Phlox seem to have slipped into oblivion and that is a pity. Flowering in August and smelling heavenly, they come in a wide range of colours to fit into any garden plan. They also take well to the ‘Chelsea Chop’. Cut half the clump down by a third, the uncut half flowers first so you double the flowering time; this is usually done at the time of the Chelsea Show, hence the name. It is also very useful on Sedums and stops them flopping as well as prolonging the flowering period. To return to Phlox, if you want more interesting foliage try Phlox ‘Norah Leigh’ — the leaves are edged with white and the flowers are mauve. Phlox ‘Harlequin’ also has leaves edged white but they are splashed with pink and the flowers are purple. Phlox ‘Mount Fuji’ has large pure white flowers, but my two favourites are Phlox ‘Blue Paradise’ with especially fragrant violet-blue flowers, and Phlox ‘Monica Lynden-Bell’, which is again very fragrant with soft pale pink flowers. All Phlox do best in fertile soil and do not like too much shade.
Monada are another mid-summer flowering staple in the garden. Loved by butterflies and bees and with fragrant foliage, they again come in a good range of colours from white through mauve and purple, and there is an excellent bright red Monada ‘Gardenview Scarlet’ from America. It has proved totally mildew free here and the newer varieties named after signs of the ‘Zodiac’, ‘Scorpion’, ‘Sagittarius’, ‘Libra’ are also mildew resistant. Of course, if you are not organic gardeners you can spray, but these have not been a problem here where we are organic and cannot spray.
I have also become very fond of Agapanthus. We used to grow them in the garden but after one especially hard winter I have resorted to growing them in large clay pots. These I put in the garage for the winter, unheated and with no door, and they have survived several very cold winters. The evergreen varieties are more susceptible to winter wet and cold, so if you live in a town or where it is very sheltered it is worth trying the deciduous varieties in the garden. I particularly like Agapanthus ‘Black Pantha’; the buds are almost black and the inky blue flowers are pendulous. This does need winter protection, as does Agapanthus ’Enigma’, which has flowers that are blue and fade to white at the edge of the petals. Very pretty and it has large strap-like evergreen foliage. Hardier is Agapanthus ‘Midnight Blue’ with dark blue flowers and Agapanthus ‘Purple Cloud’ which has dark purplish flowers. They all flower in August and continue through autumn, and even early in the year the foliage looks good in the pots.
Foliage becomes even more important in August. Ageratina ’Chocolate’ has very dark brown foliage and makes an upright clump which looks good from early summer, and then in mid summer the clumps are covered with clusters of white bobble flowers. These are a bonus as many of the dark foliaged plants have orange flowers. In fact two of my best dark-leaved plants do have orange daisy flowers; I hate them and usually cut them off and use the plant just for its leaf colour. Ligularia ‘Britt Marie Crawford’ has large brown leaves and when you lift the leaf the underside is a wonderful maroon.
There is a smaller form of Ligularia ‘Osiris Fantaise’ which has the same dark leaf colour but the leaves are ruffled and it works well in a pot. I have used it with Hakonechloa, a good yellow striped grass, in the same pot and it looks good all summer. Lower growing plants like Ajugas are excellent at the front of the border as they cover the ground and come with various colour combinations. A good dark-leafed form is Ajuga ‘Black Scallop’ which has blue flowers. Some time ago I was asked to write about the 10 plants I could not garden without and one of those was Ophiopogon nigrescens; with strap-shaped almost black leaves it makes thick carpets, stopping any weeds growing, and the foliage lasts all year. At only 30cm tall every garden has room for it. All dark foliage plants need to be grown in the sun to colour well, as in the shade they take in a greenish tinge and you loose the whole point of growing them.
If you have a shady garden you can grow plants with golden foliage — very useful to light up dark corners. Shrubs such as Philadelphus coronarius ‘Aureus’, which has yellow foliage and the usual white scented flowers, add to the interest. I grow a Clematis alpina with dark blue flowers through the shrub. The blue and yellow work well together, and the Clematis has good fluffy seed which heads from late summer onwards.
For feathery yellow foliage Tanacetum ‘Golden Fleece’ adds a splash of pure gold to any plant combination as it slowly creeps between other plants, this grows to about 40cm. I find Millium effusum ‘Bowles Golden Grass’ especially good to cheer up a shady bed; bright gold in the spring it holds its colour well through the summer, and although it does tend to seed about it is shallow rooted and easy to remove if it is in the wrong place. If you want a low growing patch of yellow there is a good newish Lamium ‘Beedham’s White’. This is a great improvement on the previous Lamiums with yellow foliage, they had disgusting pinky- mauve flowers (a horrid combination). This form has pure white flowers and keeps most of its foliage all year. Plants with yellow foliage do need to be kept out of the sun and wind otherwise they tend to scorch and the leaves become damaged.
So during late summer it is worth looking for plants that do more than just produce flowers. Foliage holds the garden together and helps us to survive until wonderful autumn arrives.
Stillingfleet Lodge Gardens and Nurseries, York