A Waiting Time…

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

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

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.

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.