The 7 best plants for late summer garden success

August 14th, 2016 Posted In: Garden style & living, Garden trends & design, Town gardens

How is your late summer garden looking? A friend recently told me she was really enjoying hers.

I’m pretty pleased with ours, too, provided no-one looks too closely at the bare patches and the weeds.

Dahlia 'Labyrinth.'

The dahlias are the star of our garden at the moment. Here Dahlia ‘Labyrinth’ reminds me of some of our best sunsets.

But there were three of us in the conversation. The third person shook her head sadly. ‘Late summer is no good for my garden…it’s over by now.’


These rudbeckias in a neighbour’s garden caught my eye while walking the dog.

Late summer garden planting includes verbena bonariensis

This simple, pretty treatment lines a neighbour’s path. A row of verbena bonariensis looks charming against a fence.

I was thinking about the conversation as I walked the dog yesterday. Some front gardens around us are looking outstanding now. Others have faded away.

Are some gardens just better at certain times of year? Maybe you have to decide whether you’re a June garden person or an August garden person?

Cosmos at Doddington Place Gardens

Cosmos is another good late summer garden plant. Seen here at Doddington Place Gardens , currently looking great in August.

I don’t think so. The holy grail of middlesized gardens is that we want to look good all year round, or for as long as possible. The late summer garden is an important ingredient in that.

I think that late summer garden plants get less attention than spring and early summer plants. The RHS Chelsea Flower Show is the gardening equivalent of London Fashion Week, setting the pace for garden fashion for the rest of the year.

But that means that spring and midsummer planting get all the publicity and admiration. They are seen in a design context, so it’s easier to imagine how to use them in your own garden. Cow parsley, for example, gets much more publicity than dahlias.

Stipa Gigantea and Dahlia 'Black Cat'

Grasses and dahlias look good for months on end.

But if you want a garden to look good for a long time, then you’d choose dahlias, as in the Salutation in Sandwich.

Hydrangeas are another plant that offers huge choice, a long season and are easy to look after. But, apart from Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’, you don’t see many hydrangeas in designer gardens.

Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle'

Our Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ is at its best in August. However, its position as the ‘chic hydrangea’ may be slipping as you do see rather alot of it about. Sorry about the weeds on the terrace!

Posy Gentles and I started discussing which plants were best for the late summer garden. We came up with dahlias, hydrangeas, fuschias, unusual bedding plants such as cleome, all the daisy types such as helenium and rudbeckia, late summer roses, echinacea and verbena bonariensis.

All the hydrangeas, dahlias, fuschias, echinacea and roses come in a very wide range of colours and styles, so there would be something for every garden style. They have little or no presence in the garden in early spring, so combine well with bulbs and early bedding.

Hydrangeas, dahlias and fuschias are sometimes seen as too suburban. Garden snobbery also blankets the ‘yellow daisy’ types in disapproval. But I believe that is about timing. You’ll never win a Chelsea Gold Medal designing a garden with hydrangeas and dahlias, because it’s not the right time of year.

If there was a late summer show that was influential as ‘Chelsea’, and which got as much media coverage, then the ‘late summer garden’ might be a more fashionable concept.

Rose 'Just Joey'

I think this rose is ‘Just Joey’ – looking good in yet another neighbour’s garden. Most of the pictures in this post came from one dog walk in the town where I live, which shows how abundant gardens can be at this time of year.

Cleome 'Violet Queen'

Cleome ‘Violet Queen’ with Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’ in the background. Bowles Mauve seems to flower from April to November, and sometimes all through the winter.

Once we started to list the plants that look good in August, we couldn’t stop. We thought of penstemons, sedum, hibiscus and Japanese anemones.

So which are your favourites? And do spread the late summer garden message by sharing this using the buttons below. Thank you!

9 comments on "The 7 best plants for late summer garden success"

  1. Pauline says:

    I think I am more of a late summer gardener. Hydrangeas are my favourite garden plants. They don’t do well this year, I really don’t know why. We were on holiday in Normandy and the hydrangeas there were absolutely stunning. Dahlias are my favourite cut flower for the garden. They are doing great, despite or maybe because of all the rain we have had. I love your dahlia!

    1. Thank you – and I agree the hydrangeas of Northern France are amazing.

  2. Dawn says:

    Here in Portland, Oregon USA, the roses are going strong, dahlias and hydrangeas are lovely, tons of sedums are enjoying our warm days & lack of rain, and many herbs are busily attracting bees: thyme, chamomile, rue and borage. Also, I’ve recently planted lithadora and its beautiful blue flowers are great!

    1. I’ve just googled ‘Lithadora’ as I haven’t seen it around here – looks lovely, but I think we do grow its relation borage more often. It all sounds beautiful.

    1. I agree – in fact, I popped Japanese anemones in as a late addition to the post. They are so beautiful, although they are a bit invasive here.

  3. Lyn King says:

    Definitely fuchsias and verbena bonariensis. In my previous garden I had some lovely type 3 clematis. I’d have loads of dahlias if I could keep the slugs off, I’ve just a few months ago resorted to slug bait so maybe next year I will have a go. And I love roses that repeat flower. I haven’t managed to establish any daisy types either.

    1. I find that if I scatter my dahlia beds with ferric phosphate slug killer (which is approved for organic use) from mid February onwards, then the dahlias have a chance to get established. Once they’re a decent size, they seem to be able to put up with a bit of nibbling, so I often find that I can stop using slug pellets after early July. I just throw a handful of pellets across the bed every two or three weeks, and that seems to work fine.

  4. Candy says:

    Japanese Anemones are looking wonderful in my garden now, pink and white. And the berries on the Viburnum Opulus ‘Compactum’ are brightly abundant.

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