Into the Jungle: Henstead Exotic Garden

Last weekend I went to visit Henstead Exotic Garden near Beccles in Suffolk. The weather was still very warm, so it was a great pleasure to spend time in a garden that provided plenty of shade.

That precious shade was provided by the many trees, shrubs and bamboos growing in the garden. Amongst these are around 100 palms, giant yellow bamboo that can grow a foot a day (plants grow fast in the warmth here) and beautiful red-leaved bananas.

Henstead Exotic Garden

The garden has been established for less than 20 years, with its owner, Andrew Brogan, having moved to Suffolk in 2004. It is not what you might expect to see in Suffolk. This garden survives winters here because many of the palms and other exotics are actually quite hardy and due to its sheltered site, surrounded by a belt of older trees. (These include yews and oaks, some of which are up to 300 years old.) Additionally, the garden is only two miles from the coast, which protects it from having prolonged frosts.

Henstead Exotic Garden

The deep shade created by the lush growth of the plants at this time of year made trying to photograph it very tricky. It was very dark in many areas. (But, oh, I did enjoy the cool!) I tend to prefer not to use the higher ISO speeds on my camera, but this time I really had no choice.

It was so much easier when I emerged from under the leafy canopy into the nursery area. Here there was a large open area that allowed me plenty of light to photograph some of the plants in containers. (The nursery area is packed with all sorts of serious temptations, many at very reasonable prices…easy to spend a long time at this bit!)

Henstead Exotic Garden

I reckon I’ll have to return to the garden earlier in the year in future, so that I can photograph some of the lovely garden features that were hidden in it’s dark depths. There were ponds and an artificial stream that would be easier to photograph at a time when the canopy above hasn’t yet filled out.

There were interesting buildings too – the main one being a large tropical-styled summerhouse, which must be an inviting place to spend a relaxed hour or two. There was also a ‘Thai pavilion’ and viewing area which visitors clamber up to via some rather deep steps – an exciting viewpoint up close to the trees and bamboos! I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to this very different garden – I’ll be back!

Henstead Exotic Garden

Blossom Time (2)

This year the old cherry tree (‘Kanzan’) in our front garden has only about a quarter of the flowers it used to produce. It’s probably not going to survive a lot longer and I’ll miss the fluffy pink blossoms. (They’re double flowers, so not so good for bees – if I had chosen the tree, it would have been a single-flowered variety.)

While there may be less pink blossom, we do have lots of white cherry blossom in the garden on a young fruit tree. To me, the flowers are every bit as pretty as those of the ornamental varieties. Plus, you have the added bonus of fruit. (Or the blackbirds do, if you’re not fast enough off the mark!)

I’m not sure what this tree is now – probably a morello – because it was an impulse buy by my husband along with a plum tree. Not the best way to buy things, but I have to admit to doing the same thing with perennials. But if it is a morello, then it’s much less sour than I would expect. I like to eat them straight off the tree – but then I do like the sour cherries you get in Turkey too. Mmm!

Given how good the flower display on the fruit trees has been this year, I’m keen to somehow find a bit more space for fruit in the garden. Having some organic food of your own seems like a very good idea these days and this is a fairly easy way to do it. (But not always successful. The plum tree planted at the same time as the cherry has never yet produced fruit. It does look very pretty when it’s in flower though.)

Space may be the only problem with my plan. I have a pear tree that I bought as a bare-root plant and planted up into a large container. It’s still waiting for a home after a couple of years. (Good thing it’s in a big pot!) It should get planted out later this year, but first we have to move our greenhouse and then work out the best place for the pear. I’m looking forward to some fruit from it in the future!

You can see my post from last year about our ‘Kanzan’ cherry tree here: https://annmackay.blog/2021/05/02/frothy-pinks-cherry-blossom/

Cherry tree blossom

Unexpected Sparkle

The sparkling drops of melted frost on the seed head of Stipa gigantea (golden oats) above caught my attention one morning. I had gone outside knowing that any frost had already melted and expecting it too be too late to find any interesting photographs. When I saw this, however, I realised that I was wrong. There was still plenty to see and photograph.

You may have already seen several of the photographs from that morning in an earlier post: https://annmackay.blog/2022/01/30/after-the-frost/

Both of these photographs are of the Stipa gigantea. I was tempted to keep the more sparkly top one as a possible Christmas ‘nature’s decoration’ photo, but decided to hope for more frost before the end of next December. The need to find something to post right now was stronger!

The garden keeps me going even in the winter. It gives me new things to look at and to explore with my camera. It stops me from getting bored and helps me to look forward to the future. Sometimes it even brings a bit of sparkle into my life. Hope your life is a bit sparkly too!

Water drops on Stipa gigantea (golden oats)
Water drops on Stipa gigantea (golden oats)

Last of the Frost?

Some more frosty pictures for today, but these were all taken a few weeks ago. It looks as if these may be the last frost pictures for this winter because the nights are not so cold now.

February has brought a feeling that, for us, the worst of winter is over. And I know how much I may be tempting fate with that statement! Here’s hoping we don’t get another ‘Beast from the East’ bringing especially wintry weather in the next month or two.

Frosted Campanula Seedheads
Frosted seedheads – probably from a campanula.

We haven’t had very much frost this year, although it has been cold enough on many nights to create a layer of ice on our half-finished pond. There’s been no snow either – in fact snow is starting to be a novelty whenever we do get any. Next time we get a really hard winter it will probably come as a shock, with us being unprepared to deal with it.

The last few days have given me the impression that spring is not so far away. I’m always glad to see the end of January, because I know that February is often mild enough to make working in the garden enjoyable again. There are the first signs of new life – early spring hellebore buds are appearing and there are tiny, tightly-curled new leaves on the honeysuckle.

Frosted Blackberry Leaves
Blackberry ‘Oregon Thornless’ leaves edged with frost.

Soon it will be time to get ready for spring. I’m never very organised when it comes to sowing seeds. Even so, I usually manage to grow something that will give me a new subject to photograph. More important this year, though, will be moving plants around and renovating borders in the garden. There’s plenty to look forward to, and hopefully lots of changes for the better through the year.

Frosted eryngium
The frosted seedheads of an eryngium.

After The Frost

As a slight change from my frosty photos, I thought I’d post a few pictures of the after-effects of these chilly nights.

After the frost melts, there is a great clarity and brilliance to the water drops that are left behind. While they are still very cold and not entirely melted, they can cling to plants for longer than raindrops would. If you look at them closely, you can see little bubbles trapped inside them.

The plant in the top photograph is Euphorbia mellifera. I’m intrigued by the way the tiniest of droplets gather in a line along the very edges of some of the leaves. This plant is placed where it gets the earliest sunshine, so any frost on it disappears quickly. The melted drops, however, stay, and add a brilliant sparkle to the vibrant green and red leaves.

Water drops on fennel seed head

There’s not much left of the fennel seedhead above. The seeds fell off it ages ago, and now the rest looks quite skeletal. I can imagine that big drop on the right being clutched in bony fingers. It has become something alien-looking, especially with the trail of tiny drops clinging to a stray grass stem that is entangled with it.

There’s even less left of the plant below. I think it’s the remains of the flowering stem of some catnip. Now though, the melted frost has become like little round beads that have managed to attach themselves to the plant – as if they’re some sort of weird plant/glass hybrid.

Drops of melted frost on seed head

The frost on the rose leaves below is still partly frozen and is even more textured with icy ripples and crinkles and lots of bubbles. There’s quite a difference between the irregular shapes of the colder, still icy drops and the more spherical drops that have completely thawed.

The morning I took these photographs I had missed any chance of frost. But I enjoyed having a close look at these drops of melted frost. They add texture and an interesting highlight to the winter garden as they gleam in the morning sun.

Melted frost on rose leaves

Frosted Seed Heads: Wild Carrot

Back in September I wrote a post about the flowers and seed heads of wild carrot (Daucus carota). I was hoping that the seed heads would last long enough to be frosted when winter arrived. Luckily for me they did, so I had the chance to photograph them. (You can see my original post here: https://annmackay.blog/2021/09/19/going-to-seed-wild-carrot/ )

This wild carrot is a variety named ‘Dara’. It has white flowers that gradually turn a deep burgundy and are very lacy and delicate-looking. The seed heads are just as interesting as the flowers, especially when they curve inwards into a little ‘nest’ which protects the maturing seeds. By this time of the year most of the seeds have escaped (some with a fair bit of help from me) and may become the new plants for future years.

Meanwhile, the remains of the seed heads provide a great framework for frost. The top photograph was taken when the frost was particularly heavy, making it look as if the seed head had been dipped in sugar crystals.

This plant was in a position that is shaded from the early morning sun, so the frost lasts and allows time for photography. The cold lingers here, and the shade from the fence creates a bluish cast which makes it feel even chillier. (The bottom photograph is of a plant that is further from the fence, so frost there doesn’t last as long. It was also taken earlier in the winter, when there was a much lighter frost.)

I’m grateful for simple things like these frosted seed heads in winter, because they keep me supplied with something to photograph. They give me something to enjoy and to marvel at as I look at them closely…and something that is enough to get me outside on an icy winter morning!

Frosted seed head of Daucus carota

Wishing You a Happy New Year!

It’s New Year’s Eve as I’m typing this, and it has been a strangely warm day for the time of year. Not a trace of wintry weather. The frost that I photographed here happened a few days before Christmas, so is long gone.

I was lucky to get that one frosty morning so that I could take a few sparkly photos for my Christmas and New Year posts. It’s amazing how frost can make the most ordinary of things look special. (Top photo is the remains of an aster, bottom is a young fennel plant that has flopped over in the cold.)

2021 has been a year of enjoying small, simple things here. The garden has been an ever-increasing source of happiness and has given me a sense of purpose when life has been rather constricted. I hope that 2022 is a year that will bring us back to being able to live our lives safely and healthily.

For 2022, I wish you all a year of joy, health and peace. May it be a year that brings you delight in life. Happy New Year!

Frosted fennel plant

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