Going to Seed: Wild Carrot

One of the plants I’ve grown specifically so that I can photograph it is the wild carrot (Daucus carota). This variety is ‘Dara’. It starts off white when the flowers first open, gradually becoming pink, before finally turning a lovely deep burgundy red as they mature.

Daucus carota is the wild form of the carrot we eat and gives an eye-catching display of delicate lacy flowers on the end of long stems. It creates a stunningly pretty effect in a border. The plant is a biennial and seeds itself around easily – so it will probably get everywhere here eventually. (It has stayed in the same area so far, so I may just give it a little help to spread.)

Wild carrot (Daucus carota)
Right back at the start: wild carrot (Daucus carota) flower buds about to open.

I love the flowers and seed heads but I find they can be tricky to photograph. As quite large flowers or heavy seed heads on the ends of long, delicate stems they move easily in the slightest breath of air. I should have taken some indoors to photograph them, but my little studio space is in a state of upheaval at the moment. (Very inconvenient!)

This year, I have at least managed to take photographs of the flowers at different stages. Next year I’ll try to catch the early stages of the flowers when they’re white or pink. (Somehow this year I got distracted by doing other things.)

My favourite time to photograph this flower is when it turns to seed. The seed heads are an extraordinary shape, with the individual stems of seeds curving inwards to make a little ‘nest’. And the seeds themselves look interesting – covered in tiny white spikes and either ridged with, or entirely red.

Wild carrot (Daucus carota) flower head.
First seeds forming in the centre of the flower head.

I haven’t finished photographing the wild carrot seed heads yet. They are one of the best plants to leave standing in the garden for winter. (I don’t tidy very much away anyway, because it’s useful to wildlife.) Having the seed heads there through winter means that there is the possibility of something exciting to photograph when they get frosted. (Especially if the breeze drops and they sit still for a little while!)

This winter I’ll be checking to see if there’s any frost in the mornings and rushing out with my camera if there is. These are shaded by a fence in the early morning, so any frost is protected from the rising sun. Wish me luck and a little frost!

Daucus carota (wild carrot) seed head
Tiny spiky seeds on the maturing seed head

Light and Colour: Rose ‘Rhapsody in Blue’

As a photographer, I’m very aware of the difference that light makes to flower colour. The pictures on this post are both of the same rose ‘Rhapsody in Blue’, but you can see how the light has changed the way the colours appear.

The top photograph was taken in the evening, at a time when the sinking sun was creating a warm golden glow over everything. This has made the flower petals look much more magenta. Their red and pink tones have been picked out by the warm light.

The second photograph has been taken nearer the middle of the day. (On a day which has been just overcast enough to soften the shadows which might otherwise have been very harsh.) See how much more purple there is in the petals in this light. That’s because the light is more neutral, allowing the flower’s real colour to show.

If I had taken the second photograph on a day with heavy cloud, I would probably have got stronger blue tones in the flower. (And more yet if I had chosen to photograph during ‘blue hour’ before dawn or after sunset – but that’s getting a bit dark for my purposes!)

Exploring how changes in light affect colours is all part of the interest of garden photography. But right now, after a very grey few weeks, I’m grateful for every bit of bright sunshine we get. The last few days have been hot and sunny and it feels as if summer has returned to us. I only wish it would last a little longer!

Rose 'Rhapsody in Blue'
Rose ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ looking much more purple in cooler light.

A Splash of Red

The red echinacea I planted last year has done well this summer. (The orange and orangey-pink plants have been fine too, but not as luxuriant.) And it’s been great to have this vibrant scarlet blaze to brighten up what has been an unusually cloudy and grey few weeks.

These showy flowers demand attention. They could overshadow the plants around them, so I have some thinking to do before I plant up the rest of that area.

At the moment I’m planning to add some more hot colours. I have an orange hyssop (agastache) which I bought unlabelled from a local nursery. It would look good planted nearby but I’ll probably keep it in a pot for now because I don’t know if it’s hardy enough to spend the winter outside. (I don’t know how big it will get either, so this will also let me find out how much space it needs.)

Red echinacea flowers

Other plants for this area have a slightly ‘prairie’ feel. There are dainty yellow kniphofias, a red helenium and arching Mexican feather grass (stipa tenuissima). Scattered around the area are tall dark red scabious and yellow potentilla, both of which seed themselves everywhere. There’s a long way to go (and few weeds to remove) before this small part of the garden becomes a fully-fledged border. It is starting to look interesting, though, and it makes a change to experiment with plants that might not fit in elsewhere.

Finding more plants for this area may have to wait for next year. (We have been out to some of the nurseries around us, but have stayed quite close to home so far, so choice is limited.) Meanwhile, I’m delighted to see that the echinceas have produced a few seedlings – I wonder what colour their flowers will turn out to be? Given that there are plants with red, orange and a bright pink that has an orange blush to the petals, the possibilities are interesting. I’ll just have to wait and see – hope there’s some red amongst them!

Bee on red echinacea flower

Much Missed: White Passionflower

Occasionally I lose a plant that I really miss. There have been plants that haven’t survived after I’ve planted them. Usually because I’ve put them in the wrong place in the garden or because I’ve bought something that doesn’t suit our climate or soil.

It may be that the plant is short-lived anyway, or else that it isn’t very hardy and will be unlikely to survive a hard winter. That was the case with the lovely white passionflower ‘Constance Elliot’. This passionflower was growing alongside a grape vine on our arbour. It seemed fairly happy there as it wove its way through the vine leaves and produced a sprinkling of gleaming white flowers.

This year it failed to reappear in spring. I waited hopefully in case it was just late, but no, it was gone. I was lucky to get a few years from it as I knew it might not cope with a really hard frost. It was always going to be chancy whether it could survive in a fairly exposed area of our garden.

Passiflora Constance Elliot

I particularly loved this plant. The white flowers had a great freshness against their background of green leaves. They had a simpler, somehow more ‘natural’ look than the Passiflora caerulea has. I enjoy the flowers of caerulea with their lovely rings of blue filaments, but I feel that the plainer white flowers of Constance Elliot fit into our garden more easily. (Caerulea is great for the conservatory, where things can be a bit more exotic.)

Fortunately, I had taken the opportunity to photograph this passionflower both in the garden and in the studio. It makes an interesting change to photograph after caerulea (where the blue filaments tend to dominate the image). The mostly white colouration of the flowers means that there is more emphasis on the shapes of the flower as a whole and on the dark purple markings of the stigmas and the yellow pollen on the anthers.

Normally I would have just bought a replacement for the plant but I haven’t seen them around so much this year. (Actually, I think that’s just because I haven’t been out much. The plants are probably out there.) The garden centres and other stores often have them as small, very inexpensive plants that can be quickly grown on in a warm year, but I haven’t seen them there. It could be that Brexit has caused problems with some plant supplies – I don’t know. I do know that I will be on the lookout for another plant of ‘Constance Elliot’ next year!

Passiflora Constance Elliot

Getting There…

A couple of weeks ago I posted photographs of flowers of our Cosmos ‘Candy Stripe’. They were showing very little of the bright pink markings on the edges of the petals that they’re grown for. While I enjoy having variety among the flowers that come up from seed, I was hoping that they would show some of the ‘expected’ markings.

As you can see from the top photo, the flowers are becoming much closer to having the pink edge all the way around each white petal. They are now much more like those illustrated on seed-packets and adverts. The flowers are very different to the others in our garden, most of which have solid-coloured petals.

I also hoped that there would be some of the darker flowers with pale pink petals surrounded by the darker pink edge. I’m delighted to be able to show you that yes, I now have those opening too.

Photographing these was a bit tricky because it’s been breezy here for a while. It’s a matter of trying to choose a moment when the wind dies down to press the shutter button…not easy, haha! So I should really pick some of these and photograph them indoors – much better for getting clear detail. That might not be soon, though, because there is so much to do in the garden right now. But it is lovely to be able to enjoy these flowers while I’m working. It makes life feel good!

You can read my previous post about cosmos here: https://annmackay.blog/2021/08/01/not-as-expected-variations/

Cosmos 'Candy Stripe'

Out for the Big Butterfly Count

Recently I wrote that there had been few butterflies in the garden this summer. And I had seen no Peacock butterflies. Happily, some have now appeared, as you can see from the top picture (where it shares the buddleia flower with a Red Admiral.)

There aren’t as many butterflies as in last year’s really warm summer, but it’s great to see some. A little bit of sunshine and the scent of the buddleias has brought them into the garden to feast and sun themselves – conveniently for the ‘Big Butterfly Count’, which finishes this weekend.

Small Tortoiseshell butterfly
Small Tortoiseshell

The appearance of this Small Tortoiseshell butterfly was well-timed for my second go at the butterfly count. It’s the only one I’ve seen so far this year. In fact, I’ve only seen it a few times in the garden. I was delighted that I had my camera ready, and even happier that it didn’t fly away. (Most of the pictures here have been cropped from much bigger images because I couldn’t get close without disturbing the butterfly.)

Below is a butterfly that I’ve not noticed in the garden before. It’s a Gatekeeper and there were two of them, often in the same area. (The dark, band-like markings on the forewings of this one show that it’s a male.) These are common in hedgerows, grassland and around the edges of wooded areas, so they may have come from the woodlands across the road from us. There are plenty of trees and shrubs in the gardens around here and wilder areas with long grass too, so there could soon be more of them.

Gatekeeper butterfly
Male Gatekeeper butterfly

After I had photographed the Gatekeeper, I thought to myself that it would be good if I could find a Comma to photograph too. They are common butterflies and sure enough, a couple of them turned up. In fact the first one surprised me by landing on the grass at my feet and then deciding to perch on my leg for a while. So I got a rather dodgy photograph of that one and then managed to get a better photograph of the Comma below.

The butterfly that we see most often here is the Red Admiral. There’s usually several of these around on a sunny day and they’re pretty reliable when it comes to being around for the Big Butterfly Count. Afterwards they entertained me by chasing each other around the garden. It was amazing to see them spinning wildly through the air in the last of the evening sunshine.

Comma butterfly
Comma butterfly

While I was taking part in the butterfly count, I noticed that many of the butterflies came to feed on the buddleia plant that you see in the photographs here. This was good, because I hadn’t seen many on it before and I wondered if they preferred the paler purple varieties. This one is ‘Royal Red’. Here it looks more of a reddish purple but the colour changes a lot with the light and sometimes it’s a really lovely deep colour with more red in it. I’m glad to see that it does attract butterflies. I have several cuttings of it that are growing well, so I’ll plant them out in a sunny and sheltered area. Maybe they’ll bring in more butterflies for next year’s count.

There was a surprise while doing my first butterfly count for this year – a big hedgehog snoozing in the undergrowth! I haven’t seen one in this garden for a few years, so it’s good to know that they are around. It was worth having to restart that count just for the glimpse of him or her. (And don’t tell my cats, but I left out a bit of their food, which it ate pretty quickly.)

Red Admiral butterfly
Red Admiral on Buddleja davidii ‘Royal Red’

Not as Expected: Variations

Sometimes the flowers you plant come up a bit different from the image on the seed packet. That’s the case with this Cosmos ‘Candy Stripe’. Most of the seed companies advertise this plant with images of white flowers with a rich raspberry-coloured stripe all the way round the edge of each petal.

One or two of the companies, though, show you what will actually grow – flowers with a very varied mix of colourations. Some will be almost pure white with just a few traces of pink here and there along the petal edges (as in my photo above). Others may have petals that are partly edged in pink (below). Or the flowers may be mostly blushed with a soft pink but with a darker pink around the outside of the petal.

For me, this is part of the appeal of growing plants like these. Every year I try to grow one or two annuals to give me something new to photograph. So when the result is a little unpredictable, and as beautifully varied as these cosmos flowers, it becomes far more interesting. Having all the different colourations gives me more to photograph and makes it fun to see what new flowers each day brings. I had hoped to photograph one of the flowers with the full markings on the petals, but left it too late. When I went back out to photograph it, the wind had stripped all but two petals off the flower I wanted. (The weather is a bit rough at the moment!)

Happily for me, I can see that there are some darker flowers opening so I’ll soon be able to take some quite different photographs. That’s the joy of growing a flower that is variable and has the capacity to both surprise and delight. (I just hope the wild winds and rain aren’t too unkind to them!)

Cosmos bipinnatus flower

Little Visitors

After the bees got all the attention last week, I thought I’d pay some to a few of our other garden visitors. I find a lot more wildlife in the garden here than in our previous garden, so there’s often something new or unfamiliar.

The metallic-looking little beetle in the top photo is a first for me. I’d never seen one before but I have read about them. This is a rosemary beetle (Chrysolina americana) and actually an unwelcome intruder because it feeds on various aromatic plants. (These include rosemary, lavender, sage and thyme, all of which grow in our garden.) Luckily I’ve only seen the one so far, so I hope it hasn’t brought its friends! Apparently the damage they do may not harm the plants much, and the beetles themselves can just be picked off the plants.

I never use chemicals in the garden and prefer to hope that predators will naturally get rid of pests. In the case of rosemary beetles, their larva are eaten by birds, frogs and other beetles. So it’s good to have plenty of hungry carnivorous beasties around!

Greenfly tend to suddenly appear in large numbers every summer but luckily the ladybirds do too. A few weeks ago I found the weird-looking larvae of ladybirds in amongst a swarm of greenfly – I hope they had good appetites! There are lots of ladybirds around this year so I think they must have had a an easy winter. (I tend to see them grouped in curled up leaves that have fallen in autumn. Our garden is never too tidy, so there are plenty of places for them to hibernate.)

Another visitor that comes here in large numbers is the hoverfly. (Pictured above.) There are always a lot of these tiny pollinators around the garden – many more than there are bees. I like to watch these little brightly-coloured flies as they zoom around amongst the flower heads. And I find they will often be very obliging and sit still for long enough for me to focus on them when I’m out with my camera. Wish the bees would do that too!

The visitors that we’re missing this year are butterflies. There have been a few Red Admirals and some Large Whites but not much else. Last year there were often Peacock butterflies (below) sunning themselves on our brick path – sometimes as many as a dozen along the length of it. This year I have seen none so far. The low numbers are probably due to all the cold and rain we’ve had this year, so perhaps things will improve as the weather does. The ‘Big Butterfly Count’ survey is being held in the UK at the moment. Let’s hope that the results of that are a bit more encouraging!

Bees’ Needs Week 2021

The summer feels like it’s going by too quickly. (As always!) Already the flowers that I associate with late summer are starting to make an appearance. I’ve noticed the first pale pink flowers to open on my patch of Japanese anemones, and the echinacea plants (above) are now beginning to display their brightly-coloured daisies.

There are lots of flowers in the garden at the moment so there are also plenty of bees and hoverflies around. That’s very appropriate because this week has been the annual ‘Bees’ Needs Week’ in the UK. This is a campaign to encourage us to grow suitable plants for bees and pollinators and to allow areas in our gardens to be wild enough to create a habitat for them.

Bee on Cephelaria gigantea (giant scabious)

Interest in helping bees (and wildlife in general) has grown greatly in recent years, with many gardeners delighted to provide spaces for nature. Now local councils and other bodies are taking a more sympathetic stance too. They have been allowing areas of grass to remain uncut for longer and even encouraging wild patches and mini meadows in previously manicured areas.

It’s good to see the bees back again here after a couple of weeks that have been unusually wet and much cooler than normal. Certain flowers are particularly successful at attracting bees. Here it’s the various members of the scabious family that seem to always have bees and hoverflies around them.

The pale yellow flowers of the giant scabious (Cephalaria gigantea, above) are a recent addition to the garden and have proved very popular. Their impressive height makes it a little difficult for me to photograph the bees on them though! (They can get up to 8 ft. tall, but mine have still some way to go.) Scabiosa atropurpurea (below, right) is up to about 3 ft. tall, so much easier to photograph!

L: Honeybee on geranium, R: Bumblebee on scabious flower

The blue geranium pictured on the left (‘Mrs. Kendall Clark’) has finished flowering but geranium ‘Rozanne’ is ready to take over its role. However, although the bees enjoy it, there weren’t any on its flowers when I took my photographs.

I think the bees weren’t interested in the flowers of Rozanne because the lavender beside it was in full flower and more alluring. I watched lots of these buff-tailed bumblebees (below) buzzing from flower to flower, clearly intent on making the most of the nectar in the tiny flowers before they all go over. (Bumblebees have longer tongues than honeybees, which makes it easier and quicker for them to access the nectar in lavender than it is for honeybees. This means they tend to move around the flowers quite fast – so harder work for the photographer!)

Given how much the bees enjoy the lavender, I’ll plant more of it for next summer. (Angustifolia varieties are reckoned to be particularly good.) I’m very happy to be able to provide something for the bees here. It seems only fair when I enjoy going on a ‘bee-hunt’ with my camera – and of course, we need our bees!

You can read about Bees’ Needs Week and learn what you can do to help bees at these sites: https://www.bumblebeeconservation.org/bees-needs/ and https://deframedia.blog.gov.uk/2021/07/12/buzzing-for-bees-needs-week-2021/

Bumblebee on lavender