Make the most of the light fantastic

imagePlant your garden to take advantage of the light in the late summer.

I have a passion for late-spring and summer flowers, and plant my main border to look at its most striking when the sun is at it height and just being outdoors and amongst it all is pretty much a dawn-to-dusk compulsion for me.

Until fairly recently, therefore, each September I would kick myself for my perennial inability to find space for more of the good-looking late-summer stuff – more of the daisies and grasses that are so upstanding and plentiful in the gardens of those that I regard as real horticultural grown-ups.

Age has at last mellowed me, however — you have, after all, to play the hand you are dealt as best you can in gardening, as in everything. Now, not only have I learnt not to beat myself up about my short-sighted weakness for midsummer floral extravagance, but I have adopted a different attitude to the areas of my garden where the shade cast by its numerous trees creeps up on everything by late August.

In order to make the most of the late summer sunlight, I now quite deliberately plant to take advantage of exactly where and in what direction the light falls on my garden late in the day.

Plants with translucent foliage — most specifically the reds — are strategically placed so as to be backlit by the increasingly golden light.

Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’, already starting to colour up, its plum-coloured leaves turning yellow, orange and scarlet in stages, becomes gloriously illuminated by the September sun that slants under an enormous oak. This in turn slices across the garden from the west, lighting up two weighty clumps of Persicaria ‘Red Dragon’, leaves and stems splashed vivid red, and P. amplexicaulis ‘Taurus’ whose fine, pointed vermilion candles smoulder for weeks.

Elsewhere, rusty rodgersias glow darkly along with the ripening seeds of a maroon angelica. The whole collection is enlivened in late afternoon by sunlight on the adjacent bright cream-striped leaves of Miscanthus ‘Cosmopolitan’ and by clusters of lipstick-scarlet hips of a feral rose clambering through the hazel that overhangs the pond. The entire garden seems laced through with glowing red at this time: on a trellis by the entrance, Cotinus ‘Grace’ in full ruby-red sail almost outshines the huge show-off pots of deep-red dahlias that flank the gate. The cotinus is the dominant player in a vibrant tangle that includes the prematurely reddening extremities of Parthenocissus quinquefolia and the jewel-like berries of Viburnum opulus.

I am a bit of a sucker for translucence generally — not just of red things: I even cull my white honesty colony, allowing to set seed only a few plants that are in the right place to catch the last rays. And then, of course, true obsessive that I am, I spend far too much time (when I should be writing this) gently easing off the outer dull grey discs of these seedheads to reveal the opaque, mother-of-pearl perfection that will, I know, be ruined all too soon by the first of the autumn gales.

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