Longing for a Cool Space.

Last week was a busy one, with the first side of the garden now sporting a smart new fence. The neighbours will be glad that their puppy can no longer escape through the old fence and (possibly) to freedom.

But the increasingly hot weather has made the work harder. For the contractor who is building the new fence, and for me as I clear away the overgrowth of shrubs and ivy.

Temperatures here have been reaching over 30 degrees C. For the UK, that’s very hot. For someone brought up in Scotland, that’s really uncomfortable. And it has made me wish for a bit more shade in the garden.

This place has become more of a suntrap than ever since our neighbours removed a lot of tall trees from their garden. Now the centre of our garden fairly bakes in the sun. So I am wondering what shrubs or small tree(s) I can plant to create a cooler space, but without causing too much shade to other areas.

I find getting a good balance in this kind of planning to be a tricky business. Meanwhile, ‘a green thought in a green shade’ (a phrase from Andrew Marvell’s poem, ‘The Garden’) conjures up enticing images of a soothingly green and leafy space. Though frankly I wouldn’t mind what colour the thought was, so long as it was a cool one!

White echinacea flower - 'Powwow White'.
Fresh whites and greens: Echinacea ‘Powwow White’ stands up well to the summer heat.

Hungry Critters (1): Bees

Sometimes it feels as if there is nothing much that you can do to help the problems of the world around you. But we’re not as powerless as we may think. Small actions do make an impact, even if it’s only in our own small area.

For me, environmental issues are something that I’ve been aware of for a long time and I’m especially concerned about the challenges faced by pollinating insects.

Bumblebee on a blue scabious flower.
Scabious is a great plant for bees.

In an attempt to do what I can to help, I have been trying to increase the number of plants that are good pollen and nectar sources in my garden. It does seem to be a case of ‘plant it and they will come’, because during the last couple of years I’ve noticed a big difference in the number of bees and hoverflies in the garden.

Luckily, just like the bees, I prefer the simpler flowers to highly-bred doubles. (Think of an open bowl-shape that gives easy access to the centre of the flower for short-tongued bees, and tubular flowers like the foxglove for long-tongued bees.)

Bumblebee on a dahlia flower.
The open centre of this dahlia makes for easy access to bees.

For spring and summer, the garden has lots of good bee plants. Even in the winter there is mahonia, viburnum and ivy. But late autumn can be a bit sparse, especially after the sedums and asters have finished flowering.

So this year I’m hoping to find a bit more for my late autumn buzzy visitors. Can you imagine a better excuse for a bit of plant shopping?

This week is ‘Bees’ Needs Week’ in the UK and this year there will be online events to raise awareness of what can be done to help bees. You can read more about this and about the work of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust here: https://www.bumblebeeconservation.org/bees-needs/

Honeybee on sedum flowers.
Sedums are among the best autumn-flowering plants for pollinators.

Early Summer Clematis

The clematis above (Guernsey Cream) was planted just last year. I had forgotten that it flowered early in the year, so it was a happy surprise to see lots of buds already beginning to open last month. I’m hoping that it will flower again in late August too.

The petals of this clematis have a green bar down the centre that is more strongly coloured if the plant has shade. In this particular flower, the bar marking wasn’t very pronounced. Instead, there was more of an overall green tinge which faded to cream as the flower aged.

Like many other pale-coloured clematis, strong sun makes the flower colour fade. So if you want to preserve the colour of a delicately-hued clematis, plant it somewhere that gives it some shade.

Clematis ‘Multi-Blue’

Unfortunately, Clematis ‘Multi-Blue’ has struggled this year. I planted it in an unsuitable position in the hottest part of the garden. Even with a bit of shading at its roots, the plant gets baked by the sun all day. When it’s windy, as it has been recently, it gets even more dried out. Lesson learned! I shall take a bit more care with future plantings.

‘Ernest Markham’ (below) is doing much better. Apparently this one can grow to 4 metres high, so it may take over in the shrub border behind it…I won’t mind if it does.

After weeks of drought and high temperatures, we’ve had a few days of wonderful, life-giving rain. It’s such a relief! And all the plants, including the clematis, are doing much better for it. The moist soil makes it possible to dig in the garden again and I’ll make sure to create some good planting-places for future clematis purchases. There are sure to be some!

Clematis ‘Ernest Markham’

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!

Early Growth

It feels as if we aren’t yet having a proper winter here. The last few winters haven’t been as cold as we’d normally expect, but this may be the mildest since I moved here. We have had some cold weather this week and there’s been a bit of snow much further north, but it hasn’t lasted long.

As a result, plants are further on than they should be for this stage of the winter. At this time last year, the daffodils were just showing the tips of their leaves but this year they are in bud already. The yellow crocuses are open (didn’t expect them for another week or so) and many plants are showing signs of new growth. Leaf buds are beginning to open on some of the shrubs here, especially the roses. And the honeysuckle in the photo (taken a couple of weeks ago) has hardly had time for a rest before its new leaves appeared.

But winter certainly isn’t over and we may still have more frosty mornings to come. And we could even have a snowy ‘beast from the east’, like last year. I hope that the plants don’t get far enough ahead to be likely to be damaged if they freeze – they really need to slow down and take it easy for a while! (And it IS winter, so I’d like to slow down and take it easy too…)

Little Pretenders: Hoverflies

This year I’d like to make my garden a bit more wildlife-friendly. (You can see my previous posts about gardening for bees – Bees’ Needs: Flowers! and Blue (and Violet and Purple) for Bees – by clicking on the links.)

Bees are not the only pollinators that I’d like to encourage in the garden. Hoverflies are important for pollination and their larvae have a valuable role as predators of aphids and other garden pests. (There are always plenty of greenfly around here, so there should be plenty to keep any hoverfly babies munching!)

It can be easy to confuse hoverflies with bees or wasps. (They don’t sting but they mimic stinging insects so that birds are less likely to try eating them.) If you look at the photo of the honeybee below, you can see that there are differences between the common ‘marmalade hoverfly’ and the bee.

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Not a hoverfly! This one is a honeybee (on a tithonia flower).

The bee here is generally a bit more furry-looking. (You can just see that there is a hairy patch on the front of the bee’s head and that its thorax is also hairy. Compare that to the thorax of the hoverfly, which is shiny and looks almost metallic in the sun.) The hoverfly has much shorter antennae and has just two wings, whereas the bee has four wings. (It’s hard to see that in the photo. You might just about be able to spot the separation at the back edge of the two wings on the nearest side of the bee.)

However, there are many other types of hoverfly (over 270 in the UK) and some look much more like bees than these. There is a difference that will help you tell which is which. Hoverflies have large eyes which cover the front and side (i.e.most) of their faces. A bee has eyes on the side of its face and they are much smaller and an oval shape.

It’s likely that some of the different ‘bees’ I thought I’d spotted in the garden were really hoverflies. Maybe I’ll learn to identify some of them… if I can move quick enough to photograph them!

Hoverfly on giant scabious
Hoverfly on Cephalaria gigantea (giant scabious).

It’s very worthwhile to grow flowers that will attract these useful little beasties. They have shorter tongues than bees, so aren’t attracted to some of the deeper, bell-shaped flowers (e.g. foxgloves and penstemons) that bees like. Instead they prefer more open flowers where the nectar and pollen is easy to get at. They really like the daisy types like the aster below and umbellifers such as the fennel and wild carrot that grow in the garden here. One of the flowers that I often find them on is the scabious – as you can see from the photos.

I like watching hoverflies dart around amongst the flowers. They are fast and very agile (even flying backwards) and they add to the feeling of life and energy in the garden. I hope to see lots more of them this year – and maybe a few new ones – even if they do fool me into thinking that they may be bees or wasps!

Hoverfly on aster 2468
Hoverflies like daisy flowers, like this aster.

Frost-Magic

The frost has been back again, giving us some chilly but sparkling mornings. I’ve been grateful to see it because we’ve reached the stage of the year when there are few flowers or plants left to photograph.

Stalking around the garden, camera in hand, I’m usually on the lookout for images that are only made possible because of the frost: veins on a leaf picked out in white, petal edges encrusted as if they’ve been dipped in sugar, or tiny crystals of ice building up on frozen plant surfaces.

Frosted winter jasmine-3959
Tiny, frozen winter jasmine flowers with ice crystals building up on them.

The shady areas of the garden retain the most frost, and that shade can give a slightly blue tint to the white, which creates an even colder appearance. The lack of light makes it hard to get much depth of field in the photographs, even at fairly high ISO values. (I could use my tripod, but it’s much too cold to stand around for long and my feet feel warmer if I keep moving around.)

As the sunlight gradually starts to seep into the garden, I look for places where the frost has begun to sparkle in the sun. There won’t be much time before the frost begins to disappear as it warms up. This means I have to work quickly to capture the images that have attracted my eye.

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This climbing hydrangea is in one of the coldest parts of the garden, shaded by the fence and a tree.

Eventually I’m either too cold to stay out any longer or the frost has started to melt and drip off the wet plants. So it’s time to head indoors, first wrapping my camera in a large plastic bag to protect it from getting covered in condensation in the warmer air. (Outside, it’s all to easy to let the viewfinder get steamed up by my own breath – a frustrating interruption to taking the photographs!)

Once indoors, it’s time for a well-earned mug of coffee and a chance to get warm again while looking to see what new photographs I have. Frosty mornings can be productive and very satisfying!

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The frost on this fig leaf will soon be gone, now that the sun has reached it.

Late Summer Heat

This post is a follow-up to last week’s ‘Late Summer Colour’. In it, I mentioned that I’d seen several especially striking orange flowers during my visit to Fullers Mill Garden and that I’d save them for their own post.

I’ve also included a couple of flowers from my own garden. The first is Tithonia rotundifolia ‘Torch’, which is so brilliant in the sunshine that the colours almost shimmer. And the other is the vibrant red-orange echinacea in the final photo. (I couldn’t resist buying this one, as a change from the pink echinaceas that I’ve grown in the past.)

Orange-Crocosmia-Kniphofia-2-up
Left: Crocosmia ‘Emily McKenzie’ (aka montbretia).  Right: Kniphofia (‘red-hot pokers’).

So, back to the flowers at Fullers Mill… Crocosmia ‘Emily McKenzie’ was particularly showy, with larger flowers than any of the other crocosmias that I’ve seen before. The richness of the orange, with the deep red markings and the glow from the light shining through the crocosmia’s petals made me think of a sumptuous silk.

Near the crocosmias were the bold flowers of red hot pokers (kniphofias), looking like fizzing orange rockets spurting up from the ground. (Which makes me wonder if it would be possible to plant a border to suggest fireworks. That could be fun!)

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Flower of Crocosmia ‘Emily McKenzie’

A little calmer than the dazzling oranges of the crocosmias  and kniphofias were the bi-coloured flowers of the heleniums. The helenium is certainly less flamboyant than the others. Even so, the golden-yellow and reddish-orange of its petals are vibrant, and they have a warmth that is typical of many of our late summer flowers.

Heleniums 2888
Helenium flowers (aka sneezeweed) radiate warmth.

Earlier in the summer the gardens in this area had a lot of the cooler colours in them – reds and pinks that contain some purple, magenta, lavender, blue and white. (We probably choose these colours because we want to create a suggestion of coolness to offset hot temperatures.)

But now, as the season gets closer to its end and the temperatures have dropped, the late-summer flowers are creating a feeling of warmth through their hot colours. (Which are enhanced by the warmer light towards the end of the day.) So these radiant orange flowers help us to hang on to the idea of summer for a bit longer – and I hope they continue to do so for a good while yet!

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Another flower from my garden – a brilliant echinacea daisy.

Late Summer Colour

This year I haven’t had a lot of time to visit gardens, but I did manage to visit one of my favourites this week.

Last year I wrote a post about a visit to Fullers Mill Garden near Bury St Edmunds, in Suffolk. This year, my visit was slightly earlier and there were more plants still in flower.

Fullers Mill Garden 2993
A peaceful part of the garden.

Visiting a garden at different times is interesting because you notice different plants. And, for me, that means the chance to photograph them too.

This time, there were lilies still in flower, so I made a point of photographing some of those – also flowers I don’t see so often, such as eucomis and alstroemeria. There were plenty of the usual seasonal favourites: Japanese anemones, asters, dahlias, autumn crocuses, rudbekias, hydrangeas and hibiscus.

Pink flowers - lily and indigofera
Pink flowers – lily and indigofera

It was a bit of a surprise to find flowers that had long gone over in my own garden – things like indigofera, agapanthus and astrantia. Maybe having more moisture in the soil means that flowers can last for longer.

There were plenty of bright colours still, the most noticeable being the oranges of crocosmia, heleniums and ‘red-hot pokers’ (kniphofia). They’ll get a post all of their own soon.

Fullers-Mill-eucomis
Eucomis bicolor with developing seed pods.

Fullers Mill is an exciting garden for a photographer to visit because of the sheer variety of plants and the lovely setting of the garden itself. I particularly enjoyed having the opportunity to photograph the almost sculptural-looking seed pods of the eucomis. It’s a plant I rarely see, but now I feel it would be fun to have in my own garden so that I can take more photographs of it.

Fullers-Mill-grass-helenium
Imperata cylindrica ‘Red Baron (L) and a yellow helenium (R).

It was quite a windy day when we visited, so it was a challenge to photograph some of the flowers that tended to sway and dance in the breeze. The yellow helenium (above) was on of those that didn’t want to sit still and its petals look like swirling skirts – a dancer indeed!

Next year, I’d like to visit the garden in different seasons, especially in springtime. There is a great collection of irises which I’m sure would keep me happily occupied for a long time. But any time would be a good time to visit Fullers Mill Garden – there’s always something interesting to see and to photograph.

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Lavender-blue asters – one of my favourites of the season.