Designing shade into the garden

Shady bench.JPG

When I’m designing gardens, possibly the most important factor to take into account before drawing up a plan is to work out which are the sunniest parts of my clients’ gardens, because that is usually where the entertaining areas go – whether for dining or just sitting outside.  With our totally unpredictably climate we do tend to want to focus on sitting in the sun as it’s such a novelty!  But sometimes (just sometimes!) it can be uncomfortably hot and that’s when it becomes important to find some shade.  So instead of simply having to drag furniture to a shady corner to escape the sun, it’s always good to plan in at least one area of the garden for spending time in the shade.

There are many options to consider – some more permanent than others – and here are just a few ideas.

timber pergola
Structures such as pergolas are invaluable – whether free-standing or built next to a house or garden wall.  They can be planted with evergreen climbers for maximum shade, or with deciduous climbers (such as golden Hop or vines) for good coverage in summer, but with leaves falling in autumn they won’t be too shady over winter.


Pratic Tecnic Sail awning with a very solid support system

Shade sails are a relatively new concept for creating shade outside.  They offer a more contemporary alternative to structures like pergolas, but they do need to be planned in properly with really good foundations for the structural supports.  On a windy day the sails need to be safe and secure.  They are ideal for warmer climates where shade is needed on a constant basis, but the sails are generally not that easy to take up & down (so not ideal for ad hoc use), and obviously careful thought needs to be given to exactly where the shade is required before any support posts are set into the ground.

Cantilevered Parasol
Parasol design has evolved too – no longer limited to sticking a parasol in the centre of a table (and then having to constantly move seats along with the sun!), there are now some very stylish (and large) cantilevered parasols on the market which offer much more flexibility.

Bury Court

A very stylish open frame pavilion at Bury Court in Hampshire

Garden buildings or pavilions (or whatever you want to call them!) can come in any design, shape or size with as much coverage or shelter as required.

ENCOMPASS Reverse 21

A retractable sail awning makes this contemporary pergola very useable – whatever the weather

Slatted sides and roofs will give dappled shade, or a solid roof can be used to give complete shade (and shelter from the rain too!).

Timber arbor.JPG
Seating with added shade is always an option – for example a simple timber arbour with in-built bench, or a swing seat with a canopy shade.

Cacoon swings

These Cacoon hanging chairs come in a variety of colours and sizes

There are some really fun hanging chairs (or tents) available which can be hung from a tree or from a frame.  These are a great way to get out of the sun, as well as fantastic place for a siesta or for kids to use as a den.

Parasol trees

Parasol lime trees at the Chelsea Flower Show

And let’s not forget trees – so often an underused design resource!  Whether you opt to buy a ready-formed parasol-shaped tree, put a tree seat around the trunk of an existing tree, or simply move your table & chairs under the canopy, they are invaluable when you want to escape the heat.

Tree seat

And in my opinion there’s nothing to beat lying on the grass reading a book in the dappled shade of a tree on a hot summer’s day.  Heaven!

Willow shade.JPG

Picture credits : Janet Bligh & Encompass Furniture

Fabulous plants for August

If you’re looking for colour in midsummer, here’s a small selection of my favourite easy plants for August

Perovskia atriplicifolia
This plant, commonly known as ‘Russian Sage’ is technically known as a sub-shrub, as it grows from a woody base. This is a plant that thrives in hot sunny borders with well-drained soil and it’s always a very welcome sight in midsummer which can be a difficult time to find colour in the garden – the early flowers are over and the later autumn flowering plants aren’t quite at their best yet.

Perovskia 'Blue Spire' at RHS Wisley Gardens

Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’ at RHS Wisley Gardens, Surrey

To succeed with Perovskia, you should prune plants in late spring when they are starting to put on growth, rather than cutting back in autumn. You’ll then be rewarded with upright silvery grey stems with fragrant leaves and lovely violet flowers in late summer.  The best known Perovskia is probably ‘Blue Spire’ which reaches 1m in height, but I also use ‘Little Spire’ which as the name suggests is a smaller variety, reaching 60-80cm in height as a rule. For maximum impact, grow them in groups.

Geranium Rozanne ‘Gerwat’
This is one of those really long-flowering perennials I seem to include in pretty much every garden I plant!  I’m always looking for reliable, great value plants and this particular hardy Geranium is invaluable.

Geranium 'Rozanne'

Geranium ‘Rozanne’

No kidding, it flowers from June to October or even into November, and there aren’t that many reliable plants that can offer that sort of flowering period!
It’s fast-growing and spreading (up to 1 metre wide), forming a wide clump of foliage which is great to smother weeds, and its large blue flowers are held on stems above the mound of leaves.  Fine in sun or some shade, not fussy about soil type and generally very easy to grow.   Hardly surprising Geranium Rozanne was named ‘Plant of the Centenary’ at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2013!

Lythrum salicaria ‘Robert’
This ‘loosestrife’ is another long-flowering perennial which provides a real splash of colour in midsummer, and will attract lots of insects in search of nectar, so it’s great if you’re interested in planting for wildlife.

Lythrum salicaria 'Robert'

Brilliant colour from Lythrum salicaria ‘Robert’

Flowering from July to September Lythrum ‘Robert’ has dense upright spikes of deep pink flowers and reaches about 75cm in height.  It will grow in some shade, but Lythrums do need a reasonable amount of moisture in the soil to thrive.  In fact most Lythrums are ideal for bog gardens and to grow as marginal plants next to water. ‘Robert’ though, is alleged to be more tolerant of slightly drier conditions than other Lythrums and I have grown it successfully in the garden above, which has fairly water-retentive soil but is far from being classed as boggy.

Lythrum Feuerkerze

Lythrum salicaria ‘Feuerkerze’ AGM

A slightly taller variety is the reliable Lythrum salicaria ‘Feuerkerze’ AGM (Award of Garden Merit from the RHS).  It gets to about 90cm high and about 45cm wide, so all in all a slightly larger variety than ‘Robert’.

Clematis viticella ‘Venosa Violacea’ AGM
This is a very easy two tone purple Clematis which will tolerate some shade and isn’t too fussy about soil conditions.  Flowering from July to September and reaching up to about 3 metres in height, it’s great to climb up trees and scramble through shrubs which have finished flowering and could do with a bit of extra colour at this time of year.

Clematis venosa 'Violacea' AGM

Clematis venosa ‘Violacea’ AGM

It’s not so big that it will get out of control and is such a good plant it’s been awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit.

Eryngium giganteum ‘Silver Ghost’ AGM
Eryngium (or ‘sea hollies’) are great plants for dry sunny gardens with poor soil, where they will thrive.

Eryngium Silver Ghost, Perovskia, Echinacea

Great planting combinations at RHS Wisley – Eryngium ‘Silver Ghost, Perovskia and Echinacea

They look fantastic with grasses and plants like Lavender, Perovskia and Nepeta which like similar conditions.  But they are not only valuable for the fact that they will grow where many other plants won’t, but because they offer such a long season of interest, having a beautiful architectural form which lasts long in to the winter.  There are many varieties of Eryngium, and ‘Silver Ghost’ is a biennial (which means it flowers in its second year and then dies after setting seed).  The flowers turn blue as they mature and can be dried for flower arranging.

Eryngium 'Silver Ghost'

Eryngium ‘Silver Ghost’

Many other Eryngiums are perennial and it’s worth growing a mix of varieties for different flower forms, heights, and shades of blue and silver – if you have the right conditions in your garden.

Picture credits: Janet Bligh & Firgrove Photographic

Jobs for the garden in August

There’s not too much to do in the garden maintenance-wise at this time of year, but it’s important to keep up with deadheading, watering and feeding to ensure as much flowering as possible for the rest of the summer.  Here’s a short list of other jobs to keep you occupied this month:

Give hedges (both deciduous and evergreen) a final trim for the year over the next few weeks.  Conifer hedges can suffer from dieback if they are cut back too late.

Clipping hedges

Trim back long growth on Pyracantha shrubs & hedges (without taking off the new winter berries which will be forming now).

When they have finished flowering, clip the flowers off Lavender and Santolina.  Lightly trim the plants to keep them compact & tidy, but don’t cut back into old wood (the stem below the foliage growth).  You can also tidy up Rosemary bushes now.

If you would like to save Lavender for drying, cut it now while it’s still flowering.  Tie stems in small bundles and hang them upside down in a dark well-ventilated room to dry.


Feed Camellias and Rhododendrons with a high potash fertiliser to encourage more flower buds next year.

Thin & shorten rambling roses, and cut a third of stems at the base to encourage fresh new growth.

Continue deadheading flowering perennials as long as possible (plants which really benefit from deadheading include Knautia, Anthemis, Helenium, Scabiosa, and Salvia).  Cut off flowered heads with secateurs, snipping the stems as low as possible to avoid leaving unsightly stubs.

Cut back hardy geraniums and other perennials which have finished flowering and are looking tatty.  Leave plants which have attractive seedheads and stems for winter interest.

Plant autumn flowering bulbs such as Nerine and Colchicum.


wildflower meadow
If you have a summer meadow which is over, now is the time to cut it – when flowering is over and seed heads are ripe

Sow lawn seed from late August.

Clear out decomposing leaves and thin out oxygenating plants.  Keep an eye on water levels and top up as necessary.

Keep feeding your containers with high potassium for prolonged flowering.

Collect and store the seeds of hardy annuals and perennials you may want to sow next spring.

NB this information applies to gardens in the UK and of course, you need to take account of your own local weather conditions when carrying out any work in the garden.

Picture credits:  Janet Bligh & Firgrove Photographic

Jobs for the productive garden in August

Get the most from your kitchen garden and cutting garden this month by keeping on top of your seasonal jobs

Keep up with cutting, feeding and/or deadheading on a regular basis.  Dahlias don’t open in the vase so only cut them when the flowers are open.

Angelica archangelica

Collect seeds as they start to ripen, and either sow them now or store them carefully to sow next year

Harvest plums & damsons as soon as they ripen to get to them before the wasps and birds do!

Lift and pot up, or re-plant any rooted strawberry runners which you want to keep as new plants for next year’s fruit.

Fruit trees – prune over vigorous growth on wall trained plums, cherries, apples and pears.  Cut our badly placed and weak shoots in order to encourage growth and reduce the risk of disease.


Remove old fruiting canes on loganberries and early fruiting raspberries, and tie in new growth.

Sow Oriental vegetables, spring cabbage, and salad onions. And keep sowing cut-and-come-again salad.

Sow green manures in empty beds in the kitchen garden. The crop can be dug into the soil in spring and will feed your soil. This is a great way to add nutrients and improve soil with the minimum of effort.  There’s a really useful video on the RHS website about how to do this.  Recommended viewing!

Contine  to pick courgettes, cucumbers and beans as this encourages further cropping.

Lift onions, shallots and garlic when the leaves turns yellow and papery.  If the leaves haven’t already bent over, do it yourself and leave the bulbs in the ground a little longer.


Harvest second earlies and main crop of potatoes when they start flowering.

Watch out for signs of Tomato & Potato Blight, which are common at this time of year.  If you’re not sure what the symptoms are, take a look at the RHS website which is full of very useful information on this and other pests and diseases.

Picture credits:  Janet Bligh & Firgrove Photographic