Tropical Beauty: Rio Dipladenia

Rio Dipladenia
A touch of the exotic for my conservatory.

It has been raining heavily here for over a week. The garden needed the rain, but it has made planting spring bulbs and dividing up plants impossible for the moment. But, luckily, it hasn’t stopped me from photographing flowers.

When I first came across this dipladenia plant in a local garden centre, I thought it was a mandevilla, which I’d seen in books and magazines.

It turns out that the two are very closely related but different. Mandevillas grow taller than dipladenia, and will climb. Dipladenias, on the other hand, are shorter and bushier and will trail unless you train them to be upright. (They can also be recognised by their smoother, more rounded leaves – the leaves of mandevilla are narrow and comparatively rough.)

By chance, the ‘Rio’ dipladenia appears to be a good choice to grow here because it is small enough to grow happily in a pot in the conservatory. (They’re supposed to be good in a hanging basket too.)

Usually I’m quick to ask questions at the garden centre if I’m unfamiliar with a plant. I like to know that I’ll be able to give it the right conditions. But this time, I’ll admit, I just looked at the label and thought, ‘Oh, that’s exciting!’ So far, taking a chance has worked out well because the plant is still small but covered in flowers. That makes me a happy photographer, with something to keep me busy on a rainy day!

Flowers of Rio Dipladenia 'Hot Pink'
My impulse buy has worked out well!

Frothy Lace: Wild Carrot

Seedhead of wild carrot (Daucus).
Wild carrot gets the name ‘bird’s nest’ from the way the umbels of seeds curve in on themselves.

Lacy, dainty flowers held on stems that curve inwards into a concave shape, both when the flowers are just opening and later, when the seeds are forming  – this is the wild carrot (Daucus carota).

If you live in the USA, you may know this flower as ‘Queen Anne’s lace’, but in the UK we also call it ‘bishop’s lace’ or ‘bird’s nest’. (You can see why, from the photo above.) Just to add to the name confusion, Queen Anne’s Lace is a name also used for an entirely different plant in the UK (Anthriscus sylvestris, aka cow parsley).

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Here, the tiny flowers are still folded shut. As the flowers open, the umbel will become less concave and flatten out.

Whatever name you know it by, the wild carrot, in its white-flowered form, is often seen growing along the edges of roads and fields. In recent years, new pink and burgundy-flowered cultivars have been developed and the plant has become popular in gardens.

Here I grow it for the light, airy feel that it adds to garden borders. I’m also growing it to photograph. There’s plenty to inspire me: delicate umbels of tiny flowers contrasting with the almost spiky-looking bracts below them, colours ranging from palest pinks to deep, dark reds, and that distinctive ‘bird’s nest’ shape.

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Open flowers of Daucus carota ‘Dara’

Photographing the flowers in the garden can be a bit tricky. The large, lightweight flower heads tend to move in the slightest breeze, so getting a reasonably sharp photograph can take a lot of patience! They’re worth the effort though, and I know that I’ll go back to them again and again for more photographs.

Next year, when I hope to have a larger number of the flowers in the garden, I will cut some and bring them indoors to photograph in the studio. No breezes there! (Apparently they make a good cut flower, lasting well if you sear the stem ends in boiling water for a few seconds.)

Right now, the seeds of these plants are ready to gather. So I will collect them – some to sow now and some to sow next spring – in the hope of having lots more of this delightful plant.

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The newly-emerging wild carrot flowers in springtime.

Rich With Colour: Dahlias

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One of my favourite dahlias, for both its flower shape and its colour.

This year I’ve been trying to extend the flowering season in my garden a little. So I’ve planted echinaceas, heleniums, rudbekias and asters, which helped to keep the garden going through the transition into autumn.

But I’ve been missing out on one of the best flowers for this time of year – the dahlia.

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These little dahlias are quite cute!

As a newcomer to dahlias, I find the choice of flowers quite bewildering. There are so many different types to get to know…cactus, semi-cactus, ball, pom-poms, anemone-flowered and more.

So far, I’ve decided that I like the peony-flowered and single dahlias the most because they have open centres (great for bees). The collarette dahlias are really interesting to photograph because they have two rings of petals – the large outer petals and a sweet little ring of twirly mini-petals around the central disc. (You can see one in the top-left corner of the photo-mosaic below.)

So far I’ve just planted two dahlias here. One is ‘Siberia’, a white, waterlily-flowered dahlia which you can also see in the mosaic below. The other is a seedling of ‘Bishop’s Children’ which has flowered in a rich bright red. That’s a small start, but next year I’ll be on the lookout for more.

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Some of the dahlias that I’ve photographed recently.

As usual, one of the biggest factors in my plant choices will be finding flowers that will make good photographs. Dahlias have a huge range of colours and shapes, so choosing will probably take some time.

For photography, I often look for flowers that have one colour with another blushed over them, or a different colour along the edges of petals, because it gives an interesting element to the photograph.

Shapes within the flower are important when photographing it too. Elegant curves, contrast of size and shape and interesting small details are all essential parts of a satisfying flower image.

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The brightest of reds.

I can foresee a slight snag with my new interest in dahlias. It’s going to be hard to restrict myself to the plants I actually have room for! Well, that will be a problem for next year. This year I must get on and improve the soil in the borders for them. And I’ll start working on my dahlia ‘to buy’ list, while dreaming about the wonderfully rich colours that they will bring to my garden…

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A dahlia that I’d love to grow.

Tougher Than it Looks: Hibiscus Syriacus

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The colours of Hibiscus ‘Blue Bird’ glow in the evening light.

Like many, the first time I saw hibiscus flowers was while on holiday in Spain. These were the red Hibiscus rosa-sinensis – flamboyant and very exotic-looking flowers that will always remind me of my parents’ garden there.

My parents had retired to Spain and spent over 20 years living there. On visits to them, I enjoyed looking after their little garden and visiting the nearby garden centre to buy plants for it. It was an exciting world of unfamiliar plants where I could have easily wandered for hours. (Nowadays those plants have become much more commonplace and are easily bought in UK garden centres.)

The Spanish garden centre was just a few minutes walk from my parents’ apartment, so a visit there became a frequent entertainment. (And it was a great place for buying gifts for my flower-loving mother.) My eye was often draw to the hibiscus plants there – both the usual red cultivar and the others that had flowers in a range of pinks, oranges and yellows.

White hibiscus flower
This white hibiscus is much less showy than those with the red markings and it seems to be shyly hiding under the leaf!

Living in Scotland at the time, I had no idea that it was possible to grow hibiscus in the UK. It was only when I moved to Suffolk that I came across the hardy hibiscus shrubs (Hibiscus syriacus) and fell in love with them.

‘Blue Bird’ was one of the first of the hardy hibiscus that I came across and it’s flower colour has made it my favourite. These flowers vary from a quite definite blue, to a softer, more lavender shade. This is can be due to the flower aging, but can also be dependent on whether the shrub was grown from seed (very variable) or from a cutting. (I’ve read that hibiscus seedlings can be a nuisance in parts of the USA, but that isn’t a problem in chilly old Britain!)

So far I have two hibiscus shrubs in the garden – Blue Bird, which has flowered abundantly this year, and a young plant of ‘Walburton’s Rose Moon’. This second hibiscus has massive flowers that open to a much flatter shape than the more cup-shaped blooms of Blue Bird.

A white hibiscus would look good in a new area that I’m planting up – probably ‘Red Heart’ which has showy red markings in the centre of its flowers. Another possibility would be the much more restrained plain white cultivar (above), seen in a nearby garden.

The hibiscus flowers are almost over for this year (there’s just one pink one left), but I’m already looking forward to being able to spend more time photographing them next year.

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Hibiscus Walburton’s Rose Moon

Late Summer Heat

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One from my own garden – tithonia. (Mexican sunflower)

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.)

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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.

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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

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There were still some beautiful lilies in flower – just asking to be photographed!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Passionflower Constance Elliot

Passionflower Constance Elliot
You can see how much green there is in the outer sepals in this photograph.

Last year I wrote a post about passionflowers and said that I’d just planted the passionflower ‘Constance Elliot’ in the garden. I’m happy to tell you that it has come into flower for the first time. Hooray!

The flowers are smaller than those on the other two passionflowers I grow (‘caerulea’ and ‘Amethyst’) but that may be because the soil where it’s growing isn’t exactly wonderful. Luckily, passionflowers are drought-resistant, so the low rainfall here isn’t a problem.

The passionflower is now spreading itself comfortably around a vine-covered arbour and helps to create a shady sitting-place. (Very much needed this year!) The vine is in need of a good haircut, so it may be tricky to avoid cutting the passionflower by mistake. Passionflowers grow fast, but I want it to get well established so that it isn’t simply smothered by the grape-vine.

(And if you’re wondering, yes, we do get edible grapes growing in the garden here in Suffolk. But only just! They’d probably be sweeter if I knew how to prune and look after the vine properly – that’s a project for the near future.)

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With its white petals and filaments, Constance Elliot is more subtle than Passiflora caerulea.

For the past week or two, I’ve been happily photographing the newly-emerging flowers. They don’t last long, so you need to be quick to catch a flower that’s still fresh. And, in this garden, you need to be especially fast to get to the flowers before slugs or snails can take greedy chomps out of them. (They sometimes eat my clematis flowers too – nothing more annoying than finding that the beautiful flower you wanted to photograph has suddenly got a big hole in it!)

The flowers photographed outside have a freshness and elegance, particularly where they have a background of lush green leaves. However, to get close to the detail of the flower, I picked one and brought it into my little studio.

The flower was set on a small ‘light-table’ that’s lit from below, with a soft light coming from above. This shows up the difference between the heavier sepals that provide the outer protection to the flower while it’s still in bud and the thinner, more translucent inner petals. You can see that there is quite a lot of green in the sepals – much more than you’d think when you see the flower growing outside.

Well, I’m going to go and take some more passionflower photos. And I’m hoping that ‘Constance Elliot’ will survive the next winter and provide more lovely flowers (and the opportunity for more photographs). You can see my earlier post about passionflowers here.

Passionflower Constance Elliot
Here you can see how translucent the inner petals are in comparison to the more solid outer sepals.

 

 

 

 

Elegant and Exotic: Acidanthera murielae

 

Acidanthera flower
Acidanthera murielae flowers have an elegant, exotic look.

At this stage of the summer, there are not very many flowers left in the garden for me to photograph. But there’s one that’s in flower right now that I have wanted to photograph for some time.

I have been able to photograph Acidanthera murielae in a garden I visited, but I really wanted the chance to try it again in my own garden.

If you’re garden-visiting, you can’t tidy up the plant by removing the spent flower-heads before you take your photograph. And there’s a limit to how long you can spend as you wait for the flower heads to stop swaying in every slight breeze.

It’s so much easier to wait for a calm period in your own garden.

Acidanthera flowers sway easily because they’re held in groups on graceful three-foot high stems. With their tall, iris-like leaves, the plants make a very elegant sight that is both a treat to photograph and a star attraction for a late-summer border.

I just have a few of the flowers in a pot this year. Next year I’ll plant more of the bulbs in the garden, but I’ll have to remember to store them inside over winter because these East African bulbs aren’t very hardy. (Even better would be to just buy some new corms every spring – they’re not expensive.)

Acidanthera (also known as callianthus or Abyssinian gladiolus) are sun-lovers for a well-drained soil. They’re easy to grow and can create a spectacular show at this time of year.

Now I just hope they’ll sit still for a little while so that I can take some more photographs!

Flowers of Acidanthera murielae
I’m delighted to have acidanthera growing in my own garden at last!

Love-in-a-mist: Nigella damascena

White nigella damascena flower
I love the splash of magenta at the centre of this white nigella flower.

There’s something very appealing about the name ‘love-in-a-mist’. It sounds old-fashioned and romantic,  which suits a flower that has been a cottage-garden favourite for a long time.

The flowers are intricately structured and appear to float above a light, frothy mass of finely-cut foliage. (The foliage looks very like that of fennel. So much so, that one of the names of the species Nigella sativa is ‘fennel flower’.)

The combination of the complex flower structure and the angular shapes of the foliage make it a very pleasing plant to photograph. (The seed-pods too. They are strikingly puffed-up globes that have spiky-looking little horns on top and a ruff of feathery foliage around the base.)

Nigella flowers come in blues, pinks and white. Those I like best are the flowers that are white, but veined with blue or green, as in the photo below. These have an especially elegant look, which demands that you get really close to the flower so that you can see it properly. For next year, I’d like to grow and photograph some of the cultivars that have dark centres – ‘Midnight’, ‘African Bride’ or ‘Delft Blue’.

Right now, though, I need to get out in the garden and collect some of the ripe brown seed-heads that are just waiting to sprinkle their seeds everywhere. Then I can sow them in among the bulkier plants in my newest border. They’ll provide an excellent contrast to the shapes of irises and large-leaved foliage plants, as well as the bolder flowers of dahlias and echinaceas. If I’m organised enough, I’ll try to sow them at intervals throughout the spring and summer, so that they give a longer season of foliage and flowers.

They may seem small and rather shy, as they hide in their cloud of foliage, but nigellas are a really pretty and useful garden plant. They do deserve to have their seeds sprinkled in any spare corner you may have!

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A bud lives up to the name ‘Love-in-a-Mist’

Deceptive: Cactus Flower

Yellow echinopsis cactus flower
Not as soft as they look – those hairs on the stem can irritate your skin!

What could be more inoffensive than a flower? We’re used to thinking of them as pretty and delicate – which this cactus flower certainly is. And it’s ephemeral too. The flower only lasts a day or two before it’s gone.

But don’t be taken in by the fragile appearance of the flower. See those hairs on the flower stem (or ‘flower tube’)? They aren’t as soft and silky as they look. And, oh, don’t touch! I did – accidentally – and I regretted it.

Those hairs don’t look anywhere as threatening as the spines on the body of the cactus but they can be really painful to your skin. I don’t actually know (or remember – it was a long time ago) whether it was the hairs themselves containing some sort of irritant, or whether the hairs hide tiny barbs. Either way, it taught me to be more careful!

If you do get cactus barbs or hairs stuck in your skin, remove what you can with tweezers. Then try covering the area with a thin layer of a suitable household glue (Elmers etc), lay a piece of gauze over it, let it dry and pull off to remove the rest. Ouch!