As the hottest days of the
summer approach, gardens can often look a little parched,
tired and lacking in colour. The first green flush of early
summer is behind us and at least some of our most wildlife friendly
perennials could be past their best now. One group of flowers
however, can be relied upon to continue to thrive, put on a
colourful show and provide nectar and pollen for insects at
this time. These treasures are our native wildflowers and
whatever your soil conditions, you will doubtless find a
beautiful wildflower or two that will be happy somewhere in
your garden. August is the month to assess our gardens and
plan ahead for great colour next year, so think wild!
A country walk this month
will give you ideas for future planting. Identify the
wildflowers that interest you as best you can – a digital
camera is excellent for this as you can study the flower at
your leisure – but be sure to make a note of the habitats in
which you see them. This will give you an idea about where
they would like to be in your garden: sun or shade, and wet or
dry soil. In order for them to flower at their best next year
when other plants are flagging, you will need to ensure that
they are in the conditions they prefer in the wild.
Wildflowers for mixed
most of us do not have the space for an exuberant border
filled entirely with wildflowers, but natives mixed with
non-native perennials and biennials, with the odd annual
thrown in, can provide colour and interest for all four
seasons. If you make a note now of where you have gaps or
spaces in need of an injection of colour, you can plan to add
some wildflowers as seed or plants in a couple of months time.
So much successful gardening involves planning for the future,
so a little time now will really pay off next summer.
Unfortunately some of the summer’s most colourful wildflowers
are tenacious and slightly thuggish! Best to leave those for
a ‘wild’ patch where grass and more weedy plants are allowed
to wander freely. But there are plenty of well-behaved
natives that fit perfectly into a sunny border. Many wild
species have been ‘improved’ and adapted to garden cultivation
in the past but these varieties have less charm than their
original cousins and are often less attractive to insects. If
you stick to the true natives, you will find plenty to provide
colour and interest.
For a sunny border there
are several good choices. If pale flowers appeal to you, you
could do no better than dropwort, a cousin of the beautiful
meadowsweet. Meadowsweet requires a damp or clay soil and if
your conditions are dry it will struggle. Dropwort has
similar frothy, cream flowers but thrives in dry conditions,
being a plant of chalky soils in the wild. Sadly it has no
scent but is well worth growing in spite of that. The biennial
wild carrot gives a similar effect, having a flat plate of
cream flowers in a shape typical of the umbellifer (or carrot)
family. This plant, like the dropwort, has pretty feathery
foliage and attracts a range of small insects, especially
If brighter colours are
needed to fill your spaces, you could try viper’s bugloss or
great mullein. The former produces stems of prickly foliage
and spikes of small purple flowers. These flowering spikes
continue to unfurl as the year progresses, ensuring a
succession of bright, insect attracting blooms well into the
late summer. Bees love this plant, as do the skipper
butterflies. Great mullein and its related species throw up
huge spikes of surprisingly large, bright yellow flowers.
Most mulleins are biennials, so a few plants added to your
border in the autumn will flower with certainty next summer
and seed for future years.
The perennial dark mullein has smaller flower spikes, and the
yellow flowers have dark red centres. This plant is a really
useful addition to any garden. These taller plants could be
accompanied by wild teasel for an interesting contrast.
Other suitable plants for a colourful open border include pink
musk mallow, sweet-scented wild marjoram which is guaranteed
to bring the butterflies flocking, and small and field
scabious with their dense mauve pincushions of tiny flowers.
Butterflies and bumblebees love both the scabious species and
these plants flower well into September and beyond. For an
extra splash of bright yellow, sprinkle corn marigold seeds in
the autumn. Their golden flowers continue to bloom however long
and hot the summer.
If your garden is more
shady, your choice of colourful wildflowers for this time of
year is rather more limited. Most shade loving natives are
spring flowerers but teasel and mullein, already mentioned,
will handle some light shade, as will perforate St. John’s
wort and betony. The St John’s wort has a mass of bright
yellow flowers and is equally attractive in a sunnier spot.
Damper places too have their special wildflowers for mid
summer colour. Purple loosestrife is perhaps the most
spectacular, its spires blooming well into September. This
species, together with water mint, hemp agrimony and devil's
bit scabious will keep your pond edge bright and cheerful all
through the summer, as well as keeping the insects happy.
For those with smaller
gardens or pots and containers to fill, there are more
exciting species to try. Bird’s foot trefoil, with bright
yellow pouches in June and July will continue to produce some
flowers into August, and provide a larval food plant for the
common blue butterfly. The wild rockrose’s bright yellow
saucer-shaped blossoms also continue for a while yet, and wild
marjoram is at its best in August. The pink flowered bell
heather is another good choice for containers and small
Many of the species already
mentioned are happy in grassy places, especially the field
scabious, St John’s wort, betony and dropwort. If you have a
small flowery lawn that is left uncut through the summer, you
can add to the mix of colour with any of these species plus
knapweed, common toadflax, selfheal and the bright purple
flowered scrambling tufted vetch. These can be added as
small plug plants late in the autumn, after the grass has been
cut and raked away.
Planning ahead can be a
tedious aspect of gardening, but it is time well spent. Small
plants obtained in September, October or November can be added
to spaces in borders, under trees or into short grass giving
them time to settle before the spring. Or try your hand at
sowing seeds of perennials into pots of peat free compost.
Leave these outside all winter to aid germination, and prick
out your seedlings into individual small pots in early spring,
ready to transplant into spaces in April to fill your borders
with ‘wild’ colour this time next year.