A Christmassy Red for You

I hope that you are all enjoying a peaceful, healthy and very happy holiday, whether you celebrate Christmas or not. Covid has given us another difficult year but I hope that, despite it, you and yours have a time full of magic and joy.

I’d also like to thank you for reading my blog posts and for commenting and chatting here. Your company has brightened my days and the warmth of the blogging community has cheered me at a time when it is difficult to visit family and friends. It is a joy to interact with you!

The flowers here are Dipladenia ‘Rio’, a climber that I grow in our conservatory. The colour feels festive and Christmassy, so appropriate for this time of year. I hope that you are feeling festive too!

Dipladenia Rio

Frosty Christmas Decorations

As this is the last post here before Boxing Day, I reckoned it was time to post some natural ‘Christmas decorations’ created by the frost. These are from a couple of years ago – there hasn’t been enough frost for photography yet this year. (But there probably will be in January, as it’s usually colder then.)

I’m relieved that we haven’t had much frost yet because I have lots of plants sitting around in pots. They’re waiting for me to use them in a border renewal, but work has gone more slowly than I expected. The plants will probably be OK, because they’re in quite big pots and are mostly very hardy. Even so, I always feel a bit guilty about the possibility that they may freeze and worry about them making it ’til next spring.

The border I’m re-planting is an area that has partly been taken over by Japanese anemones. It stretches to the side of the new pond. (The pond is still a big black hole at the moment – I’m hoping that it will fill up with rain or snow over the winter.) It feels good to be able to keep going with this while the weather isn’t too cold.

Until it does get really wintry, I’ll keep pottering about in the garden. For Christmas though, I’ll take refuge in the warmth indoors. I’ll probably spend most of the time curled up on the sofa with hubby and the two cats, lots of good books, plenty of tasty food and (very likely) a generous amount of wine. (Maybe even something decent on the TV.) Whatever you’re doing this Christmas, I hope that it’s a good one, and that it brings you much happiness. I wish you and your families and friends good health and good cheer. 🙂

A Last Blaze of Colour

I took these photographs in my front garden just a couple of weeks ago. It already feels like a long time since we had such rich colours. These glowing leaves belong to a smoke bush (Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’) which has been positioned to allow us to see the evening sun shine through its branches.

During the summer the leaves are a striking deep purple. Autumn changes them to the glorious mix of reds, oranges and yellows that you see here. For a little while, this large shrub almost looked as if it had burst into flames. (Appropriate, I think, for a ‘Smoke Bush’!)

This was the last of the really warm colours as the garden is taken over by winter. The leaves on this smoke bush have now faded to a soft brownish yellow and will probably soon be blown away by the wind. But for this one shrub, there was a spectacularly fiery finale to it’s year.

Cotinus (smoke bush) autumn leaves

Some Autumn Reds

We had some good autumn reds in the garden this year – or maybe I should say orange for the photo above. It’s the fieriest that our leaves have managed in a long time. I should think the more intense colours developed because it’s been colder than most autumns, though not nearly as cold as we were used to in Scotland.

Our little crab apple tree (Malus ‘Royal Beauty’) has the brightest leaves in our autumn garden. Both photographs here are of this same tree, so you can see that they vary between orange and deep red. They have really been spectacular this year.

To photograph the leaves, I chose to shoot towards the sun. (I was lucky enough to catch the last bit of late sun before it left the back garden.) Doing this allows the strong light to shine through the leaves. As a result, they become ablaze with glowing colour that contrasts with the dark shadows cast by other leaves.

I love nature’s ability to imitate stained glass, if only for a short time. It makes the garden much more exciting to photograph at this time of year!

Autumn leaves - crab apple

Going, Going, Gone 3: Long Gone

Almost all of the autumn flowers here are gone. One or two remain. The hesperantha and gaura (posted here two weeks ago) still have a few flowers, and the dark flowers of Scabious ‘Chile Black’ keep coming well into the winter frosts. Others have only just finished for the year.

Many other flowers are now a more distant memory. The yellow flowers of the rudbeckia (top photo) have been gone for a few weeks, but for a long time they were their own little splash of autumn sunshine.

The red dahlia below is a lovely plant that was grown and given to me by my friend Barbara. It’s Dahlia variabilis ‘Bishop’s Children’. From seed, it can be anything in a range of reds, pinks, oranges and yellows, with deep red/bronze foliage. This one has survived several winters in the garden in its well-drained and sheltered spot. But as soon as the slightest touch of frost gets to it, the flowers stop. So one day you can have several red flowers looking radiant, and the next they’ve gone.

Dahlia 'Bishops Children'

Another splash of bright colour came from the New England aster in the photo below. (OK, I know I should call it Symphyotrichum, but ‘aster’ is so much easier!) I believe this one is ‘September Ruby’ (aka ‘Septemberrubin’). It’s a tall plant, covered in wonderfully pink daisies – usually about 4 ft. tall, but one year nearer 5ft. It’s glorious and one of the cheeriest sights of our garden in autumn.

These plants have finished for the year, but having their photographs gives me a reminder of warm late summer and autumn days. That’s something very welcome while it’s raining and the wind is stripping the leaves from the trees

Even now, though, there is a scattering of colour in the garden as the winter flowers start to appear. The winter jasmine is gleaming with delicate yellow stars and nearby a Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’ is showing its tiny pink flowers. A mahonia bush now has yellow buds promising to open soon. As we approach the darker days of winter, these will give little touches of colour to cheer our hearts.

Aster flowers (Symphyotrichum)

Going, Going, Gone 2: Going Soon

These flowers are likely to be pretty much gone by the time I post this. They’ve done well to last as long, but the next touch of frost will probably be enough to finish off the cosmos (below) and the osteospermum (bottom).

The penstemon (above) can usually flower a little longer than the others. Sometimes it’s still flowering when the heavier frosts arrive, which makes for some attractive photographs. I don’t think it will manage to keep going long enough this year because there are fewer flowers. None of our penstemons have had as many flowers as usual this year, but I don’t know why. They’re pretty drought-tolerant but I suppose it’s possible that they got a bit too wet in winter. Hopefully they’ll have stopped sulking by next year!

Cosmos 'Candy Stripe'
Cosmos ‘Candy Stripe’ has a pretty colouration.

I was glad to get the photograph of the cosmos, even though I’d already taken several others back in August, because at last it had developed the colouring that I had been hoping for. That was my last chance to get a decent photograph too, because although there are still several flowers, they’re now smaller and starting to look a bit ragged as the weather gets rougher.

Next year I will probably plant cosmos again, but I’ll try to find a different cultivar so that I have something new to photograph. (That’s the pleasure of having some annuals in the garden – I must make time to grow more.)

We have several osteospermums tucked into sunny spots in the garden. They don’t usually survive the winter but a local nursery sells them quite cheaply, so we don’t mind buying some more. The flowers are looking a bit ragged as a result of the little bit of frost we’ve had and the rain more recently. However, there’s still a few buds, so maybe they’ll manage to open to give us a last few flowers. (Next summer, I must remember to photograph the pretty daisy-like osteospermum flowers when they’re at their best – not leave it ’til they’re getting roughed up by the weather!)

purple osteospermum flowers
Pink osteospermum flowers – not quite ready to open.

Going, Going, Gone: Still Going

It’s come to the time of year when the garden is starting to feel rather empty. The leaves are falling, there are gaps in the borders where plants have died down for the year, and there are few flowers left.

With the gradual disappearance of the flowers, I have a lot less to photograph. (There’s still the changing colour of the leaves, of course.) By the time the frosts come, I’ll be grateful for whatever photographic opportunities they bring. Meanwhile, the next couple of posts will be the last chance to capture these flowers before they’re gone for the year.

The top photo is of Hesperantha coccinea – the crimson flag lily or river lily. (It used to be called Schizostylis, but plant names are always being messed about with. At least the newer name is a bit easier to spell!) This plant is one of the latest to flower in my garden, usually not until late September, but the flowers will last through the first frosts. I’ve read that it should normally start flowering in August, so I wonder if ours is later because it is not well enough established yet, or whether it’s because it is a bit hot for it here at that time. It will be interesting to see if this changes as it develops.

The plant pictured above is Gaura lindheimeri. (Well, I thought it was – I’ve just discovered that it’s had a name change too. Now it’s Oenothera lindheimeri. Keeping up with plant names is tricky!) This is one that I love for the delicate flowers that sway on long stems. It’s one of those airy plants that (like Verbena bonariensis) take up little space in the garden, but whose flowers combine beautifully with many other plants.

Next year I’ll try the gaura alongside the lacy white and red flowers of wild carrot (Daucus carota) and probably the small dome-shaped flowers of a dark red scabious too. Gaura flowers for ages – right from summertime until the frosts stop it.

My last plant is Zauschneria californica ‘Glasnevin’ (California fuchsia). This was just planted last year, so is still settling in, but it does seem to be happy in its patch of hot dry soil. Its flowers won’t last much longer but it has kept flowering later than I expected it to. The plant is tiny now, but hopefully in future it will be a mass of little orange flowers to brighten dull autumn days.

Now I must get back out there with my camera and see what else I can find…

Zauschneria Glasnevin

Turning Point

Friday morning brought the first of this year’s frosts. Only the grass was frosted. It didn’t cover the flowers and plants in tiny frozen crystals – so no photographs this time. (The photograph above was taken last November.) Little as it may be, the first frost marks a turning point in my garden year.

Soon the last of the flowers will be gone from the garden. The light frost was already enough to finish off the remaining flowers on my one red dahlia. Other flowers may continue for a little while but I could see that many had that translucent look that they get after being touched by frost. The cosmos probably won’t last long now, but the white gaura and geranium ‘Rozanne’ are still looking quite robust. Their flowers seem more able to cope with the earliest frosts.

Tender plants have already been rescued from the garden and tucked up somewhere sheltered for the winter. Inevitably, there are some plants in the garden that may not make it through if the winter is a hard one. This is always a slightly anxious time when I wonder how much of a gamble I can take with those, and try to find ways of protecting them from the cold.

It’s starting to get chilly and the leaves have mostly turned yellow and begun to drop to the ground. Even so, we do still get some bright and sunny days. When those days come along, I’m happy to get all warmly wrapped up so that I can spend a bit of time working in the garden. (There’s always plenty to do!) And I’ll be keeping a lookout for more frosty mornings, in the hope of finding good opportunities for photography.

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!