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!

The Joys of Blogging: And a Thank-You

This week I had a very welcome surprise when I discovered that Liz at Exploring Colour  had included me in her list of ‘Blogger Recognition Awards’. I’m delighted, because the friendships I’ve made through blogging mean a lot to me and it’s lovely to feel that I’ve been accepted as part of this community. So thank you Liz!

I started this blog not quite two years ago, in the hope that it would help me get back to my photography after a few years of being distracted from it. (If you’d like, you can read more about the story behind my blog in my very first post .) It has worked well for that, because I have to get on and take photos for my posts. But there’s been a side to blogging that I hadn’t expected – the warm and encouraging community.

In appreciation for the enjoyment and camaraderie of the blogging world, I’d like to pass on the award to some of my favourite blogs.

Along with Liz, there are several bloggers that I met in the early months of my blog. Shelly at Love is Stronger writes with great kindness and compassion but one of my favourites on her blog is her delightful cartoon slugs. (And that’s coming from a keen gardener!)

I’ve been reading Digital Lady Syd’s Fun Photoshop Blog for a long time before I started my own blog and I’ve learned a lot about Photoshop and other photo-editing programs from her. There’s a huge amount of very generously given expertise on this blog, so I can recommend it to anyone who wants to learn how to make the most of their photographs.

At the moment, while we’re all having to stay close to home for the sake of everyone’s health, it’s nice to be able to see other places through blogs. I enjoy Jill Slawit’s sharing of the Yorkshire countryside on Where There’s a Jill There’s a Way and this woodland walk feels like an escape from present worries about the coronavirus. This is a great time to explore the world through the blogosphere!

Travel further afield features in Petra Koster’s blog. You can see some of her beautiful photography in this post about seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland. It’s ideal reading if you’re feeling a bit cooped-up!

You won’t be surprised that plants and gardens feature on many of my favourite blogs. Susan Rushton’s blog is a great escape for garden-lovers. Why not immerse yourself in the quirky ‘Giant Houseplant Takeover’ at Wisley in Susan’s review here. Or you can travel to Texas with Linda Leinen’s Lagniappe and perhaps take a look at the wonderful display of bluebonnets and other spring flowers – sure to lift your spirits! And the hellebores on Phao Hewitson’s ‘A Blog of Two Gardens’ are a joy to see. For inspiration and ideas for planting your garden, head over to Ali’s beautiful blog at The Mindful Gardener. Her flowers are gorgeous and you’ll end up with a huge ‘to buy’ list of plants! (I have anyway…)

It’s interesting too, to see the different wildlife that comes into gardens around the world – like the black kites in Indira’s garden on her blog, ‘My Third Eye’. There is more wonderful bird photography on Birder’s Journey – I’ve never seen anything as amazingly colourful as this little Painted Bunting.

Nature is the inspiration for Steve Gingold’s beautiful photography which you can find on his blog. If you haven’t seen it before, you really must! (And, if I’m honest, I’ll have to admit to being a bit envious of this gorgeous photograph of a trillium.)

These are just a few of the blogs that I enjoy reading. It would be easy to create an exceedingly long post with many more blogs! They’re especially important at the moment, both as a chance to see beyond the confines of my own home and as a chance to develop friendships at a time when we need to be physically isolated from those around us.

To those mentioned above – thank you for the happiness your blogs bring. Please don’t feel under any obligation to take part in these awards if you don’t want to! But do know that it is a recognition of the pleasure and friendship your blog creates. (Something so valuable right now!)

If you would like to pass on your own Blogger Recognition Awards, then these are the instructions:

  1. Thank the blogger(s) who nominated you and provide a link to their blog.
  2. Write a post to show your award.
  3. Give a brief story of how your blog started.
  4. Give two pieces of advice to new bloggers.
  5. Select up to fifteen bloggers you want to give this award to.
  6. Comment (or pingback) on each blog to let them know that you’ve nominated them and provide a link to the post you’ve created.

Oh yeah, I was supposed to pass on a couple of bits of advice for new bloggers – as a less than two-year-old blogger myself…hehe! In that case, I’ll say (a) just relax and be yourself, because blogging is about people in the end and (b) enjoy the company of other bloggers – comment and get involved – because that is the best part of blogging for me.

Freckled Hellebore-4869

Oranges and Lemons: Daffodils

Rich oranges and lemon-yellows make these daffodils a brilliant and delightful welcome to spring. The flowers in these photographs are growing on a wide, grassy bank in front of the houses here and they’re a sight I look forward to every year. (And a lovely greeting to everyone who passes by on their way into the town.)

A mass of brightly-coloured daffodils.

This year I think we all need as much optimism and good cheer as we can find while our minds are full of worries about the coronavirus. I’ve certainly felt lucky over the past few days to be able to escape into the garden and enjoy the peace and calm of being surrounded by the plants I’m working with.

The emerging flowers, new spring growth, and the increasing warmth of the sun are a comfort and allow some respite from the serious side of life. A small thing, maybe, but anything that increases our well-being right now must be good.

The daffodils seem to be bringing their own little bit of sunshine and exuberance to help lift our spirits – right when we need it.

Close-up of a yellow and orange daffodil.

Tricky Manoeuvres: Hellebore Photography

I’ve been waiting for a chance to take photographs of these hellebores for a while. At last the weather has become calmer. The wind has died down again and there have even been a few dry spells.

It felt good to get back outside into the garden with my camera and I was relieved to see that the rough weather hadn’t harmed the flowers.

But actually getting into a good position to photograph them was going to be a bit tricky. At the best of times it can be awkward to get close enough to low-growing plants, especially when the ground has become too much of a swampy mess to kneel on. Hellebores make it even more difficult by insisting on hanging their beautiful little heads down. You have to practically get to worm’s eye-level if you want to see them.

Luckily for me, there was a stack of bags of compost nearby and I was able to drag one over and lie down on it to get my photographs. Having one elbow firmly wedged against a big plant pot helped to make sure that I didn’t take a nose-dive into the mud.

All this makes me realise that I may have to change the arrangement of some of the garden borders. Far too many of the smaller plants are positioned quite far into the border, so that you really need to get right into the border to photograph them. Without standing on the other plants. Or getting jabbed by something prickly. Or even sitting down unexpectedly in the mud! Hmm, this may need a bit of thought…

Dark Hellebore 4833

Winter Irises

It’s particularly vile outside at the moment. Right now we have high winds and sideways rain and there was even some short-lived snow earlier in the week. So it’s comforting to know that the early flowers have survived, despite the weather’s attempts to shred them.

I photographed these irises a few days ago, in a dry and sunny gap in the stormy weather. (The weather forecast is my friend! I keep an eye on it to know when I must dash outside and photograph flowers before they are ruined.)

These fragile-looking flowers are iris unguicularis – had to check the spelling of that one – otherwise known as ‘Algerian winter iris’.

The plant was given to me by a generous neighbour and has slowly got itself established in a sunny border. It’s a plant that grows wild in Mediterranean countries and likes dry and sunny sites, so is well-suited to our hot and thirsty garden. (But the present heavy rain is unlikely to please it.)

There have been a good number of flowers this year, with a couple of buds still waiting to open. That is a good improvement over the previous years, when there were only three or four flowers and I thought the plant wasn’t too happy where it was. I’ve read that this iris flowers better as the clump gets older and more congested, so I’m looking forward to good displays in years to come…and a good reason to be outside on a wintry day with my camera.

Iris unguicularis 4766
Iris unguicularis aka Algerian winter iris

Spring Comes Closer : Irises and Crocuses

It’s been a very blowy, wet, and sometimes stormy couple of weeks here. Everything outside has had quite a thrashing from the wind, so I’m grateful that the early flowers have somehow managed to survive.

Last autumn I planted a shallow pot with the yellow crocus ‘fuscotinctus’ and dwarf reticulata irises ‘Cantab’ (the paler blue) and ‘Harmony’. Their pot sits at the front door and gets a lot of sunshine and a little bit of shelter from the wind. It has been a delight to see the colour gradually appearing as these flowers opened.

Despite that bit of shelter, it was a challenge to take photographs without too much blur as the upper petals of the irises fluttered in the wind. Sometimes flower photography means that you just have to hope to be able to snatch a shot right when there’s a slight drop in the breeze!

Iris and Crocus 4738

Every year I’ve said to myself that I must try to photograph all the flowers in the garden, starting with the early bulbs…and not managed it. Something would always get in the way – maybe something garden related, like sowing seeds and clearing weeds from borders, or a family responsibility that needed my time.

This blog has changed that and given some structure to my photography. It has created the need for me to take photographs every week and has put both my garden and my photography at the top of my ‘to do’ list (right along with writing my weekly blog post).

Now I can pay more attention to the gradual arrival of spring here and the changes it brings to the garden. That makes me very happy and full of anticipation of the gardening year ahead. It’s a bit of a luxury really, but these days my time is more my own and  I can spend it being the real me – obsessed gardener and photographer! (Happy days!)

Irises and Crocuses 4744