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

 

 

Variations on a Theme

Two white Japanese anemones in a bottle.
Photograph after treatment with textures and overlays to create a soft, dreamy feel.

One of the good things about photographing flowers is that it’s fairly easy to come up with different images of your subject. (Much easier than having to hike miles around a landscape to find a different viewpoint.)

Variations of the image can be created while photographing or afterwards in the computer, using an image-editing program.

The top image (a version of the photograph below) has had textures added to it in Photoshop to give a softer, more romantic feel.

White Japanese anemones
The photograph as originally shot.

These ‘textures’ are simply photographs of a textured surface, usually with just one all-over colour but perhaps with a darkened edge and corners to give a vignette effect.

Photoshop makes it possible to stack the textured images above the original photograph and then to alter the opacity of the textured images. (Imagine looking through a stack of images printed on clear plastic – that gives some idea of how it works.) Controlling the opacity of the layers means that you can decide exactly how much of the textured layers show in your final image.

In this case, the textures I used were an image of a canvas weave and another of a lightly scratched surface. The opacity of the scratched surface was set very low, so that it hardly showed, while the canvas texture was set higher and made more visible.

If you decide to try out this ‘textures’ technique, there is another Photoshop tool that you’ll want to use – ‘Blend Modes’.

Blend Modes give control over how the different layers interact with each other. This tool can produce very subtle effects but it can also create something decidedly weird. Trying out the different settings is the best way to find out what they do. (And time can all too easily disappear as you play with all the possibilities…)

To prevent the details of the main flower from being obscured, I kept the textures off this area. This also removed the colour of the textures from the flower, so I added a plain pale yellow layer to unify the flower with the rest of the image.

(It would probably be simpler to just blur the textured area over the flower. This would remove the detail of the textures but allow the colour of the textured area to remain.)

After taking the first photograph, I decided to try something a bit bolder. This time I chose a very dark green background. Because very little light was hitting the background, it looks almost black and creates a strong contrast with the flowers.

White Japanese anemones against a dark background.
Same flowers (Japanese anemones), but a much more dramatic image.

For the second photograph, I changed the lighting to add to the contrast. (Both were lit with studio flash.)

The first photograph had been taken with a soft, well-diffused light (a softbox brought close to the flowers and a large reflector to the side). The result was to give a very even light with the reflector bouncing light back into the areas that would otherwise have been in shadow. This allowed the details in the petals to show and helped to give a gentle, delicate feel to the photograph.

To create the more contrasty lighting for the second photograph, I simply moved the light further away (and, of course, turned up the light output to make up for the increased distance). Moving a studio light further away creates a ‘harder’ light with stronger highlights and shadows. (Just think of how the sun creates such harsh shadows – it’s a very distant light source.)

Taking the reflector away also increased the contrast by removing the light that it would have bounced into the shadows. I think the end result is probably as far as I could push the contrast before I started to lose too much detail in the petals.

As with the first photograph, I decided to play around with textured layers to see what the effect would be. The result is much softer than the original photo and goes to show how different the image can become once you start experimenting with the different possibilities. I think there’s plenty to keep me busy for quite a while!

White Japanese anemones against teal background
The textured background creates a softer feel.

Red Hot

red zinnia flower
A zinnia in the richest of reds.

After such high temperatures recently, it seems appropriate to post some pictures that suggest summer heat.

It’s not often that I get the chance to photograph bright red or orange flowers. That’s a shame. really, because there’s nothing quite so bold and brilliant or downright fiery.

Red and yellow dahlia
Dahlia on fire – red and yellow petals look like little dancing flames.

Red is a colour that I’ve been a bit over-cautious with in the garden. There are some dark reds –  penstemons, clematis, and a scabious that likes to pop up everywhere. And there’s a nice little red potentilla too, but that hasn’t done very well this year.

An exception is the one very bright orangey-red oriental poppy that leans over the path to the greenhouse and all but grabs you by the ankle as you pass. There’s absolutely no ignoring it when it’s in flower but by August it feels like a distant memory.

There’s even less orange in the garden. (Though I now have a lovely clump of crocosmias that were given to me by a friend.)

Hot orange rose
A radiant rose, glowing in the summer sun.

The reason for the lack of hot colours here is that we had planted the garden up in softer colours to create a calm, peaceful atmosphere. (Or maybe just a place to have a sneaky snooze in the shade…)

Now it’s time to wake things up a bit with a touch of heat. Time to be a bit more adventurous. (And I’d really like the opportunity to photograph more bold, zingy, hot-summer flowers….of course I would!)

What are your favourite bold flowers? Any red or orange ones that you especially like? Planting ideas and suggestions are very welcome in the comments. (And I love an excuse to go to a garden centre!)

Red alstroemeria
You can almost feel the heat from this alstroemeria.

 

A Summer Pleasure

The Manor at Hemingford Grey
The Manor at Hemingford Grey

One of the pleasures of summertime is spending a lazy afternoon wandering around someone else’s garden.

Garden-visiting is a source of inspiration for me. It gives me ideas for how I can improve my own garden. (Seeing new plant combinations, and even just the size that mature plants can get to, is tremendously helpful.) And – in many ways more important for me – it allows me to see plants that I would like to have growing in my own garden so that I can photograph them.

My hubby and I had the chance to spend a couple of days staying at Huntingdon (in Cambridgeshire) this week, so we took the chance to pay a visit to the garden at The Manor in Hemingford Grey.

The Manor at Hemingford Grey is said to be one of England’s oldest continuously-inhabited houses. Building was begun by the Normans in the 1130s. (You can see the evidence of this on one side of the house where the windows have the typical Norman building-style that you can see on old churches. Look out for the round-headed window with it’s zig-zag ornamentation in stone above. Lower down on the same wall you can also see a narrow slit of a window…just like you might find on an old castle wall.)

We entered the garden from the path along the River Ouse, crossing a lawn by walking along a path bordered with topiary yews to reach the house itself. Around the house, the garden looked, to me, like a cottage garden on a big scale. It felt relaxed and welcoming in its informality – just the place to put visitors at their ease.

white hydrangea
White hydrangeas add a dreamy softness to the planting

Visiting in mid-July meant that the roses that the garden is well-known for were over and the flower borders were taking on a late-summer feel. Some areas were bright with the reds and yellows of crocosmias and rudbekias, while other areas were more delicate, with plants such as hydrangeas and daucus carota (wild carrot) adding a more romantic feel.

yellow rudbekia at the Manor, Hemingford Grey
Bright rudbekias gave a sunny touch to the borders

I enjoyed meandering around the garden with camera in hand. Photographing flowers in a garden that you’re visiting is more difficult than it would be in your own garden. You can’t use a tripod, so a macro lens isn’t ideal, nor do you have any control over lighting or the placing of the plant. So for me, the camera is more of a notebook-tool when I’m garden-visiting. It lets me see what plants appeal to me as future subjects and what their possibilities may be. (And it fuels my plant-buying too!)

Daucus carota (wild carrot)
Daucus carota (wild carrot) is a plant that I want to grow in my own garden.

One of the plants that really caught my eye was the wild carrot (Daucus carota). It is a wonderful shape for photographing and would repay the effort of using a proper macro lens and a good hefty tripod. I have already sown a few plants, which are still tiny and won’t flower until next year. So it was interesting to see the full-grown plant here and to see just how lovely the structure and textures of the plant are. (I think they were probably growing the same variety as I have sown – ‘Dara’, which produces flowers in pink, burgundy-red and white and gives a beautifully delicate effect.)

It’s lovely to visit a garden and see plants through someone else’s eyes,  to see their vision for the space within their garden, and to see their own ways of combining plants. This is a garden that I’ll make the effort to come back to again – hopefully timing a visit so that I can see their wonderful collection of irises and then again so that I can see their roses.

We could have visited the house as well as the garden and will do next time. (Visits to the house need to be booked beforehand.) Many people come to see the house because it is the setting for the series of children’s books about ‘Green Knowe’ by Lucy Boston. Her daughter-in-law, Diana Boston, gives a tour of the house that sounds both charming and highly entertaining and would be an essential for fans of the Green Knowe books.

The Manor at Hemingford Grey has a website, which you can see here:  https://www.greenknowe.co.uk/

 

Astrantia – A Pretty Flower With An Intriguing Past

Astrantia 'Roma'
Astrantia ‘Roma’ is delicate, airy and very photogenic.

In last week’s post, I said that a flower’s structure is one of the main things that makes me want to photograph it.

Astrantias are a good example of this. The shapes created by the outer ruff of petal-like bracts and the inner ‘pincushion’ of tiny flowers make it irresistible to me and my camera.

The astrantia flower offers plenty of detail to photograph. The inner pincushion of flowers has stamens that are like little threads. Just behind each minute flower is a ribbed part that looks like a miniature corn-cob – this will eventually become the seed.

Behind the flowers, the papery bracts are delicately veined with pink or green. Choosing to either bring these veins into sharp focus or to let them blur softly into the background allows for a different feel to the resulting photograph. To take advantage of this, I usually make a series of photographs. Experimenting with different depths of focus and photographing from varied angles is a very pleasant way to spend a morning and it’s ever so easy for time to just pass me by…

The shape of the astrantia flower has given it one of it’s common names – ‘Hattie’s Pincushion’. Who Hattie was, I have absolutely no idea. But it’s a sweet little flower to have as the last trace of her memory.

Astrantia’s other common name is ‘Masterwort’ and it’s this name that you find in historical references.

As ‘Masterwort’, astrantia was believed to have a number of medicinal uses. In ‘Culpeper’s Complete Herbal’, Nicholas Culpeper describes many ways that it could help his patients.

Maladies ranged from ‘all cold griefs and diseases, both of the stomach and body’, to cleansing and healing wounds, and preventing rheumatism and gout. Culpeper also suggests that it should be taken with wine to ‘extract much water and phlegm from the brain, purging and easing it from what oppresses it’.

However, I really wouldn’t recommend trying astrantia as a remedy for any of the ills that Culpeper mentions. His herbal was completed in 1653 and medicine has changed a bit since then!

Nowadays, being ‘a pretty face’ is quite enough for astrantia. It has become popular with garden designers and is easy to grow. Since astrantias prefer moist soil, I find that I need to keep them watered in my dry Suffolk garden. But they grow happily in shade and mix beautifully with other plants. (I think they’d look great combined with grasses, so I plan to try them with Stipa tenuissima next year.) For many gardeners, perhaps the best thing about astrantias is that slugs don’t seem to eat them. Yes, a plant that’s pretty much slug-proof – how wonderful!

Pink astrantia
Astrantias can be pink, red or white.