How to keep your garden colourful through late summer

Christine Walkden. PA Photo/Handout

Christine Walkden. PA Photo/Handout - Credit: Archant

As summer progresses, some containers will lose momentum by late July and August, particularly if they haven’t been fed and watered religiously.

Viola flowers. PA Photo/thinkstockphotos.

Viola flowers. PA Photo/thinkstockphotos. - Credit: Archant

But horticulturist Christine Walkden, a regular on TV and radio, reckons there’s still plenty of scope for enjoying colour throughout late summer and beyond.

The key to longevity is continuous deadheading, watering and feeding, she insists, and if your bedding lobelia and bacopa is looking a bit straggly, give it a trim with scissors and a good feed and it should perk up again.

If, however, some of your pots look like they’re not going to recover, particularly if they have dried out, it may be time to visit the garden centre to replenish those specimens with some healthier ones, which you might even be able to buy in the sale.

“We are past the summer equinox, so we’re less than 12 weeks away before the clocks go back, but how long our late summer blooms last largely depends on what the weather does,” she says.

“But you can buy late-flowering chrysanthemums - you can get dwarf bedding ones - and some garden centres still have dahlias which have some way to go. August is a funny month for in-between plants.”

If you want bright, strong colours, try Dahlia ‘Roxy’, a deep magenta-pink, and ‘Bishop of Oxford’ a deep marmalade-orange. Alternatively, replace one with the crimson-black-flowered and beautiful ‘Bishop of Auckland’, which will need supporting with twiggy hazel but is still suitable for pots.

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“Other plants that will be around in late summer include Cyclamen coum, C. hederifolium, hesperantha, lots of violas, lilies, cosmos, colchicums, dwarf rudbeckia and dwarf asters, so there’s quite a lot of choice.

“You need a good solid foundation of foliage colour in your late summer pots,” she advises. “Hebes work really well at this time of year. ‘James Stirling’ has beautiful, rusty orange foliage and looks great with hesperantha or rudbeckia.

“Always go for contrast. If I have a dark foliage bottom, I would go for a light top. The best advice is to go into a garden centre or nursery and see what’s there and really what’s looking good at this time.”

Other good foliage colour for late season pots comes from heucheras, ferns and hostas, if they haven’t been chomped by snails, as well as a variety of smaller euonymus.

If you’re replanting, use John Innes No 2, Christine advises, which has better structure, better drainage, more nutrients in it and greater stability so your pots are less likely to blow over, she says.

Of course, if you want late summer colour and you’re planting afresh, you will need to water new plants regularly, says Christine, who will be giving a talk on waterwise gardening at Stockport Flower Show in August.

“What’s going wrong in a lot of people’s gardens at the moment is that we’re getting that very fine rain and people think it’s wet the soil - but the soil’s bone dry! Pots are drying out. They still need to be watered thoroughly and regularly.”

Don’t plant anything new if you are going away this summer and don’t have anyone to take over that watering, she advises. You’ll be better off waiting till you come back and then make a head start on autumn planting.

Christine Walkden will be appearing at Southport Flower Show, which runs between August 20-23. For details visit