In the Pink

A couple of weeks ago, the garden seemed to be full of blue and purple-blue flowers. Now it’s the turn of pink to come to the fore. The pink flowers growing here range from the softest and palest of shades (like last week’s water lily) to the most vivid of fuchsia-pinks. The shades here are somewhere in the middle.

Clematis ‘Hagley Hybrid’ (above) is one of the softer pinks, especially on a day when the sunlight is not very strong. (I’ve seen it look much brighter than this on a day with very bright sunlight. The age of the flower will make a difference too. The newly-opened flowers are a little brighter.)

Sidalcea 'Party Girl' (prairie mallow)
Sidalcea ‘Party Girl’ (prairie mallow)

Another soft pink is the little prairie mallow above. It is Sidalcea ‘Party Girl’. The flowers are small and delicate – each one measures just 5cm across. They’re like miniature hollyhocks, which makes me wonder what it would be like to have normal large hollyhocks nearby. The difference in scale could be a bit mind-boggling!

The pink of the deutzia below is a deeper and brighter shade than the others. I haven’t yet planted this shrub out, but had been wandering around the garden with it, looking to find it a home. (Like many gardeners, I too often buy a plant and then have to work out where I have room for it!)

Deutzia x hybrida Strawberry Fields
Deutzia x hybrida Strawberry Fields

Wherever I eventually manage to plant the deutzia, I think it would look good with this pink salvia. (It’s ‘Rose Queen’.) The low evening sunlight shining through the pink flowers makes them glow with a rich pink which is very similar to the deutzia.

This low slanting light, whether it’s evening or early morning has a wonderful effect on the colours of plants. I’d love to be able to plant a border just so that it would catch the light at both the start and the end of the day. That’s giving me ideas about where I might plant the deutzia…

Salvia 'Rose Queen'
Salvia ‘Rose Queen’

Pond Progress

If you’ve been reading this blog for a little while, you may have noticed the occasional mention of a pond that I’ve been building in the garden. It has taken me a very long time to get it built – chipping away at rock-hard soil in summer and digging a bit faster in the wetter end of the year.

Now though, the pond is full of water and the edging is mostly built. I’m in the process of building a sloping ‘beach’ of pebbles to allow any visiting wildlife to get in and out safely. This beach area runs along one of the long sides of the pond and was dug in a very gradual slope. (Most of the pond is fairly shallow.)

There are a few plants already in the pond. The waterlily above was a piece given to me from a friend’s pond. I think it must be Nymphaea marliacea ‘Carnea’, which has flowers that become closer to white as they age. (It also can flower white in the first year, as this piece did last year. Somehow it survived being in a big box of water for a long time.) Spot the damselfly!

Veronica beccabunga
Veronica beccabunga

The other plants are much less spectacular but will help to oxygenate the pond and give somewhere for wildlife to live. The Veronica beccabunga is starting to spread and looks like it will provide some good lurking-places for small wildlife.

Wild visitors have already started moving in and making themselves comfortable in the pond. Amongst the first visitors were a pair of mallards who briefly considered setting up home here until I made sure they saw one of my cats watching them.

Next a newt (or possibly two) arrived and apparently ate all the mosquito wrigglers – luckily! There’s a trio of frogs now, and sometimes I’ll find one watching me as I work on finishing the edging. Then there are the birds who enjoy a bath. That’s usually robins and blackbirds, but sometimes a woodpigeon. (A woodpigeon having a bath is an awkward and ungainly sight!) And there are all the tiny creatures in the water too. It’s getting quite busy in there. 🙂

Mallards check out the pond while I’m building it.

A Velvet Touch

Some flowers have a very velvety look to their petals. The two plants in this post (rose ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ and clematis ‘Dark Eyes’) have especially dark and velvety flowers. But, having investigated, I can tell you that the flowers look a lot more like velvet than they actually feel. (They are, though, very soft to the touch.)

There was actually a study into the reasons for the velvety appearance of some petals. As I understand it, it’s all down to the dark colour of the flower, the shape of the cells within the petal and a low angle of light. (If you want to read all about it, you can find the report here.)

The feel of a petal or leaf is something that I tend not to think about very much when I’m planning what to plant. But there’s no doubt that textures add a stimulating element to a garden. The soft hairs on the flowers and leaves of pulsatilla (which you can see in an earlier blog post) are a great example of texture adding interest. While some plants are hairy, other plants are smooth – like the star-shaped flowers of Allium christophii, which have an almost metallic-looking sheen.

There’s lots of choice amongst the flowers that have a velvety lustre to their petals. The most obvious may be the classic red rose. Then, for instance, there are deep blue delphiniums, dark-flowered pelargoniums and purple, crimson or almost black petunias. Or, in mid and late summer, there are the rich, dark purples and reds of dahlias and the bright orange of tithonia (Mexican sunflower), which you can see here. All of them contribute something extra to the garden. They give that feeling of luxury, a suggestion of the opulence of rich fabrics, and the engagement of the sometimes-neglected sense of touch.

Dark red clematis
Clematis ‘Dark Eyes’

Beautiful Blues

As summer begins, there are a number of blue flowers appearing in the garden. My favourite colours are blues and purples, so it feels like a bit of a treat for me. The flowers I like best are those where the blue shades into a different blue or into a purple. There’s something about a colour being slightly mixed, rather than a solid shade, that makes it more interesting to see.

The plant above is Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens’, aka Honeywort (or the ‘Blue Shrimp Plant’ in the USA). It’s normally an annual, but if the winter is mild enough it can survive into the next year. That’s what has happened here, so this year we have a much larger plant than we usually would.

This plant is one I particularly like for the deep blue bracts that surround the small purple flowers. The blue bracts are made more attractive by the way they are tinted with purple or green – here even the stem has a blush of purple. The colouring is more intense when it’s cold, so this has been at its best over the cool spring months. I’ll be interested to see if the colours become paler as the summer weather heats up.

Baptisia australis

A simpler colouring is that of the Baptisia australis or ‘False Indigo’ (above). Less complex than the Cerinthe maybe, but it is a lovely shade of deep violet-purple that I find quite irresistible. It’s an easy plant to grow here because it copes well with drought and it is often suggested as an alternative to lupins. For me, the Baptisia is certainly the easier choice, as lupins struggle very unhappily here and I’ve managed to lose a few.

Clematis ‘Arabella’ (below) has flowers that are a mauve shade when they first open, gradually becoming more blue as they age. So the one plant can have a wide variety of flowers at the same time. (In fact, when I looked at it today, for a moment I thought there was a purple clematis growing beside it, so dark were the newest flowers.) The soft blending of mauve and blue shades in Arabella’s petals delights me. That means there’s good chance that I’ll be trying to grow this small clematis elsewhere in the garden too.

Soon, these beauties will be joined by different shades of blue, as the flowers of campanulas, scabious, geraniums and catanache start to open. I’m looking forward to some summer blues!

Clematis Arabella

It’s time for Irises!

I enjoy this time of year because there are so many lovely flowers around. Some in my own garden, others in the gardens of friends and neighbours. And of course, there are the temptations of nurseries and garden centres.

One of the flowers that has attracted me most over the years is the iris. There’s a wonderful array of flowers of all sorts of colours, markings and sizes and I’d love to grow lots of them. But where would I put them? For now, I’ll just have to settle for having a few that I especially like, and that are easy to grow.

Siberian irises are amongst my favourites. The flower in the top photograph was simply labelled ‘Iris sibirica’, so I have no idea of the cultivar. I do know that the iris in the bottom photo is ‘Currier’ and I also have ‘Silver Edge’. (I photographed ‘Silver Edge’ for this post last spring.)

With all of these Siberian irises, a large part of the appeal for me is the intricate veining on the lower petals (actually sepals, known as ‘falls’). The combination of lines and spots is irresistible as a subject to photograph. Of course they are there to serve a more important purpose – that of creating a well-signposted route for bees to the flower’s pollen. Lucky for us that practicality in nature can be so beautiful!

Iris sibirica 'Currier'
Iris sibirica ‘Currier’

Days of Celebration

There have been two special days this week, both celebrating something dear to my heart. The first was the sixth international ‘Fascination of Plants Day’, coordinated by the European Plant Science Organisation on Wednesday (May 18th). The second was ‘World Bee Day’ on Friday (May 20th).

Anyone who has been reading this blog for a while will know how crazy I am about plants. Flowers and plants have been a special love for me for many years now. That has gradually led me into a love of bees and other pollinators too. (As far as I’m concerned, you really can’t have one without the other.) It’s appropriate that both days fall within the same week.

The Fascination of Plants Day was organised to get as many people as possible interested in plants, and in plant science and conservation. It aimed to increase the appreciation of the role they play in providing us with food and products such as pharmaceuticals. Considering that we would not be able to survive without plants (for even the air we breathe), their study has to be one of the most important areas of research.

Many plants wouldn’t be able to survive without bees and other insects to pollinate them. In the UK, a project to create ‘Bee Lines’ to connect areas of habitat throughout the country has been set up by the conservation group ‘Buglife’. You can see the details of how this will make it easier for bees and others to find the food and breeding areas they need here.

Anyone with a garden, or even just a balcony with pots or some window boxes, can grow plants which will help to keep bees alive. You can read advice on how you can help bumblebees in your garden on this page by the Bumblebee Conservation Trust. There is also a very informative plant list for bees written by Dave Goulson here.

This year I’ll be trying to add to the bee-friendly plants in the garden. I may even see a few species of bees that I hadn’t noticed before. (But I probably won’t be able to say what they are – I find bee identification very difficult!) It’s a joy to hear the garden buzzing with bees and to see them busy in the flowers.

Thank you to blogger Steven Schwartzman for kindly letting me know about Fascination for Plants Day.

Common Carder bee on Sedum 'Autumn Joy'
Common Carder bee on Hylotelephium ‘Herbstfreude’, syn. Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ (stonecrop)

Transitory Glories: Tulips (2)

As is usual here in spring, a lot of the flowers pass me by all too quickly. Sometimes I feel that I barely have time to notice one or two of them before they are already going over. (This year it was the camassias that have disappeared too soon for me. If I had been paying more attention I would have taken some photographs of them.)

Luckily, that hasn’t applied to the tulips because they’re near where I’ve been working in the garden for the last few weeks. Even then, their departure feels sudden and many have already been deadheaded. For a little while the flowers are eye-catching in their glorious colours, flaunting their bright petals and demanding to be noticed. They are already mostly gone and I’m left wondering how the time has managed to pass so quickly!

Tulip ‘Angelique’

I guess if there’s a moral to that, it’s to make sure you stop and enjoy your garden at every stage through the year…something I’m still learning to do. The good thing is that these tulips have come back again for several years. (The ‘Angelique’ and ‘Shirley’ tulips have only been in the garden for three years, so I shall have to wait and see how long-lived they are. The yellow tulip has been in the garden for a very long time – they seem to last forever!)

I’ve been discouraged by tulips fizzling out quite quickly in the past, not realising that there are some that are just short-lived. Now I’m more likely to experiment so that I will have something new to photograph. And if they don’t last for many years, that just gives room for a new variety. Meanwhile, I’ll try to make sure I take the time to enjoy the flowers in the garden before they fade…and for those I do miss, there’s always next year!

Triumph tulip ‘Shirley’

Tulip Confusion

Packing flower bulbs must be a tricky job. If something goes awry and the wrong variety gets into a batch that’s being packed, how could you tell? So it’s not very surprising if something turns out to be different to what you thought you’d bought…like the tulip here. The pack was labelled ‘Hollywood Star’ but that tulip looks different to this one.

The flowers of Hollywood Star are much more red than the magenta here, and a different shape. They’re more the usual rounded tulip shape that you might expect. This one is different. It’s a lily-flowered tulip, with narrow petals that curve backwards. Happily for me, that has made this a more interesting flower to photograph because the petals have some lovely wavy curves. To me, the shapes they make suggest energy and a tendency to do their own thing. It also makes each flower slightly different from the next, so that gives more variety to my photographs.

This labelling mistake has turned out well for me. As a garden flower (rather than just a photographic subject), I find I prefer the unpredictability of this tulip over something more uniform. That makes me wonder if it’s good to sometimes have less control in the garden. Unexpected planting can certainly make life more interesting!

I still don’t know what this tulip is. There is a slight green marking at the base of the petals, so, like Hollywood Star, it is a viridiflora type. From looking at photos elsewhere, I think it’s probably ‘Doll’s Minuet, so if I want to grow more, that’s what I’ll look for. Will I end up with something different? Haha, maybe!

Red viridiflora tulip

Blossom Time (2)

This year the old cherry tree (‘Kanzan’) in our front garden has only about a quarter of the flowers it used to produce. It’s probably not going to survive a lot longer and I’ll miss the fluffy pink blossoms. (They’re double flowers, so not so good for bees – if I had chosen the tree, it would have been a single-flowered variety.)

While there may be less pink blossom, we do have lots of white cherry blossom in the garden on a young fruit tree. To me, the flowers are every bit as pretty as those of the ornamental varieties. Plus, you have the added bonus of fruit. (Or the blackbirds do, if you’re not fast enough off the mark!)

I’m not sure what this tree is now – probably a morello – because it was an impulse buy by my husband along with a plum tree. Not the best way to buy things, but I have to admit to doing the same thing with perennials. But if it is a morello, then it’s much less sour than I would expect. I like to eat them straight off the tree – but then I do like the sour cherries you get in Turkey too. Mmm!

Given how good the flower display on the fruit trees has been this year, I’m keen to somehow find a bit more space for fruit in the garden. Having some organic food of your own seems like a very good idea these days and this is a fairly easy way to do it. (But not always successful. The plum tree planted at the same time as the cherry has never yet produced fruit. It does look very pretty when it’s in flower though.)

Space may be the only problem with my plan. I have a pear tree that I bought as a bare-root plant and planted up into a large container. It’s still waiting for a home after a couple of years. (Good thing it’s in a big pot!) It should get planted out later this year, but first we have to move our greenhouse and then work out the best place for the pear. I’m looking forward to some fruit from it in the future!

You can see my post from last year about our ‘Kanzan’ cherry tree here: https://annmackay.blog/2021/05/02/frothy-pinks-cherry-blossom/

Cherry tree blossom

Blossom Time (1)

Right now my garden is frothy with the blossom of fruit trees. While perhaps a little plainer than the ornamental cherries and crab apples, they do give a lovely show of graceful flowers. The pink flush on the backs of the petals of the apple blossom pictured here really appeals to me. There’s something about the soft shading of the petals and the deeper pink of the unopened buds that’s particularly pretty in combination with the delicacy of the white.

The blossom in these photographs belongs to our Braeburn apple tree. It’s a small tree but gives a good crop of crisp, tasty apples. (We also have a Cox’s Orange Pippin, which is still very young. I prefer the Braeburn apples.) We aren’t the only ones that like the apples though – any windfalls are a magnet for blackbirds and wood pigeons. It can be quite entertaining to watch them competing for the fallen apples. Luckily for the birds, though, an apple is big enough to satisfy the appetites of several hopefuls.

While they’re in flower, the apple trees are the biggest provider of flowers for any bees or other pollinating insects that are around. So not only do the trees provide us with food and beautiful flowers, they are an important source of pollen and nectar early in the year.

I have other young fruit trees in the garden too. Especially beautiful is the cherry tree – just as much as any of the ornamental varieties – and that’s my next set of flowers to photograph. I’ll show you the results next week! 🙂

Apple Blossom