Even the most lush and lively gardens can start to look a little wan by this stage of summer. Tweedy, tawny touches are all very beguiling but great swathes of brown-on-brown not so much. They only exaggerate the sense of heat and airlessness, which is why now is not the time to let them be.
There are months of warm weather left and it’s too early to settle for the beauty of only the dying and drying. While late summer could never be called peak planting season, it is not a time to rule it out. Filling bare spots, adding new layers and generally building abundance is a year-round thing that ensures your patch remains lively and dynamic.
Russian sage will need extra irrigation now but by this time next year will be more resilient through hot, dry weather.Credit:iStock
Plant judiciously now and you can keep your garden looking good through the rest of summer and into autumn. As supermarket shortages continue to bite, edibles are an obvious place to start. While you needed to sow indoors to get a head start on summer crops back in late August, this is the time to make the most of the warm soil and deposit seeds directly into your garden beds.
By sowing basil and cucumber now, for example, they will germinate quickly and reward you with bountiful yields before the frosts of autumn knock the life out of them.
Silverbeet, radishes, carrots and chives are some of the other seeds that can be sown in the depths of summer with the lure of food to come. But for extra height and ornamental punch, it’s hard to go past the Scarlet Runner Bean. Before it’s felled by frost, the robust climber will thrive in the heat of late summer and early autumn, quickly twining its way up a sturdy support to flaunt – within a couple of months – brilliant red flowers that once pollinated will produce edible pods.
Plant judiciously now and you can keep your garden looking good through the rest of summer and into autumn.
No late-summer planting is going to be set-and-forget though. The unavoidable downside of planting now is the extra vigilance required to keep the soil moist and to make sure that hot, dry spells don’t wipe out your efforts. You will need to cosset a little, and this will include being sure to mulch and weed.
If this sounds like too much hard work and, by this point in summer, you’re struggling to muster the energy for edibles, hardy perennials might hold more appeal. While they too will need more attention than perennials planted in spring and autumn, they will be more forgiving of attention lapses than food crops.
Ones that come to the fore in late summer and autumn will be especially effective at revitalising your patch. Mediterranean-climate salvias, teucrium, phlomis, sedums, ornamental oreganos, Russian sage – all currently flowering – will need extra irrigation now but by this time next year will be more resilient through hot, dry weather.
Other perennials that will be looking good for long weeks yet include agastaches, asters and anemones, all currently available in nurseries. Even if they are not at their peak this year, they can help fill bare spaces and you can rest in the knowledge they will only be better this time next summer. It will be the same with shrubs, such as caryopteris, which flowers through late summer and autumn, or, turning attention to leaf colour, cotinus, which offers blazing autumn foliage.
Even more hardy will be Australian plants, including correa, olearia, hibbertia, brachyscome and westringia, all of which put on lengthy floral shows that can help extend the season.
As we head into late summer, introducing another round of interest doesn’t just bring visual benefits but ecological ones too with flowers offering food for insects and other pollinators, especially important given climate change and species decline.
But aesthetic and biodiversity upsides are increasingly bound up together anyway. The most atmospheric gardens are the ones where you can feel the hand of both nature and the gardener. These places look well tended but not stitched up; loved but not over-worked. There are birds and bees and a sense of vibrancy.
Even if some plants have lost their first fresh green flush and others are bleached out or shutting down completely, these gardens will have enough late-summer life left in them to transport us to a world that is invigorating and bountiful.
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