Signs of Spring.

Yellow crocus 'Zwanenberg Bronze'
Yellow crocus ‘Zwanenberg Bronze’

The first crocuses are in flower and it feels as if spring is on its way. The sun grows brighter and stronger, the air is quite a few degrees warmer, and the daylight is lasting for longer. Winter, at last, is receding and it feels good to get outside and enjoy the re-emergence of life in the garden.

Winter can be a time when life runs at a bit of a low ebb. Most days are too cold and grey to wish to spend a lot of time outdoors and you really just want to keep warm and dry. (But, if there is a warmish winter day, with perhaps a little bit of sun, then I do try to get some gardening done. It raises my spirits and allows me to escape the incarceration of being stuck indoors.)

Spring is an invitation to go out into the garden and look for the start of new growth. Right now the snowdrops are still in flower, crocuses are showing as little flashes of colour here and there, and the daffodils are promising flowers soon, as their leaves lengthen and their buds fatten.

The long wait of winter is almost over. It’s time to start work in the garden again.

There’s lots to do – new borders to dig, weeds to get rid of, and old dead growth to be cleared away to allow room for the new shoots. The work is invigorating and brings a connection to the earth and the life that is quietly pulsing within it.  That connection creates an awareness of the natural world. It gives a feeling of being part of that world, and of well-being and pleasure at being able to contribute to it.

If you’re coming to the end of winter wherever you live, I hope that you’re starting to see the signs of spring. Do enjoy them!

The Romantic Rose

Pink and cream rose
A rose for romance.

Because it will be St. Valentine’s Day on Thursday, it feels appropriate to post photographs of roses this week.

The rose has a long connection with love and romance, right from ancient Greek times when it was associated with Aphrodite, the goddess of love. And these days, the red rose is seriously in demand on February 14th.

But, for me, all roses have a romantic feel about them, especially if they have a scent. (What is more wonderful on a still summer morning, than a garden of scented roses? Just imagine the rich colours, the velvety petals that beg you to stroke them, and that trace of perfume in the air…)

In Britain, it seems to be rather in the blood to love roses. It’s the nation’s favourite flower (according to a survey in 2017) and it’s also the national flower of England. (But England only – the national flower of Scotland is the thistle and Wales has the daffodil.)

The first roses I fell in love with must have been the dog roses I saw as a young child. They grew on some of the roadside verges near my home and it seemed like a kind of miracle to see something so perfect just growing in the wild. Much later on, I can remember my joy when I moved into my first home with my husband, and discovered that there were well-established roses in the garden. When we moved here, the garden had just a single rose bush but, oh my, the scent is lovely! (I think it must be Zephirine Drouhin – bright cerise-pink and very few thorns.) I liked it so much that I planted another near the back door, so that we can smell it’s perfume when we step outside.

By now, as you would expect, I’ve planted several other roses in the garden, including the rose below. It is ‘Rhapsody in Blue’, an absolutely lovely rose. The scent is sweet and the colour works beautifully with so many other garden plants in the pinky-purply range. (I also have another one planted beside a pale yellow hybrid tea rose called ‘Grandpa Dickson’ and they look very good together.)

By the way, if you happen to get a bunch of dark purple roses, the colour is supposed to mean ‘lasting love’ – a pretty good alternative if the red roses are all gone! (I would certainly be happy with them!)

I hope that you and your loved one have a very happy Valentine’s Day.

Rose 'Rhapsody in Blue'
Rose ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ – my favourite.

Glorious Green: Ferns

A tightly-curled young fern frond.
A tightly-curled young fern frond.

By this stage of winter, the idea of lush green growth is tremendously appealing. It’s easy to dream of densely-planted borders bursting with re-emerging life – new shoots, unfurling leaves, and buds that swell with the promise of flowers soon to come.

Amongst all this imagined greenery, ferns would be an excellent addition. Their finely-cut fronds would contrast well with larger, more solid leaves and would bring their delicate textures and a subtle feel of pattern to the border.

Hairy reverse of young fern-frond.
The young fronds are very hairy on the back. They look almost furry!

For photography, ferns make an excellent subject. There’s lots of pleasing detail, especially in the new foliage. The tightly-wound curls of the young fronds are especially photogenic and the outside surface of the curl (the back of the frond) can be surprisingly hairy and looks soft to touch.

(Saying that has made me realise that I didn’t actually touch them. I could have put out a finger to stroke the back of a curl, but I didn’t. Perhaps I should have. Taking photographs can absorb you so that you forget to interact with plants – or a garden – in ways that you would do, if you were walking around without a camera. So maybe I need to leave my camera in its bag for a while and explore the garden, before I start to take photographs.)

Fern leaves.
Fern leaves can add some texture and pattern to garden borders.

In my real garden (as opposed to the imaginary borders where anything will grow), it is too hot and dry for most ferns. The Male Fern (Dryopteris filix-mas) is reckoned to be able to cope with drier conditions than most, but that is if it’s in the shade. Most of our garden gets a lot of sunshine, but there is one area that is shaded by the house in the afternoon. Now I am wondering if that bit of ground might be suitable for making a bog garden and I’m imagining the other moisture-loving plants that would also be happy there. (Though there are ferns that don’t need such damp soil.)

If I do go ahead with this idea, the beautiful green growth of ferns would be a very satisfying reward. (Meanwhile, my imaginary garden is flourishing!)

Fern fronds with curled tips.
The curly tips of the fronds of this fern look unusual.

A Waiting Time…

Frosted violets
Violets flower through everything the winter has to throw at them.

This is the time of year when everything seems to be waiting for spring. Here and there the tips of leaves are starting to show where bulbs will flower. And the flowers that have made it through the chilly months so far are starting to go over.

We don’t have many winter-flowering plants here (yet). The few that there are, give a bit of cheer and encouragement when we step outside and keep us company as we get some work done in the garden. They also give me something to photograph, although I feel that I really need to grow more winter-flowering plants to keep myself inspired. (I have recently planted a couple of Clematis cirrhosa varieties. They’re just tiny plants as yet but one does have a couple of buds…)

Mahonia (left) and winter jasmine (right).
Winter sunshine – a splash of yellow from a mahonia (left) and winter jasmine (right).

The flowers of Mahonia japonica, despite being past their best, still give a yellow glow from right at the back of the garden. It’s a beast of a shrub to weed around or (if feeling brave) to prune because its leaves are extremely prickly but it makes up for this with its reliable winter colour and the bold shape of its leaves. The yellow jasmine, though, has finished flowering ’til next year. It’s tiny yellow flowers disappeared suddenly during the last week, leaving what feels like a very empty space on the fence that supports it.

That bit of the garden feels even emptier now because the Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’ that grows nearby has also finished flowering. (It’s in the photograph below, but this isn’t a recent picture – we haven’t had any snow here yet.)

Snow-covered Viburnum bodnantense flower.
Viburnum flowers can cheerfully ignore the snow.

Some flowers have managed to hang on past the time they would normally be gone. The flowers of the hydrangea in the photo below managed that quite literally, but, since the frosts in the last couple of weeks, have now all turned brown. That little dash of pink was welcome while it lasted.

Hydrangea flowers in winter.
The last few pink hydrangea flowers hung on, until the frost turned them brown.

Another hanger-on was scabious. Tiny little red or pink flowers continue, just one or two per plant, wherever they have seeded themselves around the garden. They make a delightful discovery as you wander round the garden on a winter day. And they show that, despite all the dead stems and foliage around the rest of the garden, plants are still growing and thriving, no matter what the weather may feel like. Life in the garden flows on as we wait for spring.

Frosted pink Scabious
This little scabious flower is almost entirely iced-up.

Winter Jewels

Frosted Agapanthus seed-head
Frost has made a miniature sculpture from an agapanthus seed-head.

There have been a few frosty mornings recently. This morning’s was one of the heaviest frosts so far, the other was on Christmas Day. Both were still and silent, as if the cold was somehow transfixing not just the frosted plants, but sound and movement too.

These are the mornings that feel special in the winter garden. Camera in hand, it’s time to explore this frozen world of new creations. Old seed-heads and dead foliage are transformed into glittering sculptures that will last only until the sun erases them. It’s an ephemeral world – cold and quiet and unfamiliar.

Frosted allium seed-heads
Frost has created tiny firework bursts from these alliums

I always hope that some of the more interesting seed-heads will last long enough to become frosted. This year the weather has been kinder than most winters and there has been little in the way of strong winds or heavy rain. So the seed heads of agapanthus and alliums have kept their frail structures intact and are even holding onto quite a few of their seeds still.

It’s exciting to find out what the frost has been up to in the garden. There are all sorts of little gems waiting to inspire a close-up photograph. The cold makes it hard to linger for long, but it’s worthwhile. For the work of the frost has made it possible to photograph something delicate and transient and, once winter has gone, it will be a long time before the opportunity returns.

Hydrangea petiolaris with frost.
Hydrangea petiolaris with a light touch of frost.

It doesn’t take a lot of frost to create something to photograph. The plants in the centre of the garden, where it is more open, get a lot of frost but those towards the edges are sheltered by fences and evergreen shrubs. The climbing hydrangea in the photo above has a fairly protected position. But its dead flower-head has had enough frost to line the edges and pick out the veins of the larger petals. The tiny flowers in the centre of the head have been turned to lace – an effect that will vanish as soon as the frost melts.

Wild carrot (Daucus carota) covered with frost
Wild carrot (Daucus) was sown late to catch the frost

Sometimes there are still a few flowers left in the garden for the frost to embellish. I had sown some wild carrot seeds much later than normal, in the hope that the plants might still be around when the frosts came. So the frost turned the flowers that were left on the plants into little ice-encrusted embroideries, just waiting to be photographed up close.

Other flowers aren’t really supposed to be around when the heavy frosts arrive. The Anemone coronaria below was too eager to flower. (Last year’s flowers were much later – probably sometime in February.) The mild weather in December persuaded them to put in an early appearance but the flowers couldn’t last long once things turned more wintry. Never mind! The flower may have ‘gone over’ quickly but for just a short time, the frost has turned it into something wonderful, and allowed it to add a little magic to the garden.

Anemone coronaria, covered in frost
This Anemone coronaria flowered very early and got thoroughly frosted.

Colour for a Grey Winter’s Day

Moth Orchids (Phalaenopsis)
Pink veining adds interest to the petals of these moth orchids.

I’ve been saving this group of orchid photographs for this month. There’s not a lot to photograph in the garden at the moment. (But I have taken photos of the few flowers that are out there – that will be another post.)

At this time of year, it lifts the spirits to have some flowers indoors. And it’s nice to have something to aim a camera at without getting damp and chilled.

Macro photo of a spotted orchid
The dark pink spots give a delicate effect to the petals of this orchid.

These are all ‘moth’ orchids (Phalaenopsis), which are now very cheap to buy in many supermarkets. They’re very good value too, because the flowers can last for many weeks or months. (Much cheaper than buying cut flowers.) I’ve found that I can usually get the plants to flower a second time, but after that they tend not to do very well. That’s really down to my lack of knowledge about orchids. I should read up on them and look after them a bit better…

Actually, I stopped writing and had a look around on Google for some info. There’s some very detailed advice on the RHS website and having read it, I can see that I need to find a better windowsill for my plants and be more careful about the temperature. Ah, OK, so I will pay a bit more attention in future!

Macro photo of a yellow moth orchid
Yellow moth orchid – more spots!

As you may imagine, I tend to be attracted to the various markings on moth orchid flowers. The top photo has strikingly pink veins that look almost like stripes and most of the others have spots of varying size. These details work well in a macro photograph and provide something more for the eye to appreciate. The forward-facing lip of the flower gives a natural place to focus, especially with the spots, stripes and blushes of colour that can be found there.

The varied colours and markings on moth orchids can make the flowers look very different from one another. This gives each plant a unique personality. The yellow orchid above, for instance, looks neat and dainty while the more greenish orchid below, with its wild spots and streaks of bright pink, looks decidedly bohemian.

Macro photo of a pale green orchid with pink spots.
The colouring of this orchid is quite an attention-grabber!

An orchid is a pleasing subject for a spot of indoor photography on a chilly winter day. All you need is a nice bright window and a large sheet of white card to reflect some of the window-light back into the shadows.

The delicate translucence of the orchid’s petals will allow the light to pass through, showing up the details of coloured veins or spotty markings and highlighting the structure of the flower. You may also find that you can see the glisten of the crystalline structure of the petal surfaces, as in the photo of the yellow orchid. The colours of the flowers are enriched by the soft window-light too, making them reminiscent of exotic silks.

I’ve spent many happy hours with just an orchid, a camera and a macro lens. The orchid is a flower that really makes it worthwhile to get up as close to it as possible – and that’s something I intend to do very frequently!

Macro photo of a dark-magenta moth orchid
This must be one of the most easily-available orchid colours.

Hydrangeas: Delicate and Colourful.

A pink 'lacecap' hydrangea.
A ‘lacecap’ hydrangea growing in my garden.

Hydrangeas make me wish that I could just wave a magic wand and change my garden soil…moister and more acidic would do fine.

Then I would be able to grow blue hydrangeas, or, failing that, a nice purply-blue shade like the hydrangea in our old garden in Scotland. It was Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Mariesii’ (a lacecap) and had flowers that ranged from a good blue to a more lilac/pink shade. Many of the flowers graduated from blue at the centre of the petal to pretty much pink at the outside. It was really delightful and lovely to photograph.

The hydrangea in the top photograph is growing here in our Suffolk garden. It’s very pretty but there’s no chance of any blue in its flowers. Unlike our Scottish garden, which had a fairly acidic soil, the soil here is alkaline. So our hydrangeas will never be blue. (Oh we could try…with acid-based compost, rainwater, and added aluminium sulphate or organic materials such as coffee grounds and eggshells, but that’s doing things the hard way. Much better to go with the conditions you have.)

Purple and blue hydrangeas.
I wish I could grow hydrangeas with these colours here!

So I can only dream about having hydrangeas with flowers in wonderful shades of purple and blue like in the photo above. Or even a stunning blue like the hydrangea below. (Well, winter is a good time for indulging in fantasy gardening, sitting by a warm fire with your favourite books and seed catalogues.)

Visiting other people’s gardens does at least give me a chance to photograph hydrangeas of different types and colours. Finding a plant that you really love is one of the great joys of garden-visiting. And usually means that there’s a growing wishlist of plants to hunt for in the nurseries and garden centres.

Blue Hydrangea
What a fantastic blue!

I find that the flowers of the lacecap hydrangeas are much easier to photograph than the mophead types. The mopheads can be an unruly mass of flowers that don’t cooperate when it comes to creating structure within the photograph. The arrangement of the lacecaps, with their tiny ‘true’ flowers at the centre of a ring of bigger sterile flowers, means that it is easy to find an attractive angle for a photograph.

As well as the pink lacecap, we have the climbing Hydrangea petiolaris here. It’s growing along a shady fence and I’m a bit worried that it might actually be holding the fence up now! Replacing the fence panels in the future, without damaging the plant, might be really difficult, so I should try propagating some cuttings as insurance. The flowers of this climber are very like the lacecap flowers – again they make a good photograph. (I have just photographed a frost-covered flower that had lingered on the plant. That’s for another ‘frosty flowers’ blog post very soon.)

Pastel-coloured 'mophead' hydrangea.
This ‘mophead’ hydrangea has very delicate colours.

Looking at the colours of the flowers here has me dreaming of summer gardens and making plans for my own. Our soil here is rather too dry for hydrangeas to be happy. The plants we already have needed to be watered frequently while they were young and the pink lacecap can still wilt a bit on a really hot day. It may be possible to create a more suitable space for hydrangeas in one of the areas that we’re re-developing in the garden. Somewhere with a bit of shade, maybe. But there will need to be lots and lots of good compost added to the ground to help it retain moisture…that will not be a quick job!

While I work to improve the soil in the garden here, I may just have to wait before planting any more hydrangeas. Meanwhile I hope I’ll be able to enjoy more of them in the gardens I visit. It’s exciting to see plants that I’ve not seen before, such as the oakleaf hydrangea below. (These seem to be less common than the mopheads and lacecaps here in the UK.) And I hope I’ll be able to take some more photographs too. (That’s my kind of plant-hunting!)

White oakleaf hydrangea
The large, rough leaves are a great foil for the white flowers of this ‘oakleaf’ hydrangea.

 

 

 

 

Happy New Year! No Resolutions Here…

Garden Sundial
If only we could slow down time a little….

So it’s the time of year for looking both backwards and forwards…assessing, planning and – very probably – wondering where the hell the time went!

Do you make New Year’s resolutions? Or do you have a more relaxed way of working out what you want to do with the brand-new year? Is it really necessary to have one day of the year when you try to make commitments that are often unrealistically demanding? Or is it better to have an ongoing awareness of what you want to accomplish and how you may be able to do it?

You will have realized that I’m not too bothered about making resolutions at this time of year. But, as a keen gardener, it’s a useful opportunity to think about the work I want to do and the plants I want to grow. It’s a good time to plan seed-sowing and (especially if it’s too cold to work outside), to take a while to imagine how I’d like the garden to look throughout the year.

Garden-planning, for me, also means planning what I want to grow to photograph, and trying to come up with ideas for making areas of the garden more photogenic. (I think that may be a long process!)

Making a list of gardens to visit is one of the nicer ways of spending an hour or two on a grey January day. It promises both inspiration for my own garden and new subjects to photograph. Maybe I should make a resolution after all – to visit more gardens this summer. (It shouldn’t be too hard to keep that one!)

Garden Statues
Ever get the feeling that you’re being watched? These two seem to be just as interested in the visitors, as the visitors are in the garden!

Perhaps the most successful approach to the New Year is simply to decide what is most important and where our focus needs to be during the year. No make-it or break-it big declaration, but something calmer and more persevering. Encourage something to grow quietly month-by-month, and by the end of that year there may be something very pleasing to show for it.

No big display of resolutions, then. But this year I would like to concentrate on using my time for the things I really want to do. (Now my time is much more my own than it was, and I realize just how precious it is.)

That means spending time working on photography and gardening. It means continuing to learn printmaking and drawing skills. And just to enjoy time spent in our garden, visiting other people’s gardens and exploring the countryside. (Luckily Hubby enjoys these things too!) The ideal would be for me to be able to bring all of these things together as much as possible – something for me to work on steadily through 2019.

Of course, I hope to make this blog grow and flourish during the coming year. No resolution needed there! Thank you for reading and for your comments – it’s wonderful to be able to ‘chat’ and to feel a sense of community. (I’d like to be able to put a really big smiley face here!) I hope that you all have a very happy New Year.

Fern sculpture
Art and gardening come together: this fern-inspired sculpture seems to grow out of the water.

 

Are You Dreaming of a White Christmas?

Frosted fennel seed-head
Heavy frost makes this fennel seed-head look like a Christmas decoration!

Snow can bring a bit of magic to the garden at this time of year. It covers up the dead  leaves of perennials, hides weeds and makes tiny sculptures from the seed-heads that you’ve left for the birds. And if there’s frost too, then those seed-heads become like icy Christmas decorations.

It’s rare for us to get snow at Christmas here in the east of England. In fact, in the last few days, hubby and I have been using a mild spell of weather to get work done in the garden. (It’s very pleasant if you manage to follow where the sun is as you work.)

Snow is more likely in January, when the temperature always seems to drop and you really start to notice the cold. If it snows, then there’s not much chance to get any work done in the garden. It’s a good time to grab a camera and go for a walk, looking for things to photograph.

Snow-covered Echinacea seed-heads.
Guess what’s hiding under the snow! (Echinacea seed-heads.)

There are water meadows very close to our house, so this is where we usually walk. They become a great plain of white, etched with the dark shapes of trees and the even darker waters of the river. After one especially deep fall of snow, the temperature had risen enough to let the top surface of the snow melt slightly but it then re-froze as it got colder again. This made for a very satisfying walk, crunching through that top icy layer into the soft snow beneath.

Back in the garden, the plants may all turn to soft mounds of white. It can be hard to remember which is which. Everything becomes unfamiliar, clean and, for once, immaculately tidy. These are the days when I don’t look at the garden and immediately begin to think of all the jobs that are waiting to be done there. Instead I wander around with my camera, looking to see what strange forms the snow has created from the plants.

The opportunity to take photographs in the snow is quite rare here and doesn’t usually last very long. (These pictures were taken some time ago.) So if it snows this winter, I’ll have to take my chance quickly and get out into the garden to see what transformations the snow has made.

Snow-covered Eryngium seed-heads
Eryngium seed-heads – prickly little starbursts in the snow.

Snow is part of our romantic image of Christmas – all white and crisp and ideal for sledging, snowballs and making snowmen. We very conveniently forget chaos on the roads, cancelled flights at snowbound airports and horribly slippery paths. Snow is an essential part of Christmas cards, holiday TV and happy childhood memories.

I won’t do a Bing Crosby and wish that all your Christmases may be white – it may be inconvenient for your travel plans or, if you’re reading this on the other side of the world, more than a bit unlikely! But I will say ‘May your days be merry and bright!’ I hope that you have a very happy Christmas.

Anemone seed-head capped with snow.
The fluffy seed-head of an anemone wears a little cap of snow.

Not True Blue

Clematis Crystal Fountain
Clematis bud opening.

Blue flowers are beautiful but those that are truly blue aren’t common. Those that come to mind first are delphinium, cornflower, salvia, morning glory and plumbago. Many of the flowers that we think of as blue have a hint or more of purple, mauve or lavender in their colouring.

I’ve been sitting comfortably inside while it’s been cold and sleety outside, looking through photos taken in the garden here. Working my way through them has made me aware of how often I choose to grow flowers in the purple-blue and mauve colour range.

Purple-blue clematis flower
Blue and purple blend in the petals of this clematis.

The second photo of a clematis shows a very similar colouring to the first photo. (But you’ll see that the bud in that first photo develops very differently as it matures….) Violet-purples and lavender-blues seem to be very common colours for clematis. That can make it hard to choose between them.

The way the colours in the petals bleed into one another is very delicate. It’s almost like the way watercolours blend into each other and is something that I’m keen to try and capture in a photograph.

Blue and a lilac-y pink penstemon
Blue and a lilac-y pink blend in the flowers of this penstemon.

The purply-blues, lavenders, mauves etc seem to all mix quite easily with other colours but not always with ‘true-blues’. However, the penstemon above seems to have managed this perfectly. Maybe nature can teach gardeners a thing or two about colour combinations. But, I prefer the colours in the flowers below, where the blue is a bit softer and seems to blend more gently with the lavender – perhaps there is a touch of red in the blue.

Left: Brodiaea Right: Iris
Left: Brodiaea           Right: Iris

Going much more to the mauve/pink end of the colour range, there are many flowers that look beautiful and mix with the darker purple-blues very happily.

The hydrangea in the photo below grew in my previous garden in Scotland. The flowers on this shrub shaded from blue through to a mauve-pink. Evidently our soil there was not acid enough to turn the flowers completely blue, but the soft blending of the colours on the petals was lovely. (Here in Suffolk, blue hydrangeas turn pink – no chance of keeping one blue!)

The mauve-purple of the Allium ‘Cristophii’ has a lighter feel to it than the blue-purples but looks good with them. It’s an easy colour to use and the flowers are very attractive, so it’s good to see them self-seed around the garden.

Left: Hydrangea Right: Allium
Left: Hydrangea             Right: Allium

So, while I may not have many real blues in the garden here, I’m very happy that there are so many photogenic flowers in the different purple shades.

At the start, I said you’d see how that clematis bud’s colours developed…. here it is…. Yes, it is the same flower!

Clematis 'Crystal Fountain' flower
Clematis flower showing more colour as the flower matures.