Gardening: How to add some fiery colour to your borders

The Hot Garden with a mix of Dahlia, Helenium, Kniphofia, Asters and Lobelias at RHS Garden Rosemoor, Devon.
The Hot Garden with a mix of Dahlia, Helenium, Kniphofia, Asters and Lobelias at RHS Garden Rosemoor, Devon.
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In most British summers, gardeners bemoan the weather and wish hopefully for that golden ‘Indian Summer’.

Well, this year it’s been different with blazing summer days and now the weather matches the red hot colours of the flowers in late summer borders. But next year who knows, so now is the time to get the inspiration for a hot border that will cheer you up even on the dullest of days.

The temptation would be to squash oranges, yellows and reds into your design from end to end, but apart from being overwhelming it can all look flat and dull if all the colours are similar.

What you need is contrast to bring it to life, look closely at a real living fire and you will see not only hot yellows, reds and oranges, but you will also see dark colours and bright whites with flickering greens, blues and violets, with sparks and wisps of smoke across the whole scene. Copying the spirit of the fire is the key to planting success.

Apart from the natural contenders of flower colours on the warm side of the colour wheel, like Heleniums, Rudbeckias, Hemerocallis and yellow Achilleas, all of which give that warm glow, my number one choice would be Crocosmia with names like ‘Lucifer’ ‘Emberglow’ and ‘Spitfire’, they are guaranteed a place in the border.

It’s not just the colour of the flowers that create the drama, but the thin sword-shaped leaves which will glow when backlit by low, warm, late summer sunlight, particularly Crocosmia ‘Solfaterre’, with bronzed leaves topped by sulphur yellow flowers.

There are plenty of dark leaved plants to bounce the hot colours off your flowers against, dark leaved Sambucus, Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diabolo’ or purple leaved Hazel are all possibilities, but a more interesting choice might be the smoke bush or Cotinus coggygria, the obvious being ‘Flame’ with leaves turning fiery red in autumn or ‘Grace’ with more interesting colours of greens, purples and plums in its leaves.

Where you have the dark then you also need the light and the best way to give movement and sparkle to your hot border is with grasses that turn blonde or have tawny coloured seed heads. Stipa gigantea fits the bill with tall almond coloured stems holding shimmering oat like seed heads or Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Overdam’ with variegated leaf blades that appear silver from a distance.

If it’s dark colours that provide the backdrop then it’s the blues that will really make a hot border sing. The colour blue gives depth to a border and as it is opposite on the colour wheel, all hot colours are contrasted to the maximum, making them seem more intense when placed nearby or in front. One of my favourite blue plants is Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’, with silvery foliage it seems to almost glow a fluorescent blue. Agastache ‘Liquorice Blue’ will give you vertical structure, as well as scent if you brush past.

Now that you have built up the beginnings of your bonfire border, it’s good to include trees and shrubs with brilliant autumn leaf colour and berries that can take the heat into autumn. Whatever you decide, I would have to include red hot pokers, just for the fun of it, and Kniphofia ‘Tawny King’ is looking hot right now.

RHAPSODY IN BLUE: Agapanthus is known as the lily of the Nile.

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