Last summer blast
Before summer’s bright colours disappear, Troy Scott Smith celebrates September with three container displays that combine a sultry salvia with bright cosmos, and sunny nerines with soft grasses
Three ideas to give container displays a final burst of summer colour, from Sissinghurst’s head gardener Troy Scott Smith
This terracotta pot is one of several at Sissinghurst bought many years ago from a small pottery near Sienna. It sits in an intimate, enclosed area behind an over-sized, aged, oak door that leads from the potting shed yard into the rose garden, so it’s one I pass several times a day. As this area is not generally open to visitors, I can relax and have fun with the display here, trying out plants and combinations with some interesting results.
How to achieve the look
My starting point was to create a display of sufficient volume and size to stand up for itself against the relative enormity of the wooden door and brick wall. At the same time, I wanted a display that was both generous with layers of depth and interest, and relaxed in its composition and plant choice. I deliberately didn’t want to introduce complexity or sophistication; instead, I felt that a subtlety of contrast between the solidity of the wall and the diaphanous nature of the plants would be more compelling and satisfying.
When considering the composition of a particular display, I tend to think of layers of planting. In this arrangement, I engineered four layers that are both distinct yet also merge with their neighbour. From top to bottom, these are Salvia ‘Amistad’, Cosmos bippinatus ‘Antiquity’, Salvia ‘Nachtvlinder’ and finally Pelargonium sidoides. It is possible with this type of ‘layer’ planting to edit out one plant type completely – if, for example, it has gone over prematurely – and replace it with another plant type without disturbing the overall arrangement too much.
What I also like about the finished display is the dazzling effect it gives, like lights being switched on and off inside a house. You have the sparkle of the cosmos in shades of saturated crimson contrasting with the melancholic purple-plum colours of the Salvia ‘Nachtvlinder’ and pelargonium, and then the light-catching explosion of Salvia ‘Amistad’. This display is long lasting with minimal effort; just ensure you regularly deadhead the cosmos.
1 Salvia ‘Amistad’ An easy-to-grow Salvia that flowers from May to October from a spring sowing. 1.2m. AGM*. RHS H3†.
2 Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Antiquity’ Flowers open a rich crimson and fade to antique bronze-salmon with age. 45cm. RHS H3.
3 Salvia ‘Nachtvlinder’ A shrubby perennial from the Dutch nursery De Hessenhof. Maroon flowers, at their best in June, continue into October with minimal deadheading. 75cm. AGM. RHS H5.
4 Pelargonium sidoides Abundant crimson-black flowers contrast with silver foliage. 25cm. AGM. RHS H1C.