Under Attack!

Normally I don’t have many problems with slugs and snails in the garden, probably because we have a low rainfall here. But when they do appear, it seems that they’re keen to snack on the flowers that I most want to photograph.

Some flowers seem to be particularly tempting to the hungry critters. For a few years we had a lovely pale blue clematis (Perle d’Azur) in a large wooden tub. Well, it should have been lovely, and sometimes it was, but just for a little while. Sooner or later the slugs and snails would find it and reduce the flowers to lacework.

Irises are another flower that tend to get a bit chewed. Sometimes, as with the top photograph, I have to avoid having damaged parts of the petals show. With this one (Iris sibirica ‘Silver Edge’), I had to find a low angle that hid a prominent hole in one petal and then crop to remove extensive damage on another petal.

The occasional damaged petal is one thing, but sometimes the damage is much worse. While living in Scotland (more slugs and snails there!) I decided to grow an assortment of sunflowers to photograph. So I was dismayed to discover that all my seedlings had their stems chewed right through at the base. No sunflowers for me!

I’ve had similar damage to the irises too. I was glad to be able to photograph the iris below because the year before I was denied that chance. The buds on the iris’s first and single flower stem were almost ready to open and looked really promising with their soft shades of caramel and pink. Excitedly, I visited in the morning to see if the top flower had opened and was ready for me to photograph it. Imagine my disappointment when I discovered the flower stem lying on the ground, looking sad and wilted, with its stem chewed the whole way through. I could have cried!

Since then, I have discovered that it helps to surround vulnerable plants with a circle of either gritty sand or wood ash from our woodburner. But sometimes only careful cropping or the use of digital heal and clone tools can save a photograph.

Bearded iris 'Top Gun'

Gone Blue: Colour-Changing Flowers

Last month I photographed these tiny spring pea (Lathyrus vernus) flowers. After I had finished photographing them I noticed that they were still changing colour after they had been picked.

The flowers had started off as a purple-pink but were changing to blue as they aged. I wondered if they would turn entirely blue and I found, after a couple of days, that almost all of them had. (As you can see, there is one flower that has stubbornly managed to remain pink in the top photograph. However, I reckon it would have turned blue too if it had been able to last long enough.)

Having flowers that change colour is a bonus for a photographer, allowing a whole new set of photographs to be made of the same subject. It’s also fascinating to watch as this happens.

Apparently the reasons for this kind of colour change are practical. It lets pollinating insects know that the individual flower has already been pollinated and will now have little pollen or nectar left to offer them. This helps the plant by directing the attention of pollinators to those other flowers that are still waiting to be pollinated.

Colour change happens in other plants too. The one that I’m most aware of at the moment is Salvia ‘Hot Lips’. That’s because I bought what I thought was an un-labelled sage with a good bright red flower which would be ideal for an area of planting with hot colours. (I already had the magenta-flowered Salvia microphylla, which flowers really well here. This looked like a red version of it.)

I was a bit surprised later on, when the new flowers on the plant began opening in the well-known red and white bicolours of Hot Lips. From what I’ve read, the flowers on this plant can be red, bicoloured, or white, depending on temperature or growing conditions. So it’s an interesting plant to watch but not so useful if you have a particular colour scheme in mind!

Colour change isn’t something I’ve been much aware of in the past. But now it has me intrigued and I can see that it may give me good photographic opportunities too. So I’ll be keeping an eye open for other plants that do this…there’s always something interesting happening in gardens!

You can see my post with the spring peas still in their original pinks and purples here.

Lathyrus vernus (spring pea) flowers

Crumpled Tissue Flowers: Cistus

The rock rose here (Cistus x purpureus) has been at it’s best this week. In the warm afternoon sunshine, the shrub has been absolutely covered in these crinkly pink flowers.

Now, however, those first flowers have gone over – shattered into lots of pink papery shreds lying on the ground. But I can see that there are plenty more flowers yet to appear, as there are lots of fat little buds waiting for their time to burst open.

These flowers are tightly packed inside their buds and emerge looking like scraps of crumpled tissue paper. They each last only a day and on a sunny day, there can be many flowers open at once. When I took these photographs, the rock rose had dozens of bright flowers, but early this evening when I looked at it, there wasn’t a flower left. Tomorrow morning I shall go out and see how many of the new flowers have opened in the sun. (In the UK, these shrubs are also known as ‘sun roses’.)

However ephemeral the flowers may be, the shrub itself has survived here for a long time. (Earlier white-flowered rock roses haven’t done so well and died in very cold winters.) It was planted not long after we arrived here, as part of a gravel garden.

Plans for this area have changed though, and it will become a mixture of veggie garden and somewhere to grow some wildflowers and other plants for bees. Our greenhouse will also have to be moved to this area, so I may have to cut the sprawling rock rose back a bit. Rock roses don’t like to be heavily pruned but I may be able to get away with taking off one or two of the longer branches. As insurance, I’ll try taking some cuttings from it too. If they root successfully, I’ll have some new rock roses to plant out in another sunny area. If I’m really lucky, they might even survive as long as this one has.

Rock rose flower (Cistus)

A Slow Start and Gradual Change

The cold weather in May has slowed down the development and flowering of our garden for June. Normally there would be plenty of flowers here, including these alliums (Allium christophii) that I photographed last year.

There aren’t even as many of the alliums as there were in the few years before. Last year there were a good number of them in the bed where the picture below was taken. This year there are only a few in the same place.

I know that other gardeners find that Allium christophii doesn’t always come back but I don’t know why…is it because the bulbs became diseased, were in soil that was too poor, or had they just reached the end of their lifespan? (The plants had a sunny and well-drained site which seemed to suit them.)

Allium christophii flower buds opening
Allium christophii flower buds opening

Luckily I have another patch of Allium christophii which has done much better. This is an older area that I had planted as a gravel garden and here the plants have multiplied over the years. Ironically, the way the alliums had spread in this area made me worry that they would take over the other, newer border too. (And that’s still possible because there are plenty of allium seedlings in both areas.)

The unpredictability of gardening and the way things change from year to year is one of the things that keeps it interesting for me. (How boring would it be if the plants always stayed the same year after year!) There are always new things to learn and different ideas to try out. And there are always surprises around the corner!

I’m glad that I do have the older patch of alliums that are doing well because I would hate to be without their little purple stars. The bees love them too, which makes them important for my future plans for the garden. I think I will try to move some of those tiny allium seedlings to another area. Then I can just leave them there to grow and develop into new bulbs. Hopefully, in a few years I’ll be surprised by a whole new batch of these lovely flowers.

Allium christophii