Shaping Up For Summer

Shaping Up For Summer

A healthy degree of indolence is grrrreat! I’m not talking about out and out laziness which eventually leads to poor bodily hygiene and a loss of friends but taking a relaxed approach to life. The trouble is that as the summer wears on, the garden can take a similar attitude and unless remedial steps are taken the result can be an unsightly mess! Luckily there are a few easy tips to fool the eye into thinking that there is more going on.

Firstly, try moving tender house plants outside especially those with striking foliage such as Swiss Cheese plants, Spider Plants. Tender pelargoniums they will keep flowering if they are regularly dead headed and can be plunged into borders in pots to give an instant colour boost.  Plants that have been inside can take a day or two to adjust to the stronger light of the outdoors so don’t put them in direct sun at first. Other tender perennials like dahlias and cannas can be plunged in pots into the borders to liven them up. Cannas have great foliage colour and make a strong vertical accent. I especially like the giant ones such as ‘Russian Red’.

My second tip is to be a little bit ruthless. Many garden centres and nurseries will be trying to sell off their summer bedding and perennials in preparation for getting in late summer and autumn so there are often bargains to be had. Frequently these only need a bit of tlc to restore them to full health and floriferous glory. I often pass the local nursery on my way to and from my out-laws and always try to pop in and spy out a bargain. Whilst we are talking about being ruthless it is time to cast an eye over any perennials that might re-bloom if given a hard cut back. Lupins, geraniums, nepeta, astrantia and other cottage garden favourites will give another (albeit) smaller show if cut back, fed with liquid feed and given some water. Other plants such as helenium, rudbeckia and sedum will carry on blooming until the end of September at least. These performers will close the summer in the garden, they are the fat ladies and they are currently singing!


If all that flower power seems like hard work then don’t ignore foliage. A strong background of rich purple cotinus such as ‘Grace’ or bright golden yellow such as Sambucus ‘Aurea’ or a cool grey like Phlomis fruiticosa can help to alter the mood of a planting by either heightening or calming a colour contrast.

As well as dotting plants about the garden to try to hide problem patches you can also try massing together your potted displays to give a wow factor that will draw the attention away from dull areas. Agapanthus, hydrangea and lilies make great partners so group pots of each together en masse. They are all in flower right now and can either be kept in pots or planted in the garden when they have done their thing meaning that they are excellent value for money rather than a passing fancy!


Growing plants that have attractive seed heads can help to extend the season of interest through summer and well into winter. One of my personal favourites are Eryngiums or ‘sea holly’ that have spiky rosettes of flowers that bees adore.

If you have the room or the interest you can overcome the seasonal peaks and troughs by specifically engineering your planting to come to a crescendo in a specific season. Often late summer gardens are ‘hot’ gardens because many of the plants in bloom do so in warmer colours including red, yellow and orange. You can take advantage of this by planting large blocks of warm colours which look wonderful in low light on a summer evening. If hot hot hot isn’t quite your thing then there are plants that are more muted. Persicaria ‘Rosea’ has spires of pink flowers and Phlox come in more or less strident tones of blue or pink as well as white. They also have gorgeous scent. The bloooming seed heads of grasses like Calamagrostis or Molinia provide structure as well as a transparent screen through which to view other plants placed behind. They capture the low light and add a sinuous sense of movement as well as giving a softness of tone that means the eye is not jolted by bold colours.

Yes, when you have done all of that you can take a short break….did you enjoy it? Back to work then!

Ross Underwood