July is one of the least rewarding months for me in this garden. After giving a dazzling display in June, the roses and a lot of perennials have called it quits, and hotter days are making a lot of foliage lose that bright, fresh colour it had a few weeks back. While I wait for late-blooming plants to take over, I'm trying to focus on little pockets of interest rather than look at the big picture. 'Gran's Favourite', a cottage pink that's aptly named now that I am actually a grandmother, is one such pretty gem. The blue foliage softens a flower that I think I'd find too gaudy otherwise.
At the other end of the spectrum are the milk-chocolate spires of Digitalis parviflora. There's certainly nothing shouty about these, but they attract attention just for being unusual. Brown is a common enough colour in autumn leaves, but quite rare in summer flowers.
Behind them, are the mint-green flower buds on Sedum 'Autumn Joy', one of those year-round reliable plants that never looks tired or chewed or diseased. There are newer varieties of Sedum with purple leaves or bigger, brighter flowers, but so far I haven't found any of them to have the combination of substance and airiness that distinguishes 'Autumn Joy'.
Clover generally conjures up a picture of little white pompons sprinkled over grass, but I have two that are excellent perennials, although this year I didn't catch either of them at their best with my camera. Still, they're attractive even as the flowers begin to fade. One is Trifolium ochroleucum, which looks like a giant version of the common creeper. It forms a large clump that this year has needed a bit of support not to flop. The flowers start out pale yellow, and bleach to white before gradually turning brown.
Even better is its cousin T. rubens, with more elongated, bright magenta flowerheads. Earlier in its development, the foliage is infused with a deep purple that complements the pink-and-white- striped flowers of Rosa Mundi just behind it.
Allium 'Ozawa' is another pink, looking surprisingly comfortable with a few red potentilla flowers snaking through it.
Away from all of these, I'm trying to establish a group of hot reds and oranges to suit the height of summer. Some of the newer Echinaceas thrive in full sun and have a long bloom time
Early-blooming Hydrangea serrata 'Beni' glows in dappled shade. 'Beni' is becoming a fast favourite of mine with its fascinating flowers that start out so pure white that you wonder if you've got the right plant since"Beni" is the Japanese word for "red". By the beginning of July, only the true flowers at the centre have remained white, while their surrounding bracts have turned bright pink.
Then, around the time that the Echinacea blooms at the end of the month, 'Beni' decides to live up to its name and really puts on a grand finale.
As I write this, I'm realizing how many hydrangeas I seem to have acquired. Fortunately the serrata types are all quite small. By comparison, oakleaf hydrangea 'Sikes Dwarf' has decided to be not-so-dwarf and is going to get a severe pruning when it finishes flowering.
It's lovely, but it is taking up more than its fair share of space in this small garden.
That reminds me of another plant that is looking lovely now and does remain compact. Lysimachia ephemerum is a well-mannered loosestrife that has none of the invasive habits of its relatives. It forms a clump of tall free-standing bluish leaves topped by wands of palest grey flowers.
In fact the petals are white, but the dark centres and stamens influence the overall effect.
Bees love it, butterflies love it and I love it. The association with its pushy cousins is the only reason I can think of for why it's not more widely planted.