Gleaming White

Spring snowflake (Leucojum vernum)
The snowflake (Leucojum) looks like a snowdrop on steroids!

Last week I mentioned my friend Judy’s beautiful garden and that I’d been able to spend a morning taking photographs in it. While I was there, I noticed that there were a good number of white flowers sprinkled around the garden and I really liked the effect they created.

There’s something very fresh and delicate about the appearance of white flowers. If they were pure white, they could seem a little harsh. But many have yellow stamens or perhaps a touch of another colour on their petals, and this softens the effect greatly. Seen growing in great numbers, perhaps spreading their way amongst other flowers, the look they create can be  quite dreamy or fairytale.

White flowers of Anemone blanda.
Anemone blanda soon builds up to a healthy colony if it’s in the right spot.

In combination with the blues and yellows of other spring flowers, white is truly beautiful. It brings a lively sparkle and gleam to the garden and chases away the memory of winter greys.

The most enchantingly impressive sight in Judy’s garden that morning was a Clematis armandii which had become a great mass of flowers along a section of fence. Not only are the flowers beautiful to look at – they’re scented too. That’s a pretty good bonus!

White flowers of Clematis armandi.
Clematis armandii flowers practically sparkle in the spring sunshine!

I enjoyed the effect of these white flowers so much that I’m thinking about ways of bringing a bit more white into my own garden. A background of green foliage makes white flowers look especially fresh and lively, so that is something I’d like to try.

There are a few white flowers in my garden. The best are Gaura lindheimeri, which has flowers that look like a flock of tiny white butterflies, and the white pulsatilla that I photographed last month. There’s also a big old white lilac (Madam Lemoine) which has very scented double white flowers and is a joy to be near…except that it has one problem. When its flowers die, they turn brown but don’t fall and because this lilac has become very tall now, it’s difficult to prune them off. The dead flowers really spoil the look of this lilac, so I will have to get out my telescopic lopper on a pole thingy to remove them. That will most likely be exhausting but worth it!

Magnolia stellata flower.
Magnolia stellata brings a touch of the exotic to the garden.

Welcome to Spring

Scented 'Paperwhite' Daffodils
Scented ‘Paperwhite’ Daffodils

Daffodils…right now they are everywhere. This week we had the first ‘official’ day of spring with the arrival of the spring equinox. And right on cue, there are daffodils opening their cheerful flowers in a welcome to the new season.

Out in the country here, there are daffodils growing on the roadside verges outside houses and farms. In town, they’re at the start of garden paths or close to the front door. It feels as if everyone has some daffodils growing in a position where they’ll be both a welcome to anyone coming to their houses and a greeting to passers-by.

Daffodil 'Geranium'
Daffodil ‘Geranium’ has a lovely scent.

Outside my front garden there is a large ‘green’ – a wide area of grass with trees that stretches between the main road and the minor road that serves the houses here. In springtime, swathes of daffodils enliven this green, creating a colourful welcome for drivers coming into the town.

In our own front garden, we have a group of miniature daffodils growing in one of the borders, but most of our daffodils are in the back garden. Seeing so many daffodils by other people’s front doors makes me feel that I should grow some more by the front path next year, as a welcome to visitors and to ourselves when we return home. (Maybe a pot of  scented tazetta daffodils, such as ‘Geranium’ or ‘Paperwhite’ – they both have a delicious scent.)

'Ice Follies' daffodils
‘Ice Follies’ on the green outside my home.

A Little Survivor

Pink-freckled hellebore.
I thought I had lost this hellebore.

It’s the time of year when gardeners start peering anxiously at their plants, looking for signs of life. Are there new shoots emerging from the ground? Some leaf buds perhaps? Anything to show that the plant has made it through the winter?

But, as any gardener is unfortunately all too aware, it’s not just the winter that can kill our plants. There are all sorts of possible mishaps. Here, building work has been one of the biggest dangers to our garden plants in the last couple of years.

We’ve had several things done to our house, the main one being the addition of a conservatory. So there have been piles of building materials parked around the garden.

The resulting chaos was made worse by our decision to reclaim and re-use the brick pavers from the big old patio area where the conservatory was to be built. And, of course, they needed to be piled somewhere out of the way. Like the bit of border that has been overrun by a huge mass of Japanese anemones and is desperately in need of renovation…. and all before I could think to warn that there were other plants there too.

Pink-spotted hellebore flowers.
Last year there was only a single leaf on this hellebore – this year it has managed to flower.

To be honest, I’d forgotten precisely where the hellebore was and it wasn’t until I saw one lonely hellebore leaf poking out between a couple of bricks that I realised that it had pretty much been covered. The bricks were removed but I didn’t really expect the plant to survive. There seemed to be too little of it left. That made me feel both sad and guilty because it was such a lovely little plant and one that I had enjoyed photographing.

So you can imagine how surprised and delighted I was to discover that it was growing again and this year it has even managed to produce some flowers. (I feel as if it has forgiven me! And I’ve promised it that I’ll take better care of it in future!)

It’s extraordinary how strong the life force in plants can be and how they can often tolerate conditions that really should kill them. (I know, it’s true that the plants that you try to get rid of – the weeds – that seem show the most determined ability to survive.) Every so often you get a wonderful surprise when a plant that you fear has died reappears, when new buds grow on what look like dead stems, or when new seedlings spring up from old plants unexpectedly. That vitality can certainly be something to celebrate!

Pink hellebore flower.
The usual view of a shy hellebore flower.

Signs of Spring.

Yellow crocus 'Zwanenberg Bronze'
Yellow crocus ‘Zwanenberg Bronze’

The first crocuses are in flower and it feels as if spring is on its way. The sun grows brighter and stronger, the air is quite a few degrees warmer, and the daylight is lasting for longer. Winter, at last, is receding and it feels good to get outside and enjoy the re-emergence of life in the garden.

Winter can be a time when life runs at a bit of a low ebb. Most days are too cold and grey to wish to spend a lot of time outdoors and you really just want to keep warm and dry. (But, if there is a warmish winter day, with perhaps a little bit of sun, then I do try to get some gardening done. It raises my spirits and allows me to escape the incarceration of being stuck indoors.)

Spring is an invitation to go out into the garden and look for the start of new growth. Right now the snowdrops are still in flower, crocuses are showing as little flashes of colour here and there, and the daffodils are promising flowers soon, as their leaves lengthen and their buds fatten.

The long wait of winter is almost over. It’s time to start work in the garden again.

There’s lots to do – new borders to dig, weeds to get rid of, and old dead growth to be cleared away to allow room for the new shoots. The work is invigorating and brings a connection to the earth and the life that is quietly pulsing within it.  That connection creates an awareness of the natural world. It gives a feeling of being part of that world, and of well-being and pleasure at being able to contribute to it.

If you’re coming to the end of winter wherever you live, I hope that you’re starting to see the signs of spring. Do enjoy them!

Glorious Green: Ferns

A tightly-curled young fern frond.
A tightly-curled young fern frond.

By this stage of winter, the idea of lush green growth is tremendously appealing. It’s easy to dream of densely-planted borders bursting with re-emerging life – new shoots, unfurling leaves, and buds that swell with the promise of flowers soon to come.

Amongst all this imagined greenery, ferns would be an excellent addition. Their finely-cut fronds would contrast well with larger, more solid leaves and would bring their delicate textures and a subtle feel of pattern to the border.

Hairy reverse of young fern-frond.
The young fronds are very hairy on the back. They look almost furry!

For photography, ferns make an excellent subject. There’s lots of pleasing detail, especially in the new foliage. The tightly-wound curls of the young fronds are especially photogenic and the outside surface of the curl (the back of the frond) can be surprisingly hairy and looks soft to touch.

(Saying that has made me realise that I didn’t actually touch them. I could have put out a finger to stroke the back of a curl, but I didn’t. Perhaps I should have. Taking photographs can absorb you so that you forget to interact with plants – or a garden – in ways that you would do, if you were walking around without a camera. So maybe I need to leave my camera in its bag for a while and explore the garden, before I start to take photographs.)

Fern leaves.
Fern leaves can add some texture and pattern to garden borders.

In my real garden (as opposed to the imaginary borders where anything will grow), it is too hot and dry for most ferns. The Male Fern (Dryopteris filix-mas) is reckoned to be able to cope with drier conditions than most, but that is if it’s in the shade. Most of our garden gets a lot of sunshine, but there is one area that is shaded by the house in the afternoon. Now I am wondering if that bit of ground might be suitable for making a bog garden and I’m imagining the other moisture-loving plants that would also be happy there. (Though there are ferns that don’t need such damp soil.)

If I do go ahead with this idea, the beautiful green growth of ferns would be a very satisfying reward. (Meanwhile, my imaginary garden is flourishing!)

Fern fronds with curled tips.
The curly tips of the fronds of this fern look unusual.

Not True Blue

Clematis Crystal Fountain
Clematis bud opening.

Blue flowers are beautiful but those that are truly blue aren’t common. Those that come to mind first are delphinium, cornflower, salvia, morning glory and plumbago. Many of the flowers that we think of as blue have a hint or more of purple, mauve or lavender in their colouring.

I’ve been sitting comfortably inside while it’s been cold and sleety outside, looking through photos taken in the garden here. Working my way through them has made me aware of how often I choose to grow flowers in the purple-blue and mauve colour range.

Purple-blue clematis flower
Blue and purple blend in the petals of this clematis.

The second photo of a clematis shows a very similar colouring to the first photo. (But you’ll see that the bud in that first photo develops very differently as it matures….) Violet-purples and lavender-blues seem to be very common colours for clematis. That can make it hard to choose between them.

The way the colours in the petals bleed into one another is very delicate. It’s almost like the way watercolours blend into each other and is something that I’m keen to try and capture in a photograph.

Blue and a lilac-y pink penstemon
Blue and a lilac-y pink blend in the flowers of this penstemon.

The purply-blues, lavenders, mauves etc seem to all mix quite easily with other colours but not always with ‘true-blues’. However, the penstemon above seems to have managed this perfectly. Maybe nature can teach gardeners a thing or two about colour combinations. But, I prefer the colours in the flowers below, where the blue is a bit softer and seems to blend more gently with the lavender – perhaps there is a touch of red in the blue.

Left: Brodiaea Right: Iris
Left: Brodiaea           Right: Iris

Going much more to the mauve/pink end of the colour range, there are many flowers that look beautiful and mix with the darker purple-blues very happily.

The hydrangea in the photo below grew in my previous garden in Scotland. The flowers on this shrub shaded from blue through to a mauve-pink. Evidently our soil there was not acid enough to turn the flowers completely blue, but the soft blending of the colours on the petals was lovely. (Here in Suffolk, blue hydrangeas turn pink – no chance of keeping one blue!)

The mauve-purple of the Allium ‘Cristophii’ has a lighter feel to it than the blue-purples but looks good with them. It’s an easy colour to use and the flowers are very attractive, so it’s good to see them self-seed around the garden.

Left: Hydrangea Right: Allium
Left: Hydrangea             Right: Allium

So, while I may not have many real blues in the garden here, I’m very happy that there are so many photogenic flowers in the different purple shades.

At the start, I said you’d see how that clematis bud’s colours developed…. here it is…. Yes, it is the same flower!

Clematis 'Crystal Fountain' flower
Clematis flower showing more colour as the flower matures.

 

The Last Flowers

Hesperanthus coccinea 'Major'
Hesperanthus (AKA Schizostylis) can continue to flower into early winter.

Autumn is beautiful. Golden light filters through the trees, with their jewel-bright leaves set against a vibrant blue sky. (If you’re lucky – and we have been.)

Except when it’s not. Friday was suddenly grey and cold here in the east of England. Autumn quickly became a bit more serious and a heavy shower of hail was a brusque reminder that winter isn’t far off. (And the clocks going back this weekend will mean that time spent in the garden will have to finish earlier. There’s still lots of work to do out there and I have been known to continue until it’s dark.)

As always, I’m planning for the future and growing as much as I can to provide myself with flowers and plants to photograph. At the moment I’m working on the last bit of planting for the year. It should make a difference to next autumn, as the plants are mostly late-flowering. One that I’ve chosen because it is so good to photograph is Hesperanthus, also known as ‘Crimson Flag’. (You can see it in the picture above.) The plant used to be called Schizostylis, but the name changed a few years ago. Gardening is confusing at times!

Geranium'Rozanne'
Geranium ‘Rozanne’ flowers for months and continues into October and November if trimmed back in late summer.

Despite the cold turn to the weather, there are still some flowers in the garden. Geranium ‘Rozanne’ (pictured above) is still flowering its little socks off. I planted it late last autumn, so this is the first year that I’ve been able to see how long it will continue. It has done really well – flowering from early in the summer and still being well-covered in flowers now. I’m really glad of this, because it’s my chosen subject for the last week of my Natural History Illustration course. There aren’t many other flowers left in the garden for me to draw! (You can read about the drawing class here. It has been very worthwhile and now I feel that I’ll be able to continue to learn on my own.)

Elsewhere in the garden, there is a sprinkling of penstemon flowers, the last of the asters that are just about to finish, and some small dark crimson dianthus (pinks) that seem content to flower for a long time. The happy surprise has been to see how well a clump of Gaura lindheimeri is doing. I’ve tried to grow it a couple of times before and lost it in cold winters. This plant has survived and has been in flower from early summer. Its white, moth-like flowers are now creating a delicately lovely picture in combination with the red fruits of crab-apple ‘Royal Beauty’.

Have you any suggestions for extending the flowering season towards winter? I’d love to know what you grow – please feel free to comment!

Gaura linderheimeri flower
Gaura linderheimeri flower in front of the fruits of malus ‘Royal Beauty’

 

Not Always Greener

red-flowered miscanthus grass
The flower heads of this miscanthus are like crazy red fireworks!

Late summer and autumn can be a great time for grasses in the garden. Some change colours around this time and there’s an amazing variety of flower and seed heads which add texture and interest to garden borders.

Grasses can give a lovely ‘natural’ look to a garden and help to create a relaxed atmosphere, especially when they’re grown with the other plants that are at their best at this time of year – rudbekias, echinacea, heleniums and asters are the obvious ones. (The slightly ‘wild’ look that many daisies have makes them ideal companions for grasses.)

Chasmanthus latifolium
The flat heads of this chasmanthus are a lovely coppery colour

The natural look of grasses can create a problem because they don’t look right with many of the more traditional plants. Hybrid roses, for instance and many of the double-flowered plants (like clematis).

In my own garden, the solution has been to create different areas. (Not that easy because it’s not a very big garden.) In one area, the planting is what I’d describe as ‘modern cottage-garden’, with a wide mixture of flowering plants, including roses and clematis, small shrubs, herbs, and bigger plants such as lilac, wisteria, philadelphus, viburnum and hydrangeas. The other area is beside the site for my in-progress pond. (Still digging!) This is where the planting will be much more informal. The perennials in this area are generally taller. I have the little yellow sunflower, Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’ and Japanese anemones here, as well as crocosmias – all of which can be very thuggish. So the plants going into this border will need to be vigorous enough to make their own claim on some space without letting themselves be crowded out. (And there may need to be quite a bit of interference from me to ensure fair play!)

Grass flower-heads
Grass heads like these add a lot of texture to a border

When I was a kid, I was very attracted to the textures of grass heads and loved to run them through my fingers. (Sometimes stripping off the seeds – I must have spread a few plants around that way!) This tactile quality of grasses helps to make the garden a more inviting place. Somewhere that you can touch the plants, feel them in your fingers and become involved with them – not just somewhere that you look at from a distance.

If you look at them closely, grasses, especially the flower heads, can have a lot of detail. They can be delicate and airy, bold and attention-grabbing, brightly-coloured or subtle, and some have a slightly metallic sheen to them. They are wonderful when they are back-lit by the low light of autumn, even more so if there’s a spider’s web sparkling with dew-drops suspended from the leaves.

Grasses, like other plants, are a reason to spend time in a garden: time just looking and enjoying the detail. There’s a quote from writer Henry Miller that is particularly appropriate here, ‘The moment one gives close attention to any thing, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself’.

Do you enjoy the details of plants? Does anything particularly catch your eye? I’d love to know in the comments!

Panicum virgatum
The delicate heads of Panicum virgatum

Waterlilies – Beautiful, Exotic, Mysterious…

purple waterlilies
These beauties were growing in a glasshouse.

The waterlily is one of the most enchanting plants and it has held a fascination for humans right throughout history.

Sacred in Egypt, India and China from ancient times, the waterlily has become a symbol of many things: renewal of life, immortality, purity, divinity, enlightenment.

So when we look at these beautiful flowers, we’re aware of more than just the waterlily itself. We feel the magic of  all the associations that have grown up around it. We get caught, ever so slightly, in its spell…

pink waterlily
A hardy pink waterlily in an outdoor pond.

Before the age of around 20, I had only ever seen waterlilies in photographs or paintings. Never in ‘real life’. (I don’t think I’d even seen a garden pond during my childhood on Scotland’s north coast. The climate there isn’t exactly encouraging to serious gardening.) The first time I saw one in a garden (somewhere much further south), I was entranced. The flower seemed like something foreign and entirely exotic and that impression has stayed with me. Since then, I’ve always been delighted when the chance comes to photograph them.

Photographing flowers in someone else’s garden is always a little tricky. Usually it’s not possible to use a tripod, so close-up work is difficult. You must be so very careful not to stand on any plants or brush against anything that you might damage. But waterlilies are even more awkward. Frequently the flowers are just too far away or they’re sitting at an angle that means you can’t see them properly. It’s wonderful when you find waterlilies growing right by the edge of the pond and when you can get close enough to them without the danger of taking an unintentional nose-dive into the water!

yellow waterlily
I love this pale yellow waterlily

As you might expect then, the idea of being able to photograph waterlilies in my own garden really appeals to me. Currently I am starting to dig out a pond. Actually, it’s only a small hole so far – I’m digging an exploratory trench so that I can work out where pipes run and hopefully avoid them. Today it has been raining for a few hours and I’m really grateful because it will make the hard ground much easier to dig. (Digging is much better left until after we’ve had some rainy weather. Summer here is so hot and dry that the ground bakes as hard as stone.)

It will probably take quite  while to get my pond made and to work out what to plant around it. But I do already have a couple of little waterlily plants. They were given to me by a kind friend who was sorting out her own pond. At the moment they’re planted up in a pond basket which is sitting in a huge plastic box. So far they seem quite happy (and they even have a little frog who likes to lurk in the pond basket beside them) but I’ll be glad when I can give them a proper home. And then I’ll have to wait and see what colour (pink or red) they are…

Do any plants enchant you – I’d love to know in the comments!

white waterlily
Elegant simplicity – a white waterlily

 

A Plant Photographer’s Paradise.

White Japanese anemone flower
A beautiful white Japanese anemone

I’m lucky that East Anglia has some great gardens to visit. Last weekend there was the chance to get over to the Fullers Mill Garden near Bury St Edmunds, before it closes for the season. (It’s open from the start of April until the end of September every year.)

The garden is entered by a narrow lane that passes through the edge of the ‘Kings Forest’, Forestry Commission woodland at West Stow. So as soon as you arrive, you are surrounded by the sound of the wind rushing in the trees. This changes when you get right into the garden and arrive at Fullers Mill Cottage – now the sound you will hear is the River Lark forcing itself through a narrow weir before it spreads out again and becomes calmer on its journey through the garden.

As you continue into the garden, the sounds from the forest and the weir recede and you’re surrounded by a feeling of tranquility and calm. Even when the garden is full of  visitors, you can find a quiet spot just for yourself. (And if you’re lucky, it might just happen to have one of the benches that are dotted around the garden.)

House and border at Fullers Mill Garden
Left: Looking towards the house. Right: A shrub border

The original garden at Fullers Mill was small when the creator of the garden, Bernard Tickner and his wife Bess bought the cottage in 1958. Over a period of more than 50 years, Bernard was able to gradually buy land from the Forestry Commission and turn it from rough ground into a garden filled with a vast collection of  plants, many of them uncommon and unusual.

Steps and terraces at Fullers Mill Garden
Steps and terraces in the Low Garden

The first area to be developed was the ‘Low Garden’ (Photographs above and below). The terraces here are full of flowering bulbs in spring, and in summer there are the beautiful flowers of the giant lily, Cardiocrinum giganteum.

Path below the terraces at Fullers Mill Garden
Path below the terraces

Bernard said that his ‘gardening heroine’ was Beth Chatto and reckoned that there was a similarity in the way both gardens grew and developed over time. The gardens now cover seven acres and offer a wide variety of planting conditions. While the Low Garden has a mix of shady and sunny areas that suit woodland plants and lilies, the Top Garden has poor soil and dry conditions, so is much better suited to Mediterranean plants. Moisture loving plants are happy around the mill pond and along the river and stream banks. (The garden has both the River Lark and the Culford Stream running through it.) There are open areas too, so sun-loving plants can also be found a suitable home.

Trees in Fullers Mill Garden
Two views of the same area in the ‘Top Garden’

One of the great things about having such a wide range of growing conditions is the sheer variety of plants that can be grown. I was amazed by the huge number of different trees, shrubs and perennials growing here. It made me wish that I had a better knowledge of plants and could recognise more of what I saw. I suspect that even then, I’d still find that there were a lot of rare or unusual cultivars here that I didn’t know.

For me, the wonderful collection of plants was an opportunity to take lots (and lots!) of photographs. I could easily spend days in this garden and still find that I wanted even more time for photographing the plants. (My husband did have some difficulty in getting me to leave the garden. Next time, maybe he’ll just leave me there!)

Flowers in Fullers Mill Garden
There were plenty flowers to keep me busy taking photographs!

Despite the fact that there are large collections of plants (around 70 or more euphorbias and the same number of lilies and snowdrops are just a few of these), the garden is designed to be in sympathy with the character of its site. The river and stream areas are allowed to keep a fairly natural, informal look and the planting in the woodland areas feels very appropriate – somehow very ‘comfortable’ there. This is the sort of garden that I love. (I’m much less keen on formal gardens and have never come to like topiary or parterres – or even box edging.) Overall, the feel of the garden is unfussy and relaxed, and extremely welcoming.

Perennial border and riverbank at Fullers Mill Garden
Left: A perennial border Right: The river bank

In 2013 Fullers Mill Garden was gifted to Perennial, The Gardeners’ Royal Benevolent Society to ensure its future and keep it open for visitors to enjoy. Bernard remained involved with his garden right throughout his later years. (He died last year, at the age of 93.) In a radio interview when he was almost 90, Bernard said that he didn’t believe a garden was ever finished. ‘I’m still buying plants, much to Annie, the head gardener’s distress, because then she’s got to find a spot for them. And I say, ”You can find somewhere Annie, to fit those in”. And she does eventually…it may take a little while.’

You can hear the radio interview with Bernard Tickner here. It’s easy to hear, from listening to him talk, how much he loved the garden at Fullers Mill and how how happy it (and gardening) made him. That happiness is something that the visitors to the garden can’t help but share. It’s a delight to stroll around the peaceful grounds along the banks of the river and stream, to walk under the trees and to discover all the wonderful plants tucked into every corner of the garden.

Riverbank at Fullers Mill Garden
The riverbank retains a feeling of wildness and informality.

Fullers Mill Garden is now looked after by head gardener, Annie Dellbridge and her team of gardeners and volunteers. They tend the garden with obvious loving care and make visitors very welcome. (The garden is open from the start of April to the end of September, on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. You can find full details on their website here.)

I fell in love with this garden and I know I’ll be back for several visits next year. And I even managed to bring a little bit of it home with me by buying a couple of white Japanese anemones and an aster, ‘Les Moutiers’.

Bernard Tickner said he liked the idea of buying a plant raised in a garden as a memento of it. But then, he was a man thoroughly in love with plants. I’ll give him the last word here, because it’s something I feel too (and I do hope he’s right!): ‘I love plants. Once you’ve got the ”disease”, you’ve got it for life. It doesn’t ever desert you.’

Autumn colour at Fullers Mill Garden
Autumn colour at Fullers Mill Garden