Rich With Colour: Dahlias

This year I’ve been trying to extend the flowering season in my garden a little. So I’ve planted echinaceas, heleniums, rudbekias and asters, which helped to keep the garden going through the transition into autumn.

But I’ve been missing out on one of the best flowers for this time of year – the dahlia.

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These little dahlias are quite cute!

As a newcomer to dahlias, I find the choice of flowers quite bewildering. There are so many different types to get to know…cactus, semi-cactus, ball, pom-poms, anemone-flowered and more.

So far, I’ve decided that I like the peony-flowered and single dahlias the most because they have open centres (great for bees). The collarette dahlias are really interesting to photograph because they have two rings of petals – the large outer petals and a sweet little ring of twirly mini-petals around the central disc. (You can see one in the top-left corner of the photo-mosaic below.)

So far I’ve just planted two dahlias here. One is ‘Siberia’, a white, waterlily-flowered dahlia which you can also see in the mosaic below. The other is a seedling of ‘Bishop’s Children’ which has flowered in a rich bright red. That’s a small start, but next year I’ll be on the lookout for more.

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Some of the dahlias that I’ve photographed recently.

As usual, one of the biggest factors in my plant choices will be finding flowers that will make good photographs. Dahlias have a huge range of colours and shapes, so choosing will probably take some time.

For photography, I often look for flowers that have one colour with another blushed over them, or a different colour along the edges of petals, because it gives an interesting element to the photograph.

Shapes within the flower are important when photographing it too. Elegant curves, contrast of size and shape and interesting small details are all essential parts of a satisfying flower image.

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The brightest of reds.

I can foresee a slight snag with my new interest in dahlias. It’s going to be hard to restrict myself to the plants I actually have room for! Well, that will be a problem for next year. This year I must get on and improve the soil in the borders for them. And I’ll start working on my dahlia ‘to buy’ list, while dreaming about the wonderfully rich colours that they will bring to my garden…

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A dahlia that I’d love to grow.

Tougher Than it Looks: Hibiscus Syriacus

Like many, the first time I saw hibiscus flowers was while on holiday in Spain. These were the red Hibiscus rosa-sinensis – flamboyant and very exotic-looking flowers that will always remind me of my parents’ garden there.

My parents had retired to Spain and spent over 20 years living there. On visits to them, I enjoyed looking after their little garden and visiting the nearby garden centre to buy plants for it. It was an exciting world of unfamiliar plants where I could have easily wandered for hours. (Nowadays those plants have become much more commonplace and are easily bought in UK garden centres.)

The Spanish garden centre was just a few minutes walk from my parents’ apartment, so a visit there became a frequent entertainment. (And it was a great place for buying gifts for my flower-loving mother.) My eye was often draw to the hibiscus plants there – both the usual red cultivar and the others that had flowers in a range of pinks, oranges and yellows.

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This white hibiscus is much less showy than those with the red markings and it seems to be shyly hiding under the leaf!

Living in Scotland at the time, I had no idea that it was possible to grow hibiscus in the UK. It was only when I moved to Suffolk that I came across the hardy hibiscus shrubs (Hibiscus syriacus) and fell in love with them.

‘Blue Bird’ was one of the first of the hardy hibiscus that I came across and it’s flower colour has made it my favourite. These flowers vary from a quite definite blue, to a softer, more lavender shade. This is can be due to the flower aging, but can also be dependent on whether the shrub was grown from seed (very variable) or from a cutting. (I’ve read that hibiscus seedlings can be a nuisance in parts of the USA, but that isn’t a problem in chilly old Britain!)

So far I have two hibiscus shrubs in the garden – Blue Bird, which has flowered abundantly this year, and a young plant of ‘Walburton’s Rose Moon’. This second hibiscus has massive flowers that open to a much flatter shape than the more cup-shaped blooms of Blue Bird.

A white hibiscus would look good in a new area that I’m planting up – probably ‘Red Heart’ which has showy red markings in the centre of its flowers. Another possibility would be the much more restrained plain white cultivar (above), seen in a nearby garden.

The hibiscus flowers are almost over for this year (there’s just one pink one left), but I’m already looking forward to being able to spend more time photographing them next year.

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Hibiscus Walburton’s Rose Moon

Late Summer Heat

This post is a follow-up to last week’s ‘Late Summer Colour’. In it, I mentioned that I’d seen several especially striking orange flowers during my visit to Fullers Mill Garden and that I’d save them for their own post.

I’ve also included a couple of flowers from my own garden. The first is Tithonia rotundifolia ‘Torch’, which is so brilliant in the sunshine that the colours almost shimmer. And the other is the vibrant red-orange echinacea in the final photo. (I couldn’t resist buying this one, as a change from the pink echinaceas that I’ve grown in the past.)

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Left: Crocosmia ‘Emily McKenzie’ (aka montbretia).  Right: Kniphofia (‘red-hot pokers’).

So, back to the flowers at Fullers Mill… Crocosmia ‘Emily McKenzie’ was particularly showy, with larger flowers than any of the other crocosmias that I’ve seen before. The richness of the orange, with the deep red markings and the glow from the light shining through the crocosmia’s petals made me think of a sumptuous silk.

Near the crocosmias were the bold flowers of red hot pokers (kniphofias), looking like fizzing orange rockets spurting up from the ground. (Which makes me wonder if it would be possible to plant a border to suggest fireworks. That could be fun!)

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Flower of Crocosmia ‘Emily McKenzie’

A little calmer than the dazzling oranges of the crocosmias  and kniphofias were the bi-coloured flowers of the heleniums. The helenium is certainly less flamboyant than the others. Even so, the golden-yellow and reddish-orange of its petals are vibrant, and they have a warmth that is typical of many of our late summer flowers.

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Helenium flowers (aka sneezeweed) radiate warmth.

Earlier in the summer the gardens in this area had a lot of the cooler colours in them – reds and pinks that contain some purple, magenta, lavender, blue and white. (We probably choose these colours because we want to create a suggestion of coolness to offset hot temperatures.)

But now, as the season gets closer to its end and the temperatures have dropped, the late-summer flowers are creating a feeling of warmth through their hot colours. (Which are enhanced by the warmer light towards the end of the day.) So these radiant orange flowers help us to hang on to the idea of summer for a bit longer – and I hope they continue to do so for a good while yet!

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Another flower from my garden – a brilliant echinacea daisy.

Late Summer Colour

This year I haven’t had a lot of time to visit gardens, but I did manage to visit one of my favourites this week.

Last year I wrote a post about a visit to Fullers Mill Garden near Bury St Edmunds, in Suffolk. This year, my visit was slightly earlier and there were more plants still in flower.

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A peaceful part of the garden.

Visiting a garden at different times is interesting because you notice different plants. And, for me, that means the chance to photograph them too.

This time, there were lilies still in flower, so I made a point of photographing some of those – also flowers I don’t see so often, such as eucomis and alstroemeria. There were plenty of the usual seasonal favourites: Japanese anemones, asters, dahlias, autumn crocuses, rudbekias, hydrangeas and hibiscus.

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Pink flowers – lily and indigofera

It was a bit of a surprise to find flowers that had long gone over in my own garden – things like indigofera, agapanthus and astrantia. Maybe having more moisture in the soil means that flowers can last for longer.

There were plenty of bright colours still, the most noticeable being the oranges of crocosmia, heleniums and ‘red-hot pokers’ (kniphofia). They’ll get a post all of their own soon.

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Eucomis bicolor with developing seed pods.

Fullers Mill is an exciting garden for a photographer to visit because of the sheer variety of plants and the lovely setting of the garden itself. I particularly enjoyed having the opportunity to photograph the almost sculptural-looking seed pods of the eucomis. It’s a plant I rarely see, but now I feel it would be fun to have in my own garden so that I can take more photographs of it.

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Imperata cylindrica ‘Red Baron (L) and a yellow helenium (R).

It was quite a windy day when we visited, so it was a challenge to photograph some of the flowers that tended to sway and dance in the breeze. The yellow helenium (above) was on of those that didn’t want to sit still and its petals look like swirling skirts – a dancer indeed!

Next year, I’d like to visit the garden in different seasons, especially in springtime. There is a great collection of irises which I’m sure would keep me happily occupied for a long time. But any time would be a good time to visit Fullers Mill Garden – there’s always something interesting to see and to photograph.

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Lavender-blue asters – one of my favourites of the season.

Passionflower Constance Elliot

Last year I wrote a post about passionflowers and said that I’d just planted the passionflower ‘Constance Elliot’ in the garden. I’m happy to tell you that it has come into flower for the first time. Hooray!

The flowers are smaller than those on the other two passionflowers I grow (‘caerulea’ and ‘Amethyst’) but that may be because the soil where it’s growing isn’t exactly wonderful. Luckily, passionflowers are drought-resistant, so the low rainfall here isn’t a problem.

The passionflower is now spreading itself comfortably around a vine-covered arbour and helps to create a shady sitting-place. (Very much needed this year!) The vine is in need of a good haircut, so it may be tricky to avoid cutting the passionflower by mistake. Passionflowers grow fast, but I want it to get well established so that it isn’t simply smothered by the grape-vine.

(And if you’re wondering, yes, we do get edible grapes growing in the garden here in Suffolk. But only just! They’d probably be sweeter if I knew how to prune and look after the vine properly – that’s a project for the near future.)

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With its white petals and filaments, Constance Elliot is more subtle than Passiflora caerulea.

For the past week or two, I’ve been happily photographing the newly-emerging flowers. They don’t last long, so you need to be quick to catch a flower that’s still fresh. And, in this garden, you need to be especially fast to get to the flowers before slugs or snails can take greedy chomps out of them. (They sometimes eat my clematis flowers too – nothing more annoying than finding that the beautiful flower you wanted to photograph has suddenly got a big hole in it!)

The flowers photographed outside have a freshness and elegance, particularly where they have a background of lush green leaves. However, to get close to the detail of the flower, I picked one and brought it into my little studio.

The flower was set on a small ‘light-table’ that’s lit from below, with a soft light coming from above. This shows up the difference between the heavier sepals that provide the outer protection to the flower while it’s still in bud and the thinner, more translucent inner petals. You can see that there is quite a lot of green in the sepals – much more than you’d think when you see the flower growing outside.

Well, I’m going to go and take some more passionflower photos. And I’m hoping that ‘Constance Elliot’ will survive the next winter and provide more lovely flowers (and the opportunity for more photographs). You can see my earlier post about passionflowers here.

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Here you can see how translucent the inner petals are in comparison to the more solid outer sepals.