Stay Home Spring: Virtual Garden Tours

A dark red double hellebore.
A dark red double hellebore from my garden.

Normally I try to have something different to photograph every week, so that there’s plenty of variety in the images for this blog. But I think that’s going to be a bit difficult for a while. When there isn’t much to photograph in the garden I may buy a new plant or go on a garden visit – neither of which is possible at the moment.

However, although I cannot leave home to go visiting gardens for now, I can at least enjoy them through videos on the web. It seems a good time for me to share a quick fantasy tour of several gardens. I hope they will provide a little ‘escape’ if you’re stuck indoors.

I’ve enjoyed visiting  Kew Gardens, but a day spent there can be quite tiring it you want to see absolutely everything. Their short video tour lets you see the highlights of the gardens the easy way! It includes my favourites – the Treetop Walkway (an amazing experience) and the gorgeous waterlilies in their own special glasshouse. You can find more videos from Kew at their YouTube page and I’d suggest the ‘Wakehurst in Bloom‘ video as a lovely glimpse of spring in one of their subsidiary gardens.

For many years I visited the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh on a very frequent basis. (I lived a little over 10 miles away.) So I’m pleased to be able to see spring there again and even visit their other regional gardens from the comfort of my own home.

From another botanical garden are the New York Botanical Garden’s videos. It was a treat to be able to see their fabulous orchid exhibition, which is too far away for me to be able to visit in ‘real life’. (Look out for the superbly elegant Darwin Star Orchid and the ‘predicted moth’.)

Most years I visit open garden events in the areas nearby. Sometimes the gardens are unusual or quirky and many surround interesting historic buildings. Of course, these have all been cancelled this year. I’ve been looking for videos instead and was happy to be able to explore gardens a bit further afield than usual when I found this video of gardens on the Isle of Man.  Watching the video felt just like many of the open garden days that I’ve been to.

Gardens that I would normally be planning to visit at this time of year include Beth Chatto’s beautiful garden, which I’ve written about in a past post. This is one of my favourite gardens to visit, so I’ll miss it, but the video does convey what a spring visit there feels like. (I preferred to watch it with the sound music turned off though!)

I hope that you enjoy a little look around these gardens while you’re staying home. Stay safe!

Something to Read: More Favourite Blogs.

Red tulip
A tulip photographed in my friend Judy’s garden last March.

The scale of changes since this time last year is something I’m still struggling to take in. But, despite everything that Covid 19 is doing to us, spring is coming, growth is beginning, and flowers are blooming.

At a time when most of us expect to be enjoying the outdoors, we’re having to occupy ourselves indoors. So this may be a good time to share more of the blogs I enjoy reading.

Last week’s post with my recommendations for WordPress blogs didn’t allow space for all of my favourites (some of which are not on WP). If you have time to fill, I hope you’ll find some of these enjoyable. They are all art and creative-themed blogs, which I find both engaging and inspiring.

The first two blogs I want to mention have similar themes of artists’ books, textile art, and print. Stephanie Redfern shares her richly-layered work which combines a number of elements including fabric collage and her very delicate pieces of porcelain. Scroll down to the middle of her second post on ‘Books’ and you’ll see the beautiful pages Stephanie created with porcelain ginkgo biloba leaves and moths, along with her own poem.

The work of Annwyn Dean appeals to me greatly because it combines printmaking and artist’s books with great detail and delicacy. I had hoped to see Annywn’s work at the Turn the Page Artists’ Book Fair in Norwich in May – well, maybe next year!

I also find Stephanie Devaux Textus a most enjoyable blog to look at. (It’s written in french, but it is mostly photographs and Google translate takes care of what text there is.) It’s a lovely mix of book art, calligraphy and some textile art – worth a look!

There’s plenty of good reading, as well as beautiful mixed-media and textile art art on Rachael Singleton’s ‘Folio and Fibre’  (Scroll down the page and you’ll see her ‘Mussel House’ – a piece with the most delicious colours and textures.)

My final recommendation is a bit different to the others because it’s mostly about painting. But it also has a lot to say about every aspect of creativity and it’s one of the most helpful and inspiring sites I’ve ever come across – Nicholas Wilton’s ‘Art2Life’ blog. As a photographer, I’ve found what Nick has to say very useful and you never know, maybe I’ll actually try painting some day. (He runs courses for artists but is very generous with the free teaching he gives through Facebook and through his blog.)

I hope that you’ll find something interesting amongst the blogs here that will keep you entertained for a while. Stay home and stay safe!

 

 

 

 

The Joys of Blogging: And a Thank-You

 

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This week I had a very welcome surprise when I discovered that Liz at Exploring Colour  had included me in her list of ‘Blogger Recognition Awards’. I’m delighted, because the friendships I’ve made through blogging mean a lot to me and it’s lovely to feel that I’ve been accepted as part of this community. So thank you Liz!

I started this blog not quite two years ago, in the hope that it would help me get back to my photography after a few years of being distracted from it. (If you’d like, you can read more about the story behind my blog in my very first post .) It has worked well for that, because I have to get on and take photos for my posts. But there’s been a side to blogging that I hadn’t expected – the warm and encouraging community.

In appreciation for the enjoyment and camaraderie of the blogging world, I’d like to pass on the award to some of my favourite blogs.

Along with Liz, there are several bloggers that I met in the early months of my blog. Shelly at Love is Stronger writes with great kindness and compassion but one of my favourites on her blog is her delightful cartoon slugs. (And that’s coming from a keen gardener!)

I’ve been reading Digital Lady Syd’s Fun Photoshop Blog for a long time before I started my own blog and I’ve learned a lot about Photoshop and other photo-editing programs from her. There’s a huge amount of very generously given expertise on this blog, so I can recommend it to anyone who wants to learn how to make the most of their photographs.

At the moment, while we’re all having to stay close to home for the sake of everyone’s health, it’s nice to be able to see other places through blogs. I enjoy Jill Slawit’s sharing of the Yorkshire countryside on Where There’s a Jill There’s a Way and this woodland walk feels like an escape from present worries about the coronavirus. This is a great time to explore the world through the blogosphere!

Travel further afield features in Petra Koster’s blog. You can see some of her beautiful photography in this post about seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland. It’s ideal reading if you’re feeling a bit cooped-up!

You won’t be surprised that plants and gardens feature on many of my favourite blogs. Susan Rushton’s blog is a great escape for garden-lovers. Why not immerse yourself in the quirky ‘Giant Houseplant Takeover’ at Wisley in Susan’s review here. Or you can travel to Texas with Linda Leinen’s Lagniappe and perhaps take a look at the wonderful display of bluebonnets and other spring flowers – sure to lift your spirits! And the hellebores on Phao Hewitson’s ‘A Blog of Two Gardens’ are a joy to see. For inspiration and ideas for planting your garden, head over to Ali’s beautiful blog at The Mindful Gardener. Her flowers are gorgeous and you’ll end up with a huge ‘to buy’ list of plants! (I have anyway…)

It’s interesting too, to see the different wildlife that comes into gardens around the world – like the black kites in Indira’s garden on her blog, ‘My Third Eye’. There is more wonderful bird photography on Birder’s Journey – I’ve never seen anything as amazingly colourful as this little Painted Bunting.

Nature is the inspiration for Steve Gingold’s beautiful photography which you can find on his blog. If you haven’t seen it before, you really must! (And, if I’m honest, I’ll have to admit to being a bit envious of this gorgeous photograph of a trillium.)

These are just a few of the blogs that I enjoy reading. It would be easy to create an exceedingly long post with many more blogs! They’re especially important at the moment, both as a chance to see beyond the confines of my own home and as a chance to develop friendships at a time when we need to be physically isolated from those around us.

To those mentioned above – thank you for the happiness your blogs bring. Please don’t feel under any obligation to take part in these awards if you don’t want to! But do know that it is a recognition of the pleasure and friendship your blog creates. (Something so valuable right now!)

If you would like to pass on your own Blogger Recognition Awards, then these are the instructions:

  1. Thank the blogger(s) who nominated you and provide a link to their blog.
  2. Write a post to show your award.
  3. Give a brief story of how your blog started.
  4. Give two pieces of advice to new bloggers.
  5. Select up to fifteen bloggers you want to give this award to.
  6. Comment (or pingback) on each blog to let them know that you’ve nominated them and provide a link to the post you’ve created.

Oh yeah, I was supposed to pass on a couple of bits of advice for new bloggers – as a less than two-year-old blogger myself…hehe! In that case, I’ll say (a) just relax and be yourself, because blogging is about people in the end and (b) enjoy the company of other bloggers – comment and get involved – because that is the best part of blogging for me.

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Oranges and Lemons: Daffodils

Yellow daffodils with orange cups.

Rich oranges and lemon-yellows make these daffodils a brilliant and delightful welcome to spring. The flowers in these photographs are growing on a wide, grassy bank in front of the houses here and they’re a sight I look forward to every year. (And a lovely greeting to everyone who passes by on their way into the town.)

A mass of brightly-coloured daffodils.

This year I think we all need as much optimism and good cheer as we can find while our minds are full of worries about the coronavirus. I’ve certainly felt lucky over the past few days to be able to escape into the garden and enjoy the peace and calm of being surrounded by the plants I’m working with.

The emerging flowers, new spring growth, and the increasing warmth of the sun are a comfort and allow some respite from the serious side of life. A small thing, maybe, but anything that increases our well-being right now must be good.

The daffodils seem to be bringing their own little bit of sunshine and exuberance to help lift our spirits – right when we need it.

Close-up of a yellow and orange daffodil.

Tricky Manoeuvres: Hellebore Photography

Pink and Cream Hellebore

I’ve been waiting for a chance to take photographs of these hellebores for a while. At last the weather has become calmer. The wind has died down again and there have even been a few dry spells.

It felt good to get back outside into the garden with my camera and I was relieved to see that the rough weather hadn’t harmed the flowers.

But actually getting into a good position to photograph them was going to be a bit tricky. At the best of times it can be awkward to get close enough to low-growing plants, especially when the ground has become too much of a swampy mess to kneel on. Hellebores make it even more difficult by insisting on hanging their beautiful little heads down. You have to practically get to worm’s eye-level if you want to see them.

Luckily for me, there was a stack of bags of compost nearby and I was able to drag one over and lie down on it to get my photographs. Having one elbow firmly wedged against a big plant pot helped to make sure that I didn’t take a nose-dive into the mud.

All this makes me realise that I may have to change the arrangement of some of the garden borders. Far too many of the smaller plants are positioned quite far into the border, so that you really need to get right into the border to photograph them. Without standing on the other plants. Or getting jabbed by something prickly. Or even sitting down unexpectedly in the mud! Hmm, this may need a bit of thought…

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Winter Irises

Iris unguicularis
The texture of these iris petals sparkles in a bit of winter sunshine.

It’s particularly vile outside at the moment. Right now we have high winds and sideways rain and there was even some short-lived snow earlier in the week. So it’s comforting to know that the early flowers have survived, despite the weather’s attempts to shred them.

I photographed these irises a few days ago, in a dry and sunny gap in the stormy weather. (The weather forecast is my friend! I keep an eye on it to know when I must dash outside and photograph flowers before they are ruined.)

These fragile-looking flowers are iris unguicularis – had to check the spelling of that one – otherwise known as ‘Algerian winter iris’.

The plant was given to me by a generous neighbour and has slowly got itself established in a sunny border. It’s a plant that grows wild in Mediterranean countries and likes dry and sunny sites, so is well-suited to our hot and thirsty garden. (But the present heavy rain is unlikely to please it.)

There have been a good number of flowers this year, with a couple of buds still waiting to open. That is a good improvement over the previous years, when there were only three or four flowers and I thought the plant wasn’t too happy where it was. I’ve read that this iris flowers better as the clump gets older and more congested, so I’m looking forward to good displays in years to come…and a good reason to be outside on a wintry day with my camera.

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Iris unguicularis aka Algerian winter iris

Spring Comes Closer : Irises and Crocuses

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It’s been a very blowy, wet, and sometimes stormy couple of weeks here. Everything outside has had quite a thrashing from the wind, so I’m grateful that the early flowers have somehow managed to survive.

Last autumn I planted a shallow pot with the yellow crocus ‘fuscotinctus’ and dwarf reticulata irises ‘Cantab’ (the paler blue) and ‘Harmony’. Their pot sits at the front door and gets a lot of sunshine and a little bit of shelter from the wind. It has been a delight to see the colour gradually appearing as these flowers opened.

Despite that bit of shelter, it was a challenge to take photographs without too much blur as the upper petals of the irises fluttered in the wind. Sometimes flower photography means that you just have to hope to be able to snatch a shot right when there’s a slight drop in the breeze!

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Every year I’ve said to myself that I must try to photograph all the flowers in the garden, starting with the early bulbs…and not managed it. Something would always get in the way – maybe something garden related, like sowing seeds and clearing weeds from borders, or a family responsibility that needed my time.

This blog has changed that and given some structure to my photography. It has created the need for me to take photographs every week and has put both my garden and my photography at the top of my ‘to do’ list (right along with writing my weekly blog post).

Now I can pay more attention to the gradual arrival of spring here and the changes it brings to the garden. That makes me very happy and full of anticipation of the gardening year ahead. It’s a bit of a luxury really, but these days my time is more my own and  I can spend it being the real me – obsessed gardener and photographer! (Happy days!)

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Hellebores: A Favourite Flower

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I love to photograph hellebores!

It feels like a very special treat when the hellebores start to flower. I don’t have many in my own garden yet, so I enjoy seeing them in other people’s gardens and wherever they’re offered for sale .

Recently I treated myself to a couple of new hellebores. According to the labels, they are ‘Shooting Star’ and ‘Cinnamon Snow’, but they are so like each other that it’s hard to be sure if they are actually different. (Plant labels can easily get mixed up in garden centres!)

As far as I can tell, the ‘Shooting Star’ is very close to white, with a touch of pink and yellowy-green to the flower as it ages. In the photo above, these tints are more pronounced because the bright studio lights make the colours of the reverse of the flower show through its slightly translucent petals.

‘Cinnamon Snow’ is a little darker, with a peachy-pink blush to its creamy flowers. It’s interesting to watch the flowers darken and develop more of a green colouring as time passes.

The flowers on these plants are a bit more upright than most hellebores, which makes their pretty faces much easier to see in the garden. (Usually I find I have to turn the flowers of hellebores upwards to see what they look like, so their beauty can go unseen if there isn’t time to stop by them for a while.)

I’m looking forward to watching these plants settle into the garden and bring a little bit of sheer loveliness to late winter.

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A trio of hellebores.

Late Winter Colour: Primulas

 

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By the time you’re reading this, the garden here will probably be under attack from gale force winds and heavy rain as storm Ciara passes through.

During this sort of gardener-unfriendly weather, I’m very happy to be able to stay inside, working in the comfort of my tiny studio space. So I am always on the lookout for flowers that lend themselves to indoor photography. For this, primulas are very obliging.

Primulas are easily available at this time of year in a great variety of colours and markings. They don’t cost much to buy and the flowers, once picked for the studio, last well in water.

 

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To be able to photograph such short-stemmed flowers, I have a collection of very small containers that act as mini vases. The top photo has a square recycled-glass bottle that is only 2 inches high – just the right size for very small flowers. The container in the other photos is probably an old eye-wash glass and it’s wide enough for several flowers.

Other useful ‘vases’ for short-stemmed flowers include vintage ink bottles, candle and tealight holders and shot glasses. It’s been fun shopping for these in junk shops and vintage stalls – you never know what you’ll find that will help to make a good photograph.

Now that the primulas have been photographed, I must decide where to plant them. They somehow look a bit formal and perhaps too showy for most areas of the back garden (which is now developing a more ‘natural’ look), so they’ll probably be planted in the front garden. Sadly, it seems that these highly-bred primulas are not useful to bees so I won’t be buying many of them. (Instead I could buy the yellow-flowered Primula vulgaris, which is native to the UK and is a good plant for bees, butterflies and moths.)

I hope you enjoy this little bit of cheery colour!

 

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Early Growth

Honeysuckle leaves with water drops.
Melting frost coats these new honeysuckle leaves with drops of water.

It feels as if we aren’t yet having a proper winter here. The last few winters haven’t been as cold as we’d normally expect, but this may be the mildest since I moved here. We have had some cold weather this week and there’s been a bit of snow much further north, but it hasn’t lasted long.

As a result, plants are further on than they should be for this stage of the winter. At this time last year, the daffodils were just showing the tips of their leaves but this year they are in bud already. The yellow crocuses are open (didn’t expect them for another week or so) and many plants are showing signs of new growth. Leaf buds are beginning to open on some of the shrubs here, especially the roses. And the honeysuckle in the photo (taken a couple of weeks ago) has hardly had time for a rest before its new leaves appeared.

But winter certainly isn’t over and we may still have more frosty mornings to come. And we could even have a snowy ‘beast from the east’, like last year. I hope that the plants don’t get far enough ahead to be likely to be damaged if they freeze – they really need to slow down and take it easy for a while! (And it IS winter, so I’d like to slow down and take it easy too…)