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How do I get more colour in my garden?

Do you crave to fill your summer flowering gap? Or perhaps you are more than happy with luscious green, yellow and red foliage.

I want more colour in my garden. Now there’s a statement that is declared time after time. It might be something to do with age, lack of imagination or personal preference, but there’s a huge proportion of people who express a desire to have “more colour in my garden”. What’s all this about? Is it a wish to see gaudy annuals covering every inch of soil in bright, blousy blooms, or could it occur after a visit to a public garden where the herbaceous border is awash with glorious flowers from spring through to autumn? Maybe it’s a desire to re-create the glorious colours of spring bulb displays that happen seemingly effortlessly when daffodils, tulips, grape hyacinths and the likes pop up to brighten the season.

Blue shed with spring bulbs flowering Spring bulb displays are undoubtedly eye catching and impressive
Can you create a riot of colour?

The fact is, that unless you want to fill your garden with bedding, pot plants and bulbs, or you have multiple herbaceous borders just begging for a mix of dozens of perennials, you are unlikely to achieve a riot of colour all year round. Or even throughout the main outdoor seasons here in the UK. Why? Because a plant’s main purpose is to reproduce, and this is why it produces flowers. A plant needs to be fertilised by various means, not least bees and other insects. Once this has happened, most flowers want to form seeds and the flowers have therefore fulfilled their purpose.

bee on a cornflower The colour and scent of flowers invite pollinators to fertilise the plant.
How to prolong the flowering period

You can prolong the flowering period of many perennials by deadheading as soon as the blooms have passed their best. This means the plant will put its energy into producing more flowers, hell-bent on the route to reproduction. It tricks the plant into thinking they are young and active and it stops the chemical messages that say, “it’s time to stop, your work is done”, reaching the flower production department. Plants such as Verbena, Salvia, roses, Cosmos, Pelargoniums, Dahlias and many more will respond in a colourful way to this treatment. But it’s not without effort. Forget to dead head and you will lose some vigour and colour.

Salvia with monarch butterfly pollinator This Salvia has attracted a Monarch butterfly.
Climbing beauties

Then you have flowering climbers that, cleverly designed, can give you flowers from January right through to December. But not every plant at the same time – each will follow its pre-programmed flowering pattern. So whilst some of your climbers will be flowering, others will not.

Purple flowering Clematis on a garden pergola This Clematis, scrambling over a pergola, will flower for a few weeks only, so it would be best to plant two or three different varieties in order to extend the flowering season.
Successional planting

So it’s all about successional planting to plan for year-round colour. If that’s what you strive for. There is, however, huge value in shape, form and foliage colour, all of which can be just as appealing as flower colour. The onus is on you, as a plantsperson, to organise your plants according to your desires. Some gardens, such as parts of Levens Hall in Cumbria, Denmans in West Sussex and many others including a host of Capability Brown landscapes, just rely on greens and contrasting foliage.

Japanese garden, greenery There's not a hint of flowering colour in this Japanese garden, but it's beautiful, none-the-less
Fill the flowering gap

If you are currently revelling in the glorious technicolour of spring and not looking forward to the summer flowering gap, now’s the time to do something about it. Plant summer-flowering perennials as soon as possible so that they can establish a healthy root system ready to give you a burst of colour. These include the aforementioned Salvias and the like, but also alpines such as sedum, members of the sunny-flowering helenium family, Rudbeckia, Echinacea, Asters and Dahlias.

summer flowers in a meadow including sunflowers An explosion of summer flowers happens sporadically but needs to be carefully engineered

And appreciate the fact that the magnificent borders you see in public gardens take an enormous amount of manpower to keep them looking the way that you like to see them. They are huge in terms of labour – and few of us with ‘normal’ gardens can hope to emulate them. It’s a continual process of taking plants out and replacing them with flowering beauties.

Helenium sunflowers Heleniums are part of the sunflower family and they certainly look bright and beautiful in summer.

Still desperate for all-season razzmatazz colour?  Just drop in some annuals amongst your borders once danger of frost has passed (wait until May). When you see a dull gap, just fill it with annual flowers, if that’s what makes you happy.

petunias in red and purple summer flowering annuals Annual flowers create a bright and vibrant show.