leaves. It self-seeds readily and you will more likely be pulling up excess seedlings rather than trying to encourage new ones.

You can further spice up the plant mix with the inclusion of dramatic ‘hot’ flowers. These fiery reds, oranges and yellows add drama, and prolong the sense of summertime as the cool of autumn approaches. Try Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ for its scarlet flower bracts on long strap-like leaves. Dahlias are worth a go, too, particularly the Bishop cultivars with their deep colours. Red hot poker, Kniphofia, although firmly a South African native, sits well in a prairie-style scheme. Now is a good time to make a trip to your garden centre as this is often when they sell off unsold perennials at a good price.

One of the main advantages of this style of planting is that it is reasonably low maintenance. Clumps should be divided every few years to reduce congestion, rejuvenate them and create extra plants to swap with friends. Few of the flowers need staking (although Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ is one that does), and other than cutting down the foliage once it has died back, they are pretty self-sufficient.

The key to the planting is to choose just a few different types of plants but be generous with them – large swathes have a greater impact. Try to create drifts which weave their way through the bed, giving the impression of plants naturally colonising ground as you would see in the wild. A late season display like this will create another dimension to your

garden and hold back the approach of autumn just a little bit longer.

Gardening writer Robin is a professional garden designer and lives near Axbridge. See his amazing and creative work at www.rpgardendesign. Photo: thank you to the NGS

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