August can be a trying time for the gardener. The heat takes its toll on your prize plants. No matter how spectacular the garden looked a month or six weeks ago, summer can be unkind to certain plants and a garden that was bursting with colour back in June can look drab and lifeless, washed out in the summer afternoon’s glare.
It doesn’t have to be this way if your garden includes plants that reach their prime during the “dog days” of August. There are plants for every season and every month and the true test of a well-designed landscape is when there is something of interest throughout the year, even in mid-August when we’d perhaps rather be at the beach.
Buddleia davidii, the Butterfly Bush, is one such plant. I know it’s classified now as a noxious weed in some parts of the world, and there’s no doubt that the foliage is attractive to grasshoppers. But is there an easier shrub to grow, relative to the sheer number of blooms it produces?
The butterflies and hummingbirds really do love it for the nectar produced in each of the tiny blooms that collectively form into long spikes of fragrance at the ends of the arching branches. If you take the time to prune off the spent blooms you and the wildlife will enjoy the colour until autumn’s frost.
The blooms of hibiscus instantly make you think of the tropics. There are perennial varieties which die down each winter, and of course the indoor type is available year-round as a flowering houseplant. There is a flowering deciduous shrub that is hardy for all but the coldest areas of the valley which produces bloom from July through the fall.
Hibiscus syriacus will grow up to three metres tall, covered with hundreds of blossoms in colours ranging from pure white, to pink to lavender blue in single or double forms. With its height it makes a fine shrub for the back of a larger border, giving the late summer garden a real focal point.
A third flowering shrub for late summer colour and fragrance is Clethra alnifolia, the Sweet Pepperbush. August sees the emergence of upright clusters of small blooms of white or pink, emitting a wonderful fragrance. In fall the foliage turns a lovely burnished gold and as the flowers mature black seeds which resemble peppercorns form.
Clethra like a rich soil with regular moisture, so don’t locate them in the midst of plants which tolerate less water. Over time the shrub will mature to about two metres tall, with a pleasant, symmetrical outline.
My garden does not look inviting at all in the August afternoon. The sun is directly overhead and the colours seem drained out entirely. But, come the evening and a remarkable transformation takes place. Foliage that was bowed in the intense heat regains its perkiness. Fragrance from the Buddleia wafts through and colour seems to have been poured back into the blossoms. The garden becomes an inviting oasis of cool sensuality, inviting me for a glass of wine, or even a sunset weeding session.