Cool in the shade

A July heatwave, following a June washout. Having been caught dragging its feet, the year seems now to be charging full tilt towards high summer; baking heat, parched lawns and rock hard, bone juddering soil. We’re not quite there yet, though, and before the hot colours arrive en masse to dominate in the latter part of the month, I’m allowing myself a week or so to wallow in cool pastel shades.

From blues to pinks to whites to mauves, you'll find most of these July flowers enjoying full sun in the beds and borders, although the hydrangeas – and Annabelle in particular – benefit from some dappled light filtered through the leafy canopy of trees or taller shrubs. 

The lavender is just coming into flower, nodding with every welcome gust of wind in this garden over looking the North Downs and alive with the sound of bees.

Hardy lavender  Lavendula angustifolia  

Hardy lavender Lavendula angustifolia 

You can’t beat the blue of a mophead hortensia, and I’ve come to love the enormous blooms of Hydrangea macrophylla which resemble nothing so much as ladies’ bathing caps from the 1920s.

Hydrangea macrophylla  , cultivar yet to be identified

Hydrangea macrophylla, cultivar yet to be identified

The presence of aluminium in acidic soils encourages the dominance of the blue pigment in the petals, the more alkaline the conditions the pinker the flowers. In neutral to alkaline conditions, blooms of both colours can be present on the same plant.

Hydrangea macrophylla , cultivar yet to be identified

Hydrangea macrophylla, cultivar yet to be identified

Dahlias are beginning to flowers, though not yet at their best. Here 'Pink Diamond' is just getting into its stride among the poppy seed heads.

Dahlia  'Pink Diamond'

Dahlia 'Pink Diamond'

By contrast, Rosa 'American Pillar' has been in flower for some weeks, and will go on for several more. A particularly energetic rambler, even though it only flowers once, it produces flowers in such abundance it scarcely seems to matter. A good choice for running up into a tree or a large hedge.

Rosa  'American Pillar'

Rosa 'American Pillar'

Coming back down to earth, Persicaria affinis 'Superba' is a fabulous ground cover plant, which you can weave in and out of the front of a border. It grows easily from cuttings and will eventually form a large mat, but is neither so rampant nor deep rooted as to cause problems. 

Persicaria affinis  'Superba'

Persicaria affinis 'Superba'

The flower heads of Astrantia major are busy places, the plant being pollinated largely by creepy crawly things. Here, a couple of ants can be seen going about their business on the central umbel among the ripening seeds.

Astrantia major  'Star of Billion'

Astrantia major 'Star of Billion'

Hydrangea quercifolia can be an unruly, floppy shrub, but it earns its keep in the border with its beautiful flowers and handsome foliage, lush green in summer, rich  shades of russet brown in autumn. 

Hydrangea querciffolia

Hydrangea querciffolia

Hydrangea arborsescens 'Annabelle' is another shrub that can flop, particularly under the weight of its blooms. A plant that can take a while to become established, it is happy in damp shade, but will survive in sunnier spots given sufficient soil moisture. Worth persevering with for the flowers, which transform from green to cream to white before fading.

Hydrangea arborescens  'Annabelle'

Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle'

One of my favourite dahlias, 'Eveline', which I first encountered on the fabulous long double border at Waterperry Gardens in Oxfordshire. White flowers with a creamy inner, the edges of the petals tipped with lilac. 

Dahlia  'Eveline'

Dahlia 'Eveline'

Last year I improved the performance of the phlox in one particular border thanks to a tip from Fergus Garret at Great Dixter, who mentioned in passing how this perennial in particular resents any competition in the early stages of growth. This year, I’ve even managed to keep the rabbits off them (they hadn’t bothered with them while they were growing weedily), and though it took a few months until the plants filled out sufficiently to hide the chicken wire cloches, I think the results have made it worth while.  

Phlox paniculata , cultivar yet to be identified. 

Phlox paniculata, cultivar yet to be identified. 

In the meantime, the warmer colours are beginning to assert themselves, the mercury’s just hit ninety, and I’m seeking shelter in the shade wherever I can. It looks like we might be in for a long, hot summer.