Daughter of the Wind: Anemone Blanda

The common names for Anemone blanda are ‘Grecian windflower’ or ‘winter windflower’. ‘Why windflower?’, I wondered, as I dived into a little internet search. The reason for the name is unclear. Some suggest that it’s because it symbolises their fragility in the wind, while others say it’s because the flowers are opened by the wind.

Whatever the reason behind the name, it probably comes from a Greek word which translates as ‘daughter of the wind’. That translation appeals to me greatly. I can imagine it as the name for a graceful old-fashioned sailing ship or a sleek modern racing yacht. I suppose I’m not the only one to come up with that idea!

But sailing ships are taking us far from garden flowers. This daisy-like flower is currently flowering in odd corners of my garden, mostly where I’d forgotten planting it. (Actually, I think that its rhizomes sometimes get picked up and transferred with other plants as I divide and move them elsewhere. So eventually they could end up anywhere in the garden.)

A bee-fly enjoying an Anemone blanda flower

The anemone above has a visitor. It’s not a bee, though, but a bee-fly. Although it may look like a bee, you can see the difference in the long proboscis (tongue, used for feeding on nectar) and the long and very fragile-looking legs. Although the proboscis may look sharp and a bit scary, bee-flies don’t sting or bite. They just try to look as if they might!

Bee-flies aren’t good news for the nearby ground-nesting bumblebees, because bee-fly larvae eat the bumblebee larvae. Luckily it doesn’t seem to affect the overall number of bumblebees. (Just shows how much murder and mayhem is going on among the beasties that live in our gardens!)

I hope that some of the bumblebees will find these anemones too. Apparently bees prefer to work among a large patch of the same flowers, rather than going to lone individuals. This must be a great reason/excuse for growing more of all the early spring flowers, especially these delightful beauties. (Given time, they will spread, but I reckon I’d like to give them some help.)

Please note that I won’t be able to reply to comments until after Tuesday because of internet connection problems. But I’ll be back to chat to you after that!

Blue Anemone blanda flowers

Fluffy Flowers for Easter: Pasqueflowers

The pasqueflowers (Pulsatilla vulgaris) are flowering slightly earlier than last year. That means they’re here in time for Easter, so they’re living up to their name. (The pasque part of the name comes from ‘paschal’, meaning ‘of or related to Easter’.)

The clumps are a bit bigger than last year, so there are more flowers too. Those fluffy, cup-shaped flowers are a most welcome sight. They seem to have settled into the garden here very well and they’re probably the most reliable of our spring flowers.

Pulsatilla vulgaris (pasqueflower)

But they don’t just look good – they feel nice too. Those fine hairs on the outside of the petals, buds and leaves are just as soft as they appear. I know this for certain, having spent a few minutes stroking them just to check! It’s not often that I think about how a plant feels as opposed to how it looks, but with these, the urge to touch is strong.

Although a native wildflower in the UK, the pasqueflower is rarely seen in the wild. It has become a well-loved garden flower, with nurseries and garden centres stocking plants with purple, white (‘Alba’) or deep red (‘Rubra’) flowers.

Pulsatilla vulgaris (pasqueflower)

I was hoping that I might have the opportunity to buy one or two more pasqueflower plants today. We were able to visit a garden centre for the first time in many months. (Probably since the end of last August.) It was a treat to be able to do this again and we did make sure to buy some plants. (But no pasqueflowers this time.)

Now that a few weeks have passed since having our first Covid jabs, we have enough protection to be able to explore the world again. Plant nurseries will be also able to open soon, so I’m feeling excited about being able to visit my favourites again. There’s a fair bit of border space that’s just waiting for some new plants to fill it!

If you celebrate it, I wish you a very happy Easter. And for everyone, I hope you enjoy your weekend.

A pasqueflower bud.

A Sweet Gift

Recently my neighbour brought me some beautiful hellebore heads from her garden. She’d been cutting some to display in a bowl and said she felt like sharing the bounty. As you can imagine, I was delighted.

You won’t be at all surprised to know that I photographed them. To start with I tried photographing them in the bowl I floated the heads in. However, I soon realised that the markings on the petals of the individual flowers would show much better if I photographed them on their own.

Pink-speckled white hellebore flowers

To photograph the flower heads, I used my studio lighting and my ‘light-table’. This table is simply a piece of curved white plastic on a frame. It’s translucent, so that I can shine light through it. And that means the light can pass through the flowers too.

This is probably my favourite way to photograph flowers. It shows up every detail of markings and colour changes in the flowers, making it a great way to show the pretty freckles and streaks on these hellebores.

A pink hellebore flower

Using the light table also shows the veining in the leaves well. I was surprised to see how much pink there is in the leaf-veins in the photo above. The light coming through the leaves has really brought out the colour. (And it makes the colour of the flower gleam too.)

Just to see the difference, I decided to photograph the next hellebore in a tiny coloured bowl. Although I like the way the dark purple of the bowl goes with the deep purply-pink markings on the flower’s petals, I prefer the other images. This has made me think that I will probably use the light-table more often to create images that show the translucence of the flowers. (Especially when someone brings me such a lovely gift!)

Cream-coloured hellebore flower

Still Waiting for Spring

It’s still not quite spring here. Actually, it’s quite confusing. We had a few days when it did get warm and sunny and working in the garden was a pleasure. But then the cold came back, along with heavy grey clouds.

Luckily, I hadn’t started removing the dead leaves and remains of the old growth from the perennials etc. There are still lots of ladybirds and other little critters tucked up for the winter in amongst it all. I don’t want to eject anything from its comfy little bed yet – they’ll want to snooze a bit longer until it gets warmer. Tidying up in the garden can wait a while.

I did make a start on removing some of the Japanese anemones that are doing their best to take over large areas of the garden. It was necessary to get a move on with this because a friend had given me two big plants of Salvia ‘Amistad’ and I needed to find space for them. (It’s a very sunny spot, with a bit of shelter, so they should be happy there.) However, it took me so long to get rid of all the anemone roots that I decided to plant the second sage into a big pot. Otherwise I would probably have run out of time to get the second patch of ground cleared.

Although the big swathes of anemones are a problem, I may well plant other flowers in big drifts. This is because it’s supposed to make it easier for the bees to find them. So no more dotting a plant here and another there! (I do try to plant in groups if I can. It does look much better. But that can get expensive if you’re buying them at a garden centre.)

I’m glad to see that the bumblebees have been making use of the flowers that are out now – mostly crocuses and the remaining winter jasmine flowers. They are probably visiting our hellebores too, but the downturned flowers make it hard to spot any visiting bees. I reckon that growing plants for bees makes an excellent excuse for buying more hellebores! (Well, any good bee plants really!)

The hellebore here is a plant that I photographed in the garden last year. Bringing a few of the flowers inside made it much easier to photograph than trying to get low enough down to see the flowers outside. This is just its second year of flowering, so I’m hoping for lots more flowers as it gets bigger. (I don’t like to take many flowers from a plant that’s still small because I really prefer to see them still out in the garden. But you don’t miss the odd flower if there’s plenty of them.)

If you’re waiting for spring too, I hope there’s lots of exciting new growth popping up around you. And I wish you flowers – lots of flowers!

Simple but Colourful

Often it’s the form of a flower, especially the details of the structure within it, that attracts me to it. Usually it’s a combination of shape and colour that makes for an interesting photograph, and some of my subjects (e.g. passionflowers ) can be quite complex in their appearance.

But some flowers are delightful in their simplicity, like these ranunculus, aka ‘Persian buttercups’. Their vibrant colours were enough to make me buy the plants to photograph them. (The red flower makes me think of the red crepe paper we used for making Christmas decorations as kids at primary school.)

These images are from last spring. Several others were posted on the blog at the time, but these have lurked on my PC as unprocessed RAW files since then. Wintertime is a good time to catch up with processing photographs that have been taken a while ago. It has given me something to keep me busy while it’s too cold to work in the garden.

Whenever there are flowers around, I take photographs of as many as I can. That means I have something to show on this blog every week. But during the warmer times of year, when I’m kept busy in the garden, time can be short. And then the photos mount up, waiting for me to get them ready to post here. It’s like having a little stash of colourful memories from sunnier days to keep me occupied while the garden has its winter break.

Soon I’ll be too busy outside to be able to spend a lot of time at the PC. Already the sunshine has come back and the temperatures are just a bit warmer. Everything in the garden is beginning to grow again and the crocuses are welcoming the first of the bees. No doubt, I’ll also be taking lots more photographs, so there will be plenty to process during next winter too.

An In-Between Time

Spring is getting closer but it certainly isn’t here yet. Sometimes February can feel mild and spring-like, but this year it has felt colder and snowy. I haven’t been in the garden much in the last week or two.

Apart from the hellebores which are starting to emerge, there has been a lack of flowers outside. Happily, the cyclamen plants have been busy flowering indoors to cheer us up. This year they seem to have lasted longer than usual – I think that’s because they’re in a cool conservatory.

Ruffled pink cyclamen flower

It feels like it’s not quite either winter or spring as I wait for the garden to come alive again with fresh growth. Meanwhile, I wanted something interesting to do. A plant I could photograph indoors so that I wouldn’t have to face the cold. These little flowers are ideal for that.

The rich colours and swirling shapes of the cyclamen flowers make them an obvious photographic subject. All those crinkles, curls and serrated edges give the petals a sense of drama and energy. Altogether, these features make the flowers look as if they’re in motion. The slight sheen of the petal surfaces suggests silk, making the flowers look like small pieces of fabric, fluttering in a breeze.

Cyclamen flowers

Alternatively, you could imagine that the flowers are tiny dancers, skirts swirling as they perform some graceful and athletic pirouette. Come in closer to the flower and that feeling of energy is magnified by all the curves and twists of the petals. Your eyes follow the lines made by the delicate veins, increasing the feeling of movement and strengthening the illusion.

Fun to photograph and glorious colour to combat the winter greys – I wouldn’t want to be without cyclamen at this time of year. Soon the spring flowers will be flaunting their brilliance and freshness, but for the last few weeks, it’s the cyclamen that have gladdened my heart.

Cyclamen flower

A Rose for Valentine’s Day

Actually, this really isn’t a Valentine rose – it would need to be red. But I don’t have any red roses in the garden, so this is the best I can offer. (It’s the climbing rose ‘Handel’.)

According to Google and several florists’ websites, a pale pink rose means, among other things, ‘happiness’ or ‘joy’. So maybe it’s a bit more suitable as an offering to my blog readers than a red one would be!

I don’t know why it’s the red rose that means love. Perhaps it’s because it’s the colour of blood, so associated with the heart and passion. At any rate, it does go back a long way, even to the myths of the ancient Greeks. Aphrodite, their goddess of love, was scratched by a thorn on a white rose bush as she was rushing to be with her dying lover, Adonis. Her blood turned the rose red and ever afterwards, red roses were the symbol of love.

It feels like it will be a long time before there are any roses at all here. It’s snowy outside at the moment, and I am dreaming of being able to visit gardens where the scent of roses is carried on warm summer air. And I’ll be very happy to see them, whatever colour they may be!

Winter Delight: Hellebores

Hellebores are starting to flower in the garden here. Some are still just small buds, but this one has been in flower for a few weeks. This is one of the Helleborus Gold Collection, HGC ‘Shooting Star’.

I particularly like this hellebore for the way that its flowers are held more upright than most hellebores. It makes it so much easier to see the flowers – and to photograph them too.

(My other hellebores are difficult to see properly in the garden. You really have to take the time to turn the flower head upwards if you want to look at the detail. But that has the advantage of making you get close to the flower and actually touch it, rather than just passing it by. So they’re all good!)

For the moment, this plant is in a pot, which has made it easy to take it indoors to photograph it. But it would probably be happier in a border where it has a bit more space. Later I will plant it out – when I find it a slightly shady spot where it won’t get too hot in summer.

As a winter and early spring flowering plant, hellebores are a great treat in the garden. They start flowering when much of the rest of the planting is either dead foliage or shoots that are not yet ready to emerge. And their beautiful flowers have an exotic look – much bigger and more showy than the other winter flowers. If I get the chance to go shopping in a garden centre while they’re still available, I know I’m going to be very tempted to buy more.

hellebore flowers

Winter Flowers

There’s still a little colour here in winter – just a few brave plants that choose to flower when it’s cold and grey. They brighten up the days and offer something to any bees that are awake and foraging.

It’s a pleasure to be able to wander into the garden to see the latest buds to have opened. Whatever helps to encourage me to go outside at this time of year has to be a good thing. Being rewarded by beauty and colour makes it easier to get started on some gardening.

winter-flowering iris
winter-flowering iris

As I enter the garden I’m pleased to see that a winter-flowering clematis is festooned with small bell-shaped blooms that have a deep red interior. To see the colour of these, you really need it to be growing above your head, so I have planted it to climb into a tall shrub (Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’, shown last week). The clematis was planted only last year, so isn’t very big yet. But I’m happy just to see it alive and growing, because it was in a position that meant it could easily have been destroyed when the fence was replaced earlier in the year.

Further along the same border is the winter jasmine. The work of replacing the fence meant that this had to be cut back a lot, but it will recover in time. (It was a terrible straggly mess, all tangled up with a rampant honeysuckle that had started to look very unhealthy.) I had to give several shrubs and climbers a rather drastic pruning so that the fence could be got at. This has made me realise that I need to be more practical in the way that I plant the garden.

Melted frost on winter jasmine flowers.

Not far from the winter jasmine is an area planted with shrubs and a few garden thugs (mainly Japanese anemones and a very vigorous geranium). Hiding amongst these is the pretty lavender-blue Algerian iris. (Iris unguicularis – I can’t spell it without checking the RHS site.) This needs to be moved to somewhere where it can be more easily seen and photographed…my knees and back will be grateful for that! The flowers are delicate and easily damaged by the weather but they are soon replaced by more, so certainly earn their place in the garden.

As I continue towards the back of the garden, my attention is drawn to the mahonia with its great sprays of bright yellow flowers. This shrub is an extremely prickly monster and must be approached with great caution when working around it. It often stabs at me in a very ungrateful manner while I am trying to weed around its base. But I forgive it because it can look spectacular and its big spiky leaves give it a very bold, ‘architectural’ appearance all year round.

I had intended to add some new winter-flowering plants this year, but obviously that hasn’t been possible. (I suspect that many gardeners may be tempted to have quite a spending-spree when we can shop freely for plants again!) For the moment I am content to enjoy what’s already here. This is a quiet time in the garden and staying at home means I have plenty of time to plan future plantings. I hope that means I’ll be all organised for spring and summer…haha! (That would be a first!)

Mahonia x media ‘Charity’

Coming in Late

Hesperanthas tend to get nipped by frost here before they have much chance to flower. For some reason they always seem to flower late in my garden. They’re usually described as an autumn flower. (I’ve also seen sites say that they’re a late summer flower. But I certainly wouldn’t say November, or if I’m lucky, October is ‘late summer’!)

Maybe the late flowering is because the climate here is much drier than they like and they wait for the late autumn/winter rains to get them started. (They like that elusive ‘moist but well drained’ position that we don’t have very much of. There is the choice of well-drained and dry or yet more well-drained and dry. Adding compost helps but creating it takes time.) Plants that like damper conditions have to be kept watered in summer. Perhaps if I water the hesperanthas more thoroughly, they’ll flower a bit earlier.

I really wanted to photograph this plant before the frost could destroy the flowers, so I kept it in a pot under glass*. That worked well and it stayed in flower for a few weeks. Having the flowers protected from the weather meant that they stayed in great condition for being photographed.

This is a trick I often try with new plants – it allows me to have undamaged flowers to photograph and can make it much easier to get at them for photography too. (Once plants are in a border, it can be difficult to get near enough to them without trampling on their neighbours.)

Now that the photographs have been taken, I can plan where to plant out this hesperantha (or ‘river lily’). It will probably be a lot happier – especially if I manage to create an area that can easily be kept well-watered for all the plants that like moisture. (A bit like a bog garden without the bog.) I think that might be a challenge for next year.

POSTSRIPT: I was amused to see that I’ve misled some readers by using a common phrase in UK gardening. ‘Under glass’ just means in a greenhouse, conservatory or cold frame. The hesperantha has been in the conservatory for a while and will spend the rest of the winter in the greenhouse. It’s interesting to see how phrases we take for granted don’t necessarily travel well, hehe!