Early summer is a wonderful time in the garden. The weather is warm and the soil still moist with spring rainfall - the perfect growing conditions for many of our favourite hardy plants.
This is a time when garden is alive with activity, and early summer flowering plants take centre stage.
There are plenty of early summer flowering perennials and shrubs to choose from, but if you need some inspiration then read on to discover some of the best hardy plants for early summer colour in your gardens borders.
Foxgloves are a stalwart of the cottage garden, their vertical flower stems rising up in June to meet the early-summer sunshine. This well loved group of perennials and biennials are instantly recognisable for their spires of open-mouthed, tubular flowers with delicately spotted throats. Newer cultivars, such as the sterile Foxglove 'Illumination Pink' series extend the flowering period well beyond the 3 weeks that traditional varieties offered. After flowering, simply cut back the faded flower stems of Foxgloves to prevent self seeding (although I'm rather fond of the new seedlings which pop up in the most unexpected places!) Thriving in sun or dappled shade, they make a useful addition to woodland edges and perennial borders, even coping well in dry shade.
The large flowered Clematis cultivars are always sought after for their colourful, wide-open blooms. These beauties come in a wonderful range of colours and forms, and always make a showy display. Flowering from June onwards, they are versatile climbers, happily covering trellis, scaling pillars and obelisks, or scrambling through mature shrubs. A good number of modern cultivars have been bred for a more compact growth habit making them ideal for growing in large containers on the patio. Try Clematis 'Nelly Moser' for a shady, North facing spot, or bring a splash of colour to sunny positions with Clematis 'The President'. If you fancy a more exotic look then go for a double-flowered Clematis florida 'Taiga'. With so many to choose from, the hardest part is picking your favourite!
Hydrangeas are a classy genus! Hydrangea macrophylla cultivars are some of the best known with their large mopheads and lace-caps that change colour on soils with different acidity. Always showy yet elegant - I have honestly never seen a vulgar looking Hydrangea (except maybe Hydrangea macrophylla 'Glam Rock', and even that has its merits!) Many have lovely autumn colour too, giving a long season of interest from early July right through to autumn. Easy to grow, and superbly hardy, Hydrangea macrophylla makes a versatile addition to early summer borders, in sun or dappled shade.
No herbaceous border is complete without at least a few hardy Geraniums. This diverse group of plants ranges from the demure, well behaved Geranium cantabrigiense 'Biokovo' to the taller, highly vigorous Geranium oxonianum cultivars. There really is a hardy Geranium to suit every spot in the garden. These easy-to-grow perennials are tough and dependable, always giving 100%. Chop them back as the flowers fade and you will be rewarded with a fresh clump of foliage and often a second flush of flowers. It's no wonder that these are one of the most popular hardy perennials in the UK.
The fragrant blooms of Lilac are already in full swing by early summer - their large flower heads filling the garden with an unmistakable perfume. Syringa vulgaris cultivars make attractive specimens even when not in flower. Heart-shaped foliage cloaks the branching stems of this upright shrub or small tree. Try double variety Lilac 'Michael Buchner' or the well loved 'Katherine Havemeyer' for a classic cottage garden specimen shrub. If space is at a premium, Lilac 'Palibin' is perfectly proportioned for growing in containers on the patio.
Penstemons are relentless! Flowering from June, they will continue throughout the summer bringing months of colour to your borders. The Pensham cultivars are particularly tough, withstanding cool temperatures and changeable weather that so often dominates the British summer. Upright flower spikes of tubular blooms rise from attractive clumps of evergreen foliage. These hard working plants remain neat and tidy throughout the summer, making excellent choices for filling gaps in summer borders.
Commonly known as Mock Orange, Philadelphus is well loved for its early summer display of perfumed flowers. Double flowered Philadelphus 'Virginal' is one of the best with pure white blooms that are loved by bees and butterflies. If you enjoy colourful foliage then the golden variety 'Yellow Hill' is worth considering. Varigated forms such as Philadelphus coronarius 'Variegatus' are also available. Although the impact of the flowers is somewhat diminished against variegated foliage, these variegated forms make fantastic specimens for breaking up the green canvas of a mixed border.
Instantly recognisable - the Lupin is another traditional cottage garden perennial. Tall towers of pea-like flowers rise above clumps of finely dissected foliage. Lupins come in such a wonderful rainbow of colours; their tall stems adding height and structure to early summer borders. George Russell gives his names to the 'Russell Hybrids' from which most of our modern cultivars have been bred. Having devoted 23 years of his life to perfecting these beauties, he would be pleased to know that they are still as popular as ever!
There is something particularly charming about the simplicity of the Leucanthemum. These large flowered Shasta Daisies are upright perennials that form spreading clumps over time. Always white, ivory or yellow, there are plenty of different flower forms, from simple, single blooms to frilly doubles such as Leucanthemum x superbum 'Goldfinch'. The first flowers appear in June, and continue on throughout the summer, attracting pollinating insects and making lovely cut flowers. These robust hardy perennials are easy to grow, blending effortlessly into the careful design of mixed borders or the carefree informality of a wildlife garden.
In early summer a froth of honey-scented, chartreuse flowers appears above low clumps of soft green foliage. The fan-shaped leaves of Alchemilla mollis have a habit of collecting drops morning dew and raindrops that twinkle like jewels among the foliage. This low growing perennial makes wonderful ground cover on reliably moist soil. Try using the more upright cultivar Alchemilla moillis 'Thiller' for planting in dense swathes to edge borders and soften pathways. The early summer flowers are a valuable source of nectar for pollinating insects and make charming filler for early summer bouquets.
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