Irises: Intricately Beautiful

Late spring feels really special when the irises start to flower. The iris above is (I think) a Pacific Coast iris called ‘Broadleigh Rose’. It was given to me by my generous friend Judy. (Thanks Judy!) This is the first time it has flowered and I’m delighted with it.

Irises are a marvellous plant for photography. They have it all – rich colours, striking markings, and a really ‘architectural’ shape. Iris sibirica is probably my favourite for photography because it combines an elegant shape with the boldest of markings.

At the moment, these irises are all living in large containers. They’re patiently waiting for me to finish preparing the border that will be their home. (That area previously had a row of huge conifers growing behind it in the neighbouring garden, so it was difficult to get anything to grow there. With the removal of the trees, I’ve had the chance to rejuvenate the area.)

Iris sibirica 'Currier'
Iris sibirica ‘Currier’

The new border runs most of the way along one side of the garden. There are already several well-established shrubs and some more recently planted small fruit trees along the border. But most of the rest is fairly bare, with just some planting at one end.

Eventually (!) this border will have a pond and a bog area. I’d really like to grow moisture-loving plants and this seems to be the only way that I can do it. (Unlike the garden in Scotland, where poor drainage meant we had areas that could flood.)

The pond has been dug out. (That took me a long time!) Now I need to level out the ground around it a bit, as the garden has a slight slope. This job is proving difficult because the ground has become so dried out.

But the irises are cheering me on with their vibrant colours, so hopefully it won’t be too long before they have the chance to get settled in to their new surroundings. I’m really looking forward to seeing what the border will look like next year!

Iris sibirica
Iris sibirica

Ranunculus: Jewel Colours

These ranunculus plants were the last plants I bought before the Covid-19 lockdown. It’s strange to think how different life was then.

The supermarket where I bought them was full of people rushing in and out on a busy weekend. Families and elderly people all going about normal life. While choosing my plants, I chatted happily with another lady who was a keen gardener…changed days!

Nurseries and garden centres have just started to open up again here but some had already begun selling over the internet and delivering locally. We were pleased to be able to buy from a tiny local nursery that we use every year. (Hubby plants annuals into tubs and baskets for the front of the house every year. I’m more into perennials.) It was a relief to know that the nursery would be able to survive.

As it has turned out, the extra time that folk now have to work in their gardens seems to have made many of these small businesses busier.

Ranunculus-red-4967
Ranunculus (red) aka Persian Buttercup

While garden centres and nurseries may cope with the effects of the pandemic, it’s a disastrous year for garden events and openings. Some however, have tried to offer an online alternative.

The Chelsea Flower Show is the biggest of these online events. For the week, the RHS had a programme of short talks by growers and designers plus a few visits to gardens that we might not normally see. It’s been interesting, but nothing like watching Chelsea on the TV as we normally do.

The BBC has managed to make some interesting programmes using footage of previous Chelsea shows alongside interviews with designers, growers and presenters all in their own gardens and nurseries. I enjoyed this much more than the RHS event – it gave more space to talk about garden design and the developments going on within gardening.

(If you’re in the UK, you should be able to watch the BBC programmes on the iPlayer. But if you’re elsewhere, you may find some of the programmes on Youtube.)

Ranunculus-5011

Cornflowers – And Blog Love Part 2

This is a continuation of last week’s post, responding to being given a ‘Liebster Award’ by Liz at Exploring Colour. Thank you Liz, you’re very kind!

In last week’s post I answered Liz’s questions. This week I get to give 11 facts about myself and then think of 11 questions for the bloggers that I nominate. Let’s get started:

1. I was brought up in the most northerly county of mainland Scotland – Caithness. It’s the sort of place where everyone knows everyone else. (And what they get up to.) My husband (Colin) is from there too.

2. My family lived in a house pretty much in the middle of nowhere, in a wild and windswept landscape. Today I prefer to live somewhere much less isolated!

3I went to a primary school with only around 30 pupils – we didn’t get away with much!

4My parents met at the Isle of Man TT races, where Dad was taking part. Years later, he started a business selling and repairing motorbikes. I have some very happy memories of zipping along Caithness roads on my own motorbike. (I suppose you could say that I owe my existence to motorbikes, hehe!)

5. It wasn’t until I came south of Caithness as a student, that I came across really beautiful gardens. (Caithness is just too windy!) I fell in love with the lovely botanic garden belonging to the University of Aberdeen and I’ve never really recovered…

6. I love live theatre. Living near Edinburgh for many years meant that I was lucky enough to be able to see lots of Edinburgh Fringe performances and to frequently go to the city’s theatres. (That’s something I miss here.)

7. I had a short outdoor theatre piece performed as part of a promenade drama created for of the 100-year anniversary celebrations for the Forth Rail Bridge. It was a lot of fun – and work!

8. Colin and I love to spend our time off going for long walks beside the sea or meandering along the Norfolk Broads (inland waterways) in a boat. (If money was no object, we’d love a little boat.)

9. My favourite flowers are clematis.

10. One of my interests is printmaking – most recently I’ve been learning drypoint. (Read about it here.) Next I’d like to learn collagraphy.

11Mixed-media art fascinates me and I’d like to find ways of combining my various creative interests. (Watch this space!)

Flower of Centaurea montana

I’ve previously nominated several of my favourite bloggers for an award, so for the Liebster Award I’ve nominated bloggers who write about gardening and nature. I’m sure you’ll enjoy their writing just as much as I do. They are:

Robyn Haynes at Big Dreams for a Tiny Garden

Heyjude at Cornwall in Colours

Invitation to the Garden

Judith at Beyond the Window Box

The Tiny Potager

Weeds Roots & Leaves

Please don’t feel obligated to take part, but if you do, it will be fun to read your answers!

These are the instructions for taking part in the Liebster Award:

  • Thank the blogger who nominated you and give a link to the blog.
  • Answer the 11 questions given to you
  • Share 11 facts about yourself
  • Nominate between 5-11 other bloggers
  • Ask your nominees 11 questions
  • Notify your nominees once you’ve uploaded your post

Now for my (mostly garden-themed) questions:

  1. Did you grow plants as a child?
  2. If you could grow anything (no problems with climate etc.), what would it be?
  3. What’s your favourite plant or flower?
  4. What gives you the most pleasure to grow?
  5. Is there any plant that you’ve regretted growing?
  6. When it’s safe to travel again, where would you most like to go?
  7. What’s your happiest childhood memory?
  8. What animal would you most like to have as a pet? (If absolutely anything was possible…fantasy time!)
  9. What would you like to learn to do, if money and other practicalities weren’t a problem?
  10. If you could teach your children (or the young folk around you if you don’t have children) one thing that they would always remember, what would it be?
  11. If you could have the most wonderful day ever, how would you spend it?

So this week has been a bit different – I hope you’ve found it entertaining. And to anyone who does take part – thank you!

Centaurea monbtana 5494

Camassias: And Some Blog Love (1)

My favourite thing about blogging is the friendly community that you can become a part of. At a time when it’s impossible to visit my friends locally, the relationships I’ve formed with bloggers from all over the world are deeply valued.

So it was a welcome surprise to find that I’d been nominated for a ‘Liebster Award’ by my lovely friend Liz at Exploring Colour. (You’ll find that Liz’s blog is a wonderful mix of life-enhancing colour and fascinating articles, many tackling issues that are important to the natural world.)

Now you may be wondering just what the ‘Liebster’ (German for ‘favourite’ or ‘dearest’) Award is. It’s a means to allow readers to discover new blogs and by the recipients nominating more blogs, lots of bloggers have a chance to be found. (A sort of bloggers-helping-other-bloggers chain letter!)

Liz had eleven questions for her nominees, which I’ll answer here. The following part, where I can tell you eleven (probably random) facts about myself will be kept for next week’s post. (Along with my own questions for the bloggers I nominate.) This post might get awfully long otherwise!

Let’s get down to the questions:

1. What connection (if any) do you feel that you have with New Zealand? Not a direct one, but through my husband, Colin. Colin has a cousin named Madeline who lives there and came over to Scotland to meet everyone. I remember a family boat trip along Loch Ness (no sign of Nessie) and a huge party afterwards.

2. What place in this world do you most love? My garden – a close runner-up is Argyll, on the west coast of Scotland because it’s so beautiful.

3. Your favourite colour(s) are what? And what do you associate with the colour? Blue and purple. I think of blue skies, my hubbie’s lovely blue eyes and blue and purple flowers.

4. What connection do you feel/experience with nature? I’ve always felt a strong connection to nature. I was brought up in a house surrounded by open countryside with only one other house in view. That tends to make you aware of every living thing around you and of the weather, the seasons, the amazing skies and sunsets…there weren’t many other distractions in those days. As a keen gardener, the connection to the garden and its plants and the many little creatures that live there is extremely important to me. I believe that it is vital for us to remember that we are ourselves a part of nature.

5. Your favourite ‘active’ recreational activity…? Is walking along the country paths here. And best of all is walking around gardens that we’re visiting!

6. Your favourite ‘quiet’ hobby/interest? If you read this blog regularly, you’ll guess…gardening!

7. Is there something you enjoy ‘having a go at’ regardless of skill? Drawing – it’s something I’ve been trying to learn to do better over the last couple of years because it is so useful for printmaking.

8. What was (or is) your favourite children’s book? ‘The Starlight Barking’ by Dodie Smith. (The sequel to ‘The Hundred and One Dalmations’.)

9. Your current or past ‘occupation’ i.e. work/study/keeping busy..is what? When I lived near Edinburgh, I used to write for magazines and newspapers. That was mainly about incidents from Scottish local history, but also work for my local newspaper. I wanted to improve my photography to be able to use it to illustrate my magazine articles, so I went back to college to study HND Photography. Now the photography has taken over…

10. What’s your favourite creative activity…what do you have a passion for? Photography! My parents gave me a Kodak ‘Instamatic’ when I was eleven and that started me on a lifetime of taking photographs. Photographing flowers is my passion and a great way to blend my favourite activities.

11. Is there something you can share about a challenge you face, or have faced? The biggest challenge I’ve faced has been dealing with my mother’s dementia. I suppose we were lucky, in that it didn’t get really bad until the last couple of years of her life. Mum was almost 92 when she died, and she’d had a very full and happy life up until the time her health started to fail in her late 80s. But dementia is a dreadful way for a life to end. You lose everything – your home and interests, your relationships with family and friends, and even a large part of yourself because you forget so much of your life. Mercifully, Mum was looked after by lovely, caring people and she always remembered who I was and found my presence reassuring. (It doesn’t always go like that.)

Wow! This is a much longer post than usual! So thank you for making it this far and thank you Liz, for the questions!

Flower of Camassia leichtlinlii
Seen a little closer…

Tulips: Flamboyant and Fun

Tulips are flowers to make you smile. They come in all sorts of rich colours and extraordinary shapes, like the parrot tulip above. And they just call out to me to photograph them.

The tulip in the top photograph is ‘Black Parrot’, but, as you can see, it’s not really black at all. It’s more of a deep maroon shade – like a very dark wine.  Here, newly picked and under the powerful studio lights, the reddish tones stand out. But the colour looks more purplish in the less intense light of my kitchen, especially as the flower ages.

I’m looking forward to seeing how this tulip flower will develop as it opens out fully. New shapes will be created by the unfurling petals, giving the opportunity to take a variety of different photographs.

The tulip below is very different to the first one. It’s a viridiflora – named for the green markings on the petals. The vibrant colours and sheen of the petals make me think of  silk. The twisting shapes of the petals even suggest that the fabric is swaying in a breeze.

This year I’ve had several different tulips in the garden and they have done well in our warm spring weather. (There are more that are just starting to open.)

I haven’t grown many before, but now I feel encouraged to make a point of trying some new tulips every year. Then we’ll have the enjoyment of them in the borders and I’ll have plenty of lovely subjects to photograph.

Now I’m just waiting for the ‘Blue Parrot’ tulips to open – exciting!

Viridiflora tulip 'Doll's Minuet'
The petals of a viridiflora tulip look like a rich, silky fabric.

Blossom Time

Our lives may have been put on hold by Covid-19, but spring is speeding along as usual.

It seems that we wait for weeks in late winter for any sign of spring’s arrival. And then, when it gets here, it almost bowls us over with the energy and headlong change as everything in the garden rushes into growth and new life.

Spring feels wonderful but is hard to keep up with. So many jobs to do – plants, seeds, weeds – where to start? And with so many plants flowering at once, I always miss photographing some of them.

But the special flowers, like the cherry and crab apple blossom here, are worth making a special effort for. The wind had begun tearing at the delicate flowers, so I quickly cut a couple of sprays to photograph indoors. This makes it much easier to capture their details in close-up photographs, with no worries about them being blown around by the wind.

Being able to spend some time photographing these flowers was a special joy. It was a chance to appreciate their soft and transient beauty without other distractions intruding. And it was a bit of attention that the flowers thoroughly deserved. I hope you have time and the opportunity to enjoy some flowers this week.

Crab apple blossom
Delicate spring blossoms

A Flash of Colour: Pasqueflowers

Over the past week or so, I’ve been enjoying the brilliantly-coloured flowers of Pulsatilla vulgaris (commonly known as pasqueflower) in my garden. Their rich violet-purple petals and golden stamens are a sight that has lifted my spirits.

You can see these flowers at their best on a sunny day, when they open fully, inviting bees to come and pollinate them. Soon there will be the fluffy white seed heads which glisten in the sun as their silky hairs catch the light. (You can see the seed head at the top of this post.)

Pulsatilla vulgaris (purple pasque flower)
I find the fluffy stems and leaves of the pasqueflower very appealing.

It feels like no time at all since the flowers started to appear but it won’t be long before they go over. This feeling is partly because I’m distracted by the spring work in the garden and sometimes get too engrossed in whatever is keeping me busy.

A nearby clump of white pasqueflowers has already finished flowering. (I removed the seed heads from this one as it’s still a young plant and I didn’t want it to put its energy into producing seeds yet.) The difference in timing intrigues me – why did the white one flower a couple of weeks earlier than the purple one? It can’t be a difference in conditions because they are only a foot apart and get the same amount of sun.

The spring flowers seem to rush into bloom very quickly and disappear quickly too. Maybe it’s the comparison with the slower changes of winter that makes this seem to be the case. It’s a good time to pause and have a good look around to see what’s in bloom and to take a few moments to appreciate the brilliance and exuberance of our spring flowers.

Pulsatilla vulgaris (purple pasque flower)
Spring flowers bring glorious colour to the garden.

Strange Days and Simple Things

While life seems to have been turned upside down and we’re all preoccupied with worries about the coronavirus, nature is quietly getting on with the business of spring. The warmer weather has brought leaves to the trees, opened colourful flowers and encouraged new growth everywhere.

It’s reassuring to get on with the small, familiar garden jobs that this time of year brings. Cutting back the stems of last year’s perennials feels both soothing and satisfying.

I have time to notice how long and curled the stems that carried the swirling butterflies of the gaura’s flowers became. Or that the shrubby sage (which has wonderfully bright magenta flowers in early summer) needs cutting back to prevent it from becoming lanky. As I trim back all these old stems, I find the new seedlings of the Canary Island geranium which have been sheltering under the old growth during the winter. Soon their large, dissected leaves will be impressively handsome.

Meanwhile, the daffodils have gone over and are being dead-headed. Now the tulips are flaunting their glorious colours as the low angle of the late sun glows through their petals.

Not all of the flowers are as bold as the tulips though. There are the smaller, much more modest flowers of viburnum (top photo) and the plum tree that we planted last year (below). I’m particularly pleased to see the flowers on the plum tree – there’s lots – because last year it looked a bit sad and sorry during the drought. (Despite regular watering.) Maybe we’ll eventually get a few plums.

I’ve been entertaining myself by playing with black and white and a bit of digital toning with these photos. There’s plenty of time for a few experiments at the moment. I hope that you’re finding things to keep you happily occupied at this very strange time.

Plum Blossom-5017

Stay Home Spring: Virtual Garden Tours

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.

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!