A Scary Monster!

It’s Halloween, so it’s time to post about my garden monster. It looks innocent enough and the daisy-like flowers are very attractive. But it’s huge and spreading, so likely to smother many of the plants around it.

I bought this some years ago as a small plant labelled only as a perennial sunflower, no other details. For the first years after planting, the sunflower didn’t grow much. It was in an unfavourable position, with very poor soil and several shrubs close by. It reached about 3 ft. tall, with narrow stems and leaves and carried pretty yellow flowers in the autumn.

Last year I decided to move a piece to an area that was intended to have a sort of prairie-style planting with coneflowers, grasses, kniphofias and verbena bonariensis. I waited to see if the plant would survive the move and got a shock – it’s growth habit had changed entirely!

The new position has much better soil and suddenly this plant was shooting up. And it was bulky too. The leaves were no longer narrow and dainty – they instead grew to about 7 or 8 inches long and were wide, more like the annual sunflowers. The stems kept growing, with no sign of flower buds for a long time. Eventually flower buds started to appear and the stems finished growing as they reached the impressive height of 8 ft.

Yikes! I’d made a big mistake. This was no longer the dainty-looking sunflower that had been struggling on the other side of the garden. The improved position had allowed my unnamed plant to reach it’s true size. It was now a massive monster that threatened to engulf the other plants.

Because the original plant was so much smaller than it was supposed to be, I hadn’t been able to identify the variety. Now I think that it is Helianthus tuberosus – the Jerusalem artichoke. Or it could possibly be a Maximilian sunflower, which is available as seed in the UK. Whatever it is, I am going to have to dig it all up before it can spread any further.

So that’s my scary tale for Halloween…but I’m happy to say that my other helianthus – ‘Lemon Queen’ (pictured below) is much better-behaved. It is just under 6 ft. tall and seems to stay in a large clump, rather than trying to spread itself everywhere. The bees seem to prefer this one too!

Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’ is a much smaller and better-behaved perennial sunflower and is welcome here.

Reaching for the Sky: Hollyhocks

I have been waiting for this pink hollyhock to finish flowering and for its seeds to ripen. At last it has, and I’ve cut down the old stems and taken them away to a sunny, sheltered spot where I’m hoping it will seed itself around. (I need to clear the hollyhock’s space so that it can become part of a new bog garden.)

The plant was the offspring of a series of hollyhocks that have self-sown in the area for the last few years. Originally I had planted a few seedlings bought at a community plant sale. I can’t now remember what colour the flowers were. Possibly yellow, because I do remember some very pretty double yellow flowers and it seems likely that they would eventually revert to producing plants with single flowers.

This year there was only the one plant. That’s probably a result of all the disturbance of having the fence renewed last year. But this single plant was much bigger than any of the previous hollyhocks. When I cut the stems, I measured the longest and found that it had reached a height of 10 feet. (Hollyhocks do grow tall, but are more likely to be 6 to 8 ft.) It was lucky that it hasn’t been windy enough to blow the stems over!

There’s a lot of discussion about whether hollyhocks are biennial or perennial. (They don’t flower until their second year.) The RHS says that they are short-lived perennials, so I’m happy to go with that. But I haven’t tried to move the hollyhock to a new position because they have deep tap roots and don’t like to be disturbed.

A reddish-pink hollyhock flower

If there’s time next year, I may grow some new plants from seed. I’d love to have a range of colours, including pale yellow, the really dark purples, and strong pinks like the flower above. This one sadly wasn’t in my garden, but was photographed outside a pretty cottage a few years ago. (I’ve seen a wonderful range of colours outside some of the pretty medieval cottages in the villages around here…the tall flowers and quaint cottages seem to go so well together!)

Whatever colours I might fancy in hollyhocks, the bees seemed happy with this year’s pink. This plant has attracted many bees, so that would be a good reason for keeping some of the same shade – and a good reason for growing varieties with single flowers rather than the doubles. If I manage to grow hollyhocks in a number of different colours, I must take note of which they prefer – could be an interesting little project!

Still Flowering

Things are really quietening down here and there’s a very autumnal feel as the first yellow leaves are starting to appear. But there are still a few flowers in the garden. The plant that really impresses me by still being in flower after months of continuous blooms is Geranium ‘Rozanne’.

There are not very many flowers left on the plant now. But it’s amazing that it has the vigour to keep producing them at all, considering that it has been in flower since early summer. (The earliest photograph of it that I can find in my files was taken on June 10th, but of course, it was probably in flower for a while before that.)

Flowers of Geranium 'Rozanne' with lavender.
‘Rozanne’ flowering alongside lavender in June.

The colour of ‘Rozanne’ can vary between looking very blue or much more violet. I think this may be related to the age of the flower. As you can see in the photo above, the fresh flower at the front is much more blue than the one at the back. The pinker tones seem to creep in as the flower ages and fades. I’ve read the suggestion that the flower colour also varies with the time in the season and temperature. It does make me wonder if bees use the colour change to be able to tell which flowers are newest.

This pretty geranium is one of my favourites in the garden. Like other hardy geraniums, it’s extremely easy to grow here and has managed to cope with the lack of rain well. (I did take care to water it in its first summer, but have rarely done so since.)

The flowers delight me. I love their colour, especially in combination with the pink veins on the petals. The pink is repeated on the filaments of the stamens, and the black of the anthers adds a touch of contrast to the flower. They’re very pleasing to photograph, so it’s fortunate that they are in the garden for such a long time every year!

A close-up shows the pink veining in the petals of this geranium.

Hints of Autumn

Recently I posted photographs of wild carrot (Daucus carota) flowers and seed-heads. A little while later they developed further and started changing to more autumnal colours. (You can see my earlier post here: https://annmackay.blog/2021/09/19/going-to-seed-wild-carrot/ )

The seeds had already begun to turn red when I took my first set of photos, but as time passed, the whole plant began to take on red tints. It has been one of the first plants to show the change to autumn reds here. (Actually, we don’t have many in the garden that do – most of our plants, shrubs and trees develop yellow tones in autumn.)

In the top photograph, you can see that the little sub-bracts (bracteoles) behind the seeds have now become mostly red, with touches of a brownish orange. The stems and lower leaves also turned red. That’s something I hadn’t noticed in the previous couple of years that I’ve grown wild carrot. Maybe it’s because it has been colder at night than usual. It was evidently enough to encourage the bracts and leaves to turn a brilliant colour, rather than just yellowing before they died.

The leaf below just happened to be lit so that the late-afternoon sun was shining through parts of it, making it glow and stand out against the dark background. It gave me an opportunity for a photograph that I hadn’t expected. It seems that my garden is always able to surprise me!

red daucus leaf
Wild carrot leaf with autumn colouring.

Warm Memories

We’ve had some lovely sunny and summery days here in September. There was even the chance to spend a day with friends out on a boat on the Norfolk Broads and another at a beach. After the caution of staying close to home for so long, these outings felt very good.

Now however, the weather has changed and summer is behind us. I can’t say I’m ready to welcome autumn yet, because our summer has been an odd one, with many more cold and grey days than you might expect. So I’m looking back at some images from past summers that might just bring a bit of warmth with them.

Helenium autumnale ‘Ranchera’ (Mariachi series)

The tithonia in the top picture (Tithonia rotundifolia ‘Torch’) was photographed a couple of years ago, after a friend gave me some plants. They made a glorious display – the plants became tall and covered in the dazzling orange flowers and the bees loved them. It’s a plant I will certainly grow again.

The Ipomoea lobata (‘Spanish Flag’) shown below was given to me by the same friend and made a great companion for the tithonia. (I grew it up tripods of canes nearby.) I think I like the leaves of this plant just as much as the flowers – both are very striking shapes.

Left: Ipomoea lobata. Right: zinnia detail.

The red zinnia was from a batch I grew from a seed-packet of mixed colours. The results were a delightful range of pinks and oranges, with just a couple of red-flowered plants. I had a great time photographing these and wished I’d had time to grow them again this year. (Next year, maybe!)

Most of the photographs here were taken in previous years, except for the heleniums (second photo from top). It’s the second summer for this perennial but it has struggled a bit because it’s planted on a slight slope and the ground is a bit on the dry side for it. I’ll probably move it soon and give it a position that suits it better. It’s worth that bit of extra care just to see those delightfully twirly petals every year.

Below is the one photograph that wasn’t taken in my own garden. I’d love to be able to grow gorgeous dahlias like this one, but I know that the soil here needs a fair bit of improvement first. (And I’m glad to say that our main compost heap is at last able to be used for this. I never would have though creating compost would make me so happy!)

I hope these warm-toned flowers have brought back memories of summer warmth if you’re heading into autumn. And there should soon be some autumn reds around to make us smile.

An orange and yellow dahlia flower.