Simple but Colourful

Often it’s the form of a flower, especially the details of the structure within it, that attracts me to it. Usually it’s a combination of shape and colour that makes for an interesting photograph, and some of my subjects (e.g. passionflowers ) can be quite complex in their appearance.

But some flowers are delightful in their simplicity, like these ranunculus, aka ‘Persian buttercups’. Their vibrant colours were enough to make me buy the plants to photograph them. (The red flower makes me think of the red crepe paper we used for making Christmas decorations as kids at primary school.)

These images are from last spring. Several others were posted on the blog at the time, but these have lurked on my PC as unprocessed RAW files since then. Wintertime is a good time to catch up with processing photographs that have been taken a while ago. It has given me something to keep me busy while it’s too cold to work in the garden.

Whenever there are flowers around, I take photographs of as many as I can. That means I have something to show on this blog every week. But during the warmer times of year, when I’m kept busy in the garden, time can be short. And then the photos mount up, waiting for me to get them ready to post here. It’s like having a little stash of colourful memories from sunnier days to keep me occupied while the garden has its winter break.

Soon I’ll be too busy outside to be able to spend a lot of time at the PC. Already the sunshine has come back and the temperatures are just a bit warmer. Everything in the garden is beginning to grow again and the crocuses are welcoming the first of the bees. No doubt, I’ll also be taking lots more photographs, so there will be plenty to process during next winter too.

An In-Between Time

Spring is getting closer but it certainly isn’t here yet. Sometimes February can feel mild and spring-like, but this year it has felt colder and snowy. I haven’t been in the garden much in the last week or two.

Apart from the hellebores which are starting to emerge, there has been a lack of flowers outside. Happily, the cyclamen plants have been busy flowering indoors to cheer us up. This year they seem to have lasted longer than usual – I think that’s because they’re in a cool conservatory.

Ruffled pink cyclamen flower

It feels like it’s not quite either winter or spring as I wait for the garden to come alive again with fresh growth. Meanwhile, I wanted something interesting to do. A plant I could photograph indoors so that I wouldn’t have to face the cold. These little flowers are ideal for that.

The rich colours and swirling shapes of the cyclamen flowers make them an obvious photographic subject. All those crinkles, curls and serrated edges give the petals a sense of drama and energy. Altogether, these features make the flowers look as if they’re in motion. The slight sheen of the petal surfaces suggests silk, making the flowers look like small pieces of fabric, fluttering in a breeze.

Cyclamen flowers

Alternatively, you could imagine that the flowers are tiny dancers, skirts swirling as they perform some graceful and athletic pirouette. Come in closer to the flower and that feeling of energy is magnified by all the curves and twists of the petals. Your eyes follow the lines made by the delicate veins, increasing the feeling of movement and strengthening the illusion.

Fun to photograph and glorious colour to combat the winter greys – I wouldn’t want to be without cyclamen at this time of year. Soon the spring flowers will be flaunting their brilliance and freshness, but for the last few weeks, it’s the cyclamen that have gladdened my heart.

Cyclamen flower

A Rose for Valentine’s Day

Actually, this really isn’t a Valentine rose – it would need to be red. But I don’t have any red roses in the garden, so this is the best I can offer. (It’s the climbing rose ‘Handel’.)

According to Google and several florists’ websites, a pale pink rose means, among other things, ‘happiness’ or ‘joy’. So maybe it’s a bit more suitable as an offering to my blog readers than a red one would be!

I don’t know why it’s the red rose that means love. Perhaps it’s because it’s the colour of blood, so associated with the heart and passion. At any rate, it does go back a long way, even to the myths of the ancient Greeks. Aphrodite, their goddess of love, was scratched by a thorn on a white rose bush as she was rushing to be with her dying lover, Adonis. Her blood turned the rose red and ever afterwards, red roses were the symbol of love.

It feels like it will be a long time before there are any roses at all here. It’s snowy outside at the moment, and I am dreaming of being able to visit gardens where the scent of roses is carried on warm summer air. And I’ll be very happy to see them, whatever colour they may be!

Winter Delight: Hellebores

Hellebores are starting to flower in the garden here. Some are still just small buds, but this one has been in flower for a few weeks. This is one of the Helleborus Gold Collection, HGC ‘Shooting Star’.

I particularly like this hellebore for the way that its flowers are held more upright than most hellebores. It makes it so much easier to see the flowers – and to photograph them too.

(My other hellebores are difficult to see properly in the garden. You really have to take the time to turn the flower head upwards if you want to look at the detail. But that has the advantage of making you get close to the flower and actually touch it, rather than just passing it by. So they’re all good!)

For the moment, this plant is in a pot, which has made it easy to take it indoors to photograph it. But it would probably be happier in a border where it has a bit more space. Later I will plant it out – when I find it a slightly shady spot where it won’t get too hot in summer.

As a winter and early spring flowering plant, hellebores are a great treat in the garden. They start flowering when much of the rest of the planting is either dead foliage or shoots that are not yet ready to emerge. And their beautiful flowers have an exotic look – much bigger and more showy than the other winter flowers. If I get the chance to go shopping in a garden centre while they’re still available, I know I’m going to be very tempted to buy more.

hellebore flowers

The Ordinary Made Special: Frost

It’s the end of January and I hope that these are the last frost photographs I’ll share for a while. Although this winter hasn’t been very cold, I just can’t wait for it to end. I’m ready to see new growth and to welcome the first flowers of spring.

Despite my impatience for the cold weather to be over, I’m grateful for a bit of frost. Without it, there would be very little to photograph here in winter. There would be much less to tempt me outside for a wander around the garden too.

With frost, the garden is transformed from being a soft and soggy mess of dying vegetation into somewhere crisp and rigid. It feels utterly changed, alien even. Plant remains that would normally go unnoticed stand out as the frost makes them into something new.

frosted plants

The smallest of things can suddenly be full of photographic possibilities. Tiny seed-heads, old leaves, the dried stems of decorative grasses – these can become features that demand attention. The frost emphasises the delicate nature of these small things. It can make a plant look like a piece of fragile lace or as if it has been dipped in sugar. And if the sun is shining, the garden can come alive with the sparkle of all those millions of tiny crystals.

So I won’t be ungrateful for the beauty that winter can produce. I’ll try to be patient while I wait for spring to arrive. But I can’t help being excited to see the signs that the spring isn’t far away. Now there are green daffodil buds starting to appear and the first of my hellebores has come into flower. And I’m off out into the garden to photograph them…

frosted hydrangea

Frosted Seed-Heads

After last week’s snow-capped anemone seed-head, today we have seed-heads that are covered in frost. In the middle of winter I’m really glad to find anything to photograph in the garden, so I’m grateful that these are here.

On a frosty morning, these seed-heads create a focal point and some interesting textures in the garden. They become like miniature natural sculptures when their details are picked out by frost crystals. I find that seeing the patterns of frost encourages me to look more closely at the plant’s own structure. That allows me to see possible photographs where I may not have noticed them before.

frosted honesty seed pods
The remains of honesty seed-pods sparkle in the sunshine.

Mind you, sometimes there’s very little left of the seed-heads, as you can see with the honesty above. These are pretty-well wrecked by now but, given a bit of sunshine to make the frost sparkle, still manage to look interesting. Of course, on a dull but mild day, with no frost or sunshine, they don’t look at all pretty at this stage. So it’s amazing what the right weather can do.

Amongst the best of the seed-heads for frost photography are the umbellifers. There are usually quite a lot of self-sown bronze fennel seedlings around the garden and these really sparkle on a frosty morning. I never cut these down until spring, because the seeds can provide food for hungry birds. (As well as starting lots more plants.) The delicate decorations that they become is a delightful winter bonus.

frosted fennel seed head
Fennel seeds look at their best with a thick coating of frost.

Snow Day

We were greeted by snow this morning, but by the time you read this it will be gone. It won’t last for even the full day because it has now started to rain.

But it has given me an excuse to post an image with just a little bit of wet snow. This is a seed-head of a Japanese anemone. I was attracted to photographing it by the cap of melting snow that it’s wearing, and by the way the drops of meltwater are clinging to the fluffy hairs of the seeds.

It’s interesting to see how these seed-heads start as perfect tiny spheres and then erupt into little woolly clusters of seeds that can float away in the wind. I allow them to stay in the garden over the winter. A few years ago, tidy-minded gardeners would insist that the old stems and seed-heads ought to be cut back and taken away at the end of the year. Times have changed, and now we’re encouraged to leave them standing as a habitat and food for wildlife.

With luck, goldfinches will come and help themselves to these seeds. (I’ve already noticed them eating the seeds of verbena bonariensis in the last week.) And if the heads survive until springtime, the remainders will probably be gathered up when the goldfinches are building their nests. I often see these birds with their beaks full of the fluffy seeds and think that they must be creating the cosiest and most comfortable homes for their babies. So I won’t be cutting back any of these seed heads. The birds are very welcome to them.

Winter Flowers

There’s still a little colour here in winter – just a few brave plants that choose to flower when it’s cold and grey. They brighten up the days and offer something to any bees that are awake and foraging.

It’s a pleasure to be able to wander into the garden to see the latest buds to have opened. Whatever helps to encourage me to go outside at this time of year has to be a good thing. Being rewarded by beauty and colour makes it easier to get started on some gardening.

winter-flowering iris
winter-flowering iris

As I enter the garden I’m pleased to see that a winter-flowering clematis is festooned with small bell-shaped blooms that have a deep red interior. To see the colour of these, you really need it to be growing above your head, so I have planted it to climb into a tall shrub (Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’, shown last week). The clematis was planted only last year, so isn’t very big yet. But I’m happy just to see it alive and growing, because it was in a position that meant it could easily have been destroyed when the fence was replaced earlier in the year.

Further along the same border is the winter jasmine. The work of replacing the fence meant that this had to be cut back a lot, but it will recover in time. (It was a terrible straggly mess, all tangled up with a rampant honeysuckle that had started to look very unhealthy.) I had to give several shrubs and climbers a rather drastic pruning so that the fence could be got at. This has made me realise that I need to be more practical in the way that I plant the garden.

Melted frost on winter jasmine flowers.

Not far from the winter jasmine is an area planted with shrubs and a few garden thugs (mainly Japanese anemones and a very vigorous geranium). Hiding amongst these is the pretty lavender-blue Algerian iris. (Iris unguicularis – I can’t spell it without checking the RHS site.) This needs to be moved to somewhere where it can be more easily seen and photographed…my knees and back will be grateful for that! The flowers are delicate and easily damaged by the weather but they are soon replaced by more, so certainly earn their place in the garden.

As I continue towards the back of the garden, my attention is drawn to the mahonia with its great sprays of bright yellow flowers. This shrub is an extremely prickly monster and must be approached with great caution when working around it. It often stabs at me in a very ungrateful manner while I am trying to weed around its base. But I forgive it because it can look spectacular and its big spiky leaves give it a very bold, ‘architectural’ appearance all year round.

I had intended to add some new winter-flowering plants this year, but obviously that hasn’t been possible. (I suspect that many gardeners may be tempted to have quite a spending-spree when we can shop freely for plants again!) For the moment I am content to enjoy what’s already here. This is a quiet time in the garden and staying at home means I have plenty of time to plan future plantings. I hope that means I’ll be all organised for spring and summer…haha! (That would be a first!)

Mahonia x media ‘Charity’

Waiting for Snow

January is the month that we really get into winter here. December can be mild and wet and not feel especially cold. Then, as the New Year arrives, the temperature tends to drop.

In December we did get a little bit of wet snow which disappeared within a couple of hours of falling. It didn’t stay around and look pretty for long, but it gave me the chance to take a few wintery photographs.

There’s something about the way snow half-hides things that makes having a rather chilly wander around the garden more interesting. It calls attention to details you might have just walked past the day before. Or makes you see things just a little differently. Those few remaining apples on their little tree fairly glow in the dull light when contrasted with the paleness of the snow. And fallen seed heads become semi-translucent as the melting snow soaks into them.

Melting snow on Braeburn apples

It’s quite possible that we may get no snow at all during January – or even during the rest of the winter. Winters without snow are not rare in the east of England. But I can’t imagine what my childhood in the north of Scotland would have been like without the heavy winter snowfalls.

Those winters were certainly colder and the snow would pile thickly everywhere until the landscape was just a soft white blur. Roads soon became blocked – I remember how often we helped to push cars out of snowdrifts on the narrow country road by our house. And the sound of a heavy sheet of melting snow rumbling its way down a slate roof is with me still. (The tall drifts of snow that built up from that happening were great fun to play in as a kid – but wouldn’t have been so great if the snow had landed on us!)

Here in Suffolk, though, things are very different. As I’m writing this, the sky is blue and the sun is shining – perfect weather for being outside. Maybe there will be snow this month or maybe there won’t…but if there is, I’ll get out and take some photos!

Half-hidden by melting snow – the seed head of a long-gone agapanthus flower.

Wishing You a Better Year.

None of us will be able to forget 2020 – the strangest and scariest of years. Here in the UK we are still keeping our heads down and trying to make the best of very restricted lives. I am especially aware of how lucky my husband and I have been. We have stayed healthy and we don’t know anyone who’s had Covid. (And I really hope it stays that way!)

We’ve also felt very lucky in having our garden this year. It has felt like a place of safety and refuge, especially during the first lockdown here. Although we are not yet of an age where we’d be particularly vulnerable to Covid, it seems that you really can’t predict what the effects may be on an individual. The possibilities of complications or long-term health effects has made us very wary of catching it.

Being able to spend time in the garden has been vital to our well-being this year. Seeing the garden as somewhere away from Covid, where we were not going to catch it, nor pass it on, was a great reassurance and comfort. There has been plenty of work to do in it, which has been a great distraction from the troubles of the world outside. It has also given a feeling of purpose to spending so much time at home. And the warmth of summer allowed us to appreciate how good the garden was as somewhere to just relax. Knowing that so many of our friends were also staying safe in their gardens was another reassurance.

But, of course, not everyone has a garden, and some who live in flats may not have easy access to outside space either. So I am very conscious of how lucky I am. And watching the bees, butterflies and other insects that have visited my little green space has felt quite special. It also gives me a feeling of responsibility – I can try to make this a better space for nature and a refuge for all sorts of little creatures. That makes my garden feel valuable and gives meaning to having to stay at home.

I hope that you’ve been able to find safety, comfort and something to help you cope with all the problems of Covid this year. And I hope that 2021 will be a better year for everyone. May you and yours stay happy and healthy and have the very best New Year.

Frosted leaves of Alchemilla mollis
Frosted leaves of Alchemilla mollis