Flower Photography for a Rainy Day

Purple and white violet (viola).
A flower to photograph when it’s too wet and windy outdoors.

The weather has been quite wild here over the last week – very windy and wet too. (A huge change from the spring-like sunshine of late February.) So there has been no chance for anything staying still enough to take photographs outdoors.

Luckily, I have some plants in pots that have been sitting in the conservatory while they’re waiting for the ground to dry out enough for them to be planted in the garden. (There’s been a lovely scent of violets and primulas in there – I’ll miss it when the plants do go outside.)

I took the violet into my little studio space and set up my lights and a white background. It was only after I’d taken a few photos that I realised I had company…the unfortunate little violets had become home to some greenfly. It’s amazing how much more you can see in a close-up photograph compared to just looking straight at something. Now I have some nice sharp shots of greenfly, but somehow I don’t think they’ll be very useful to me! It didn’t take long to dust the wee devils off with a soft artists’ paintbrush. (Usually it’s cat hairs that I have to brush off – they can be practically invisible until you look at the photo magnified on the PC monitor.)

Centre of a violet.
The yellow and black centre of this violet makes me think of a bee.

You can see violets planted all over the place at this time of year in the UK. They’re cheap to buy and easily available everywhere, so they do get pretty much taken for granted. But I do love the colours, especially the way they blend into each other, giving a soft, almost watercolour effect.

Having the plant indoors made it easy to keep the flowers still while they were being photographed. When you’re working outdoors, movement in the slightest breeze is a big problem with macro photography.  The area of focus is so shallow that it takes very little to take your flower out of focus and, if you’re not watching carefully, it can be easy to miss the fact that the flower has moved.

Spending an afternoon indoors, taking photographs with plenty of light and being able to keep warm and dry felt like quite a luxury. However, there a flowers out in the garden that are still waiting for their chance to be photographed…so I’m hoping for some better weather next week!

High-key photograph of violets.
Playing with a high-key effect with these violets…

The Early Flower Catches The Photographer

White Pulsatilla vulgaris (Pasque Flower)
White Pulsatilla vulgaris (Pasque Flower) already in flower.

Last week, I wrote about finding all the new stocks of plants coming into garden centres very tempting. So you may not be surprised to learn that I bought a few of them. (If you’ve been reading this blog for a little while, you will probably know me well enough by now to expect it!)

I tell myself  that I have a great excuse, because I need something to photograph and there isn’t a lot available in the garden yet. And buying plants instead of cut flowers means I can grow them in the garden for the following years. Neat reasoning, eh? All the same, I’m glad that there are several plant nurseries nearby, so that I can buy reasonably-priced small plants rather than spending a fortune on larger plants elsewhere.

It’s interesting to see just how far advanced these plants that have been grown in large, heated glasshouses are, in comparison to garden plants. I have pinky-purple pasque flowers growing in the garden but they won’t be in flower for weeks yet. (Probably April or May.)

Hairy flowers of Pulsatilla vulgaris (pasque flower).
You can see how hairy these pasque flowers are!

Pasque flowers like it in the garden here. The well-drained soil and open, sunny site suits them. It’s actually a native plant in the UK and East Anglia (which includes Suffolk, where I live) is one of the areas that it grows in. Sadly though, it’s rare as a wild plant now and you’re much more likely to see it growing in gardens. However, as a ‘local’ plant, they’re both drought-tolerant and wonderful for bees.

The flowers themselves are delightful to photograph – fresh, pretty and entirely charming. And then there’s the bonus of the rest of the plant being photogenic too. That’s because it’s so very hairy (and soft enough that you want to stroke it). All the soft little hairs that cover the finely-cut leaves, flower buds, and even the outside of the petals, help to give the plant a silvery appearance when they are caught in sunshine. Later the seed-heads become very ornamental, like some sort of silky, wildly fluffy pompoms. (My cats think they’re great fun for having a swift bat at with a paw!)

The pasque flower that I bought will no doubt be joined by others. (I have to wait for them to flower at the nursery, so that I can see what colour they are.) And I’m sure that a few hours will be spent photographing them…happy times!

Flower of Pulsatilla vulgaris (pasque flower).
Delicate white and rich yellow make this a very attractive spring flower.

Something Different

Blue-veined flowers of primrose 'Zebra Blue'.
Fun with stripes! I bought this Primula ‘Zebra Blue’ so that I could photograph the flowers.

As spring approaches, there are new stocks of plants coming into garden centres and other plant-sellers, such as supermarkets and market stalls. After winter, it’s a huge delight and an even bigger temptation to see all these fresh plants that are just waiting for us to buy them.

There are the usual bulbs – snowdrops, crocuses, irises and daffodils. And at the moment there seems to be a huge number of primulas (or primroses) everywhere, in just about any colour you might want. They glow brightly at you, flaunting their brilliance and offering themselves as a cheerful reassurance that spring must be almost here.

Like many others, I found myself wandering past these happy little plants, wondering which would be the most uplifting addition to the winter-weary borders in my own garden. Unexpectedly, I came across one that I haven’t seen before and which intrigued me much more than the gaudier varieties…a stripy-flowered primrose!

Macro photograph of Primula acaulis 'Zebra Blue'
The yellow centre is a striking contrast to the blue and white petals.

The primrose I bought turned out to be ‘Zebra Blue’. It has white petals which are veined with a wonderfully deep blue (which looks rather as if ink has been spilled onto the flowers and gradually crept along the veins). The deep orangey-yellow centres are the perfect contrast to offset the blue and make the flower very eye-catching indeed.

Most of the flowers and plants that I buy are seen as potential subjects for my photography. A flower with markings like these is an ideal source of inspiration for an afternoon spent experimenting with different compositions.

The prominent veining of the petals and the vibrant contrast of the centre of the flower makes this primrose a very bold subject. It’s easy to use the patterns produced by the veins to create a rather abstract feel. But, because some of the flowers have a more muted colouration, with much paler veining (sometimes becoming a lighter, more denim-blue), there is the option of creating a softer, more gentle image too. I have only just started exploring where this little flower may lead my photography and I reckon that I need to spend a few more hours in it’s company…what fun!

Blue-veined primrose flower against a yellow background.
I used a contrasting yellow background to give a bolder image in this photo.

A Little Survivor

Pink-freckled hellebore.
I thought I had lost this hellebore.

It’s the time of year when gardeners start peering anxiously at their plants, looking for signs of life. Are there new shoots emerging from the ground? Some leaf buds perhaps? Anything to show that the plant has made it through the winter?

But, as any gardener is unfortunately all too aware, it’s not just the winter that can kill our plants. There are all sorts of possible mishaps. Here, building work has been one of the biggest dangers to our garden plants in the last couple of years.

We’ve had several things done to our house, the main one being the addition of a conservatory. So there have been piles of building materials parked around the garden.

The resulting chaos was made worse by our decision to reclaim and re-use the brick pavers from the big old patio area where the conservatory was to be built. And, of course, they needed to be piled somewhere out of the way. Like the bit of border that has been overrun by a huge mass of Japanese anemones and is desperately in need of renovation…. and all before I could think to warn that there were other plants there too.

Pink-spotted hellebore flowers.
Last year there was only a single leaf on this hellebore – this year it has managed to flower.

To be honest, I’d forgotten precisely where the hellebore was and it wasn’t until I saw one lonely hellebore leaf poking out between a couple of bricks that I realised that it had pretty much been covered. The bricks were removed but I didn’t really expect the plant to survive. There seemed to be too little of it left. That made me feel both sad and guilty because it was such a lovely little plant and one that I had enjoyed photographing.

So you can imagine how surprised and delighted I was to discover that it was growing again and this year it has even managed to produce some flowers. (I feel as if it has forgiven me! And I’ve promised it that I’ll take better care of it in future!)

It’s extraordinary how strong the life force in plants can be and how they can often tolerate conditions that really should kill them. (I know, it’s true that the plants that you try to get rid of – the weeds – that seem show the most determined ability to survive.) Every so often you get a wonderful surprise when a plant that you fear has died reappears, when new buds grow on what look like dead stems, or when new seedlings spring up from old plants unexpectedly. That vitality can certainly be something to celebrate!

Pink hellebore flower.
The usual view of a shy hellebore flower.

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.