A Favourite Garden

Water garden ponds at Beth Chatto's Garden
Two of the ponds in the water garden

I’ve mentioned before that I enjoy visiting other people’s gardens. They’re a great source of both pleasure and inspiration. One of my favourites to visit is the lovely garden created by the late Beth Chatto at Elmstead Market in Essex.

Fortunately for me, I live in the neighbouring county (Suffolk) and I’ve been able to visit the Beth Chatto Garden many times over recent years. But my first visit to the garden was much earlier, while I was still living in Scotland. At the time I was still fairly new to gardening and Mrs Chatto’s book, ‘The Green Tapestry’ had just come out. The book soon became one of my most relied-on sources of information about how to create a garden, so it was a great treat to actually be able to visit the garden that had inspired it.

Water garden at the Beth Chatto Gardens
The view as you enter the garden and look towards the ponds

As you walk into the main part of the gardens, your eye is caught by a series of four large ponds that form the impressive centrepiece of the garden. The water-garden was created to take advantage of  water coming from a natural spring and to solve the problem of what would otherwise be heavy, waterlogged ground. The results are beautiful and invite you to wander and linger or just have a seat on one of the benches and relax.

Water garden planting at the Beth Chatto Gardens
Planting along the bank of one of the ponds

It was late spring when we visited and there was new growth everywhere. The garden changes a lot with the seasons and can be dramatically different when the plants have grown to their full size later in the year. Our previous visit had been last autumn, so this felt like quite a contrast, with everything very fresh and green and full of promise for the summer.

A candelabra primula growing by the water
A candelabra primula growing by the water

Many of the plants here are familiar to me from Scottish gardens – candelabra primulas, gunnera and ferns particularly – but sadly they won’t grow well in my own very hot and dry garden. (One of the things I learned through reading Beth Chatto’s books was the importance of choosing the right plant for the situation. I’m afraid I condemned a few plants to a slow death by putting them in entirely the wrong place in my earlier gardening days!)

Arum italicum 'Pictum' echoes the shape of the fern but has a contrasting texture and markings.
Arum italicum ‘Pictum’ echoes the shape of the fern but has a contrasting texture.

The planting in the garden is a delight. I love to see the way texture and shape are contrasted (as in the photo above). Actually, I’d really like to grow Arum italicum ‘Pictum’ in my own garden because the lines on the leaves make it a great subject for black and white photographs. (The wild arum keeps popping up here, so it should do well enough.)

Looking across part of the water garden
Looking across part of the water garden

Our visit to the Beth Chatto Garden was partly prompted by wanting to get ideas for making a pond in our own garden. (OK, so our pond will be absolutely tiny in comparison, but you might as well look for inspiration from the best!) And there’s a nursery at the garden, so inspiration can easily turn into a few plants to take home with you…

Alliums and forget-me-nots in a border
Alliums and forget-me-nots in a border

Of course, there are plenty of familiar plants that I can (and do) grow, like the alliums, camassia and forget-me-nots in the border above. And then there’s the plants that I could grow when I lived in Scotland, like the rhododendron below. (Ah, now I really wish I could grow that here!)

White rhododendron
A plant I wish I could have….

The gardens have far more than I can possibly describe here. There appears to be just about any habitat that you can think of – water garden, woodland, shady areas and the sunny scree beds. And then there’s the famous gravel garden with its drought-tolerant planting – it has been a great source of inspiration for our own very dry garden. It’s a garden that I feel I can thoroughly recommend to anyone visiting this area, at any time of year. There’s a nursery and a good tearoom too, so you can easily spend a few hours here.

As you will probably know if you read gardening papers or magazines, Beth Chatto passed away in May this year, aged 94. She has been an inspiration to many and I know that a lot of my own enthusiasm for gardening has come from reading her books. I feel that her legacy is not just in the beautiful gardens that she has created, but also in the love of plants and the understanding and knowledge of them that she has shared with other gardeners.

Cercis siliquastrum (Judas tree or redbud)
A quiet spot under a beautiful Cercis siliquastrum (Judas tree or redbud)

Ever So Pretty In Pink

Cyclamen persicum cultivar in pink
Cyclamen persicum cultivar – like ruffled silk

 

Some flowers have a personality all of their own.

This little cyclamen looks to me as if it (she?) is all dressed up for a party in ‘her’ best dress – in frills, flounces and soft pleats of magenta silk. She’s a real show-off, dancing around with her skirt swishing and swirling around her.

Even the details of this glamorous bloom are exquisite. The cap behind the petals has the appearance a soft fabric, contrasting with the silky smoothness of the petals. I can just imagine this as an embroidered velvet, with perhaps some tiny seed beads added into the stitch-work. (Can you tell that I’m interested in textile art?)

By the way, I just had to go and look at a botany book to find that the ‘cap’ is actually the calyx, made up of leaf-like sepals.

Close-up of calyx and petals of pink Cyclamen persicum cultivar
The velvety-looking calyx surrounded by silky, swirling petals

It seems odd then, that earlier relatives of this flower had the distinctly earthy common name of ‘sowbread’. This was because the root of the plant, despite being poisonous to both man and most animals, was believed to be a favourite food of wild boar. (I don’t know about that, but I have seen a grey squirrel run across my garden with a nice fat cyclamen tuber in its mouth.)

The name ‘cyclamen’ also comes from the plant’s root (a disc-shaped tuber). It is derived from the Greek word ‘kyklos’ (circle).

The ancient Greeks, according to Hippocrates, used cyclamen in their medicine. Over the centuries its uses have been very varied. It was used for dressing wounds and was also thought to help ease childbirth but feared as a danger to pregnant women. In medieval times, the tuber was believed so powerful that if it was worn around the neck, or its juice smeared on the belly, that it could trigger a miscarriage.

Other uses for cyclamen root have been as diverse as using it to make soap (the tuber contains saponins) and fishermen using it to stun fish. (The fishermen would grate the toxic root and sprinkle it over water where there were fish. They would then gather the stunned fish that floated to the surface. Makes me wonder if the fish became at all toxic to eat…)

Today cyclamen is, despite its toxicity, still used in homeopathy. But it is far more likely that you’ll come across one of the many cultivars as either a beautiful (but tender) houseplant or as a hardy autumn or spring-flowering plant for your garden. Whichever they are, they’re little beauties!

Pink Cyclamen persicum
The swirling petals almost appear to be moving…

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.

 

Discovering Drypoint

Drypoint print of passionflower
Drypoint print with chine colle

I’ve mentioned before that over recent years I’ve been learning printmaking techniques. My newest little adventure is to learn drypoint.

This is a process that appeals to me because it is very simple and direct. Basically, an image is scratched into a printing plate (metal, plastic or special card) with a sharp point.

The plate is printed in the same way as an etching plate but the drypoint print has a softer-looking line. (A result of the ink being held not just by the incised line but also by the raised burr pushed up by the sharp point.)

For my first attempt at drypoint, I’ve used a drawing based on this photograph:

Photograph of a passionflower
The original passionflower photograph

This is the same image that I used for the intaglio print/photography combination that I wrote about here.

The plate I used for this print was clear plastic. (You can see it in the photo below.) This has a huge advantage over metal – you can just lay it over a drawing or photograph and use that as a guide for inscribing the lines of the image. To scratch the lines into the plate, I used an engineers’ scriber. (You can find these for around £5 in D.I.Y. stores.) Anything sharp enough to mark the plate is worth trying but there are specific drypoint needles with different sizes of tips available too. I’ve recently bought a couple of these – shown in the photo. (Above the engineers’ scriber.)

Drypoint plate and needles
Drypoint plate, scriber and needles

The printing plate is inked and wiped in the same way as an etching plate. (But treated more gently, to preserve the burr along the edges of the lines – this helps to give the characteristic fuzzy look to the printed lines.)

As you can see from this description, the drypoint process is very straightforward. It’s also pretty inexpensive to try out. Even better – there are no chemicals involved. (Hooray! Great!! I’m very happy to be able to avoid using the nastier printmaking chemicals – some are very toxic!)

Making the drypoint print was a process that I really enjoyed. I found something very satisfying about scratching the lines into the plastic plate. And it’s also very pleasing to be able to use my photographs as a starting point for a printed image that will look quite different. I’m planning to make more prints soon and (if you’re interested in printmaking) I hope that I may have encouraged you to give drypoint a try.

Drypoint print of a passionflower
My first attempt at drypoint printing

Rain At Last!

Japanese anemone 'September Charm'
Japanese anemone – a flower I enjoy photographing.

It’s never been so good to see rain. We’re in Suffolk in the UK and this summer has been hotter and drier than any I’ve experienced before.

With record-breaking temperatures and no rain for many weeks, gardeners here have been frantically watering and worrying about whether their gardens would survive.

Somehow we’ve been lucky. Only a few of the plants in our garden have been badly affected.

One of these is the Japanese anemone ‘September Charm’. (Despite its name, it always starts to flower here by the end of July and finishes in August.) This year’s flowers are smaller and some of the leaves are wilting. But I haven’t watered it because it’s a rampant thug and I’m trying to discourage it from spreading everywhere. (Despite its ambitions to take over, it can stay because it’s a good subject to photograph.)

Another plant which is struggling, even though I water it, is a lovely blue veronica. I really hope it survives because the slim spires of flower work so well as a contrast to the other plant shapes in the border.

A careful eye is kept on our one bush hydrangea and so far it’s doing quite well, with just the occasional watering. (Bath-time for the tiny frogs that are living under it at the moment!) It might not be the most suitable plant for our hot, dry garden but I had to have it – the lacecap flowers are lovely to photograph.

(There are also a couple of climbing hydrangeas, but I never water them and they seem to do just fine.)

Many other plants have coped well with the drought. A hibiscus (‘Blue Bird’) has had very infrequent watering. (I have a sneaky dodge here. I’ve pushed a length of plastic pipe into the ground beside the rootball. Watering into the pipe means that the water is carried right down deep to the roots.)

Hibiscus 'Blue Bird' flower
Hibiscus ‘Blue Bird’ has flowered well this year.

Other happy plants include a number of trees and shrubs. (The mature ones seem to have had no problems.) I’ve been particularly impressed by a purple smoke bush, ceanothus, dark-leaved elders (‘Black Lace’ and ‘Black Beauty’), a Himalayan indigo and a cut-leaf lilac (Syringa x laciniata), all of which are still relatively young and have had no watering at all this summer.

Many of the smaller plants that have done well (agapanthus, sedums, salvias, gaura, Russian sage, Anthemis tinctoria, stipa tenuissima) were chosen after reading ‘Beth Chatto’s Gravel Garden’. This is a tremendously useful book which takes you season-by-season through everything you need to know about creating a garden that will survive drought and I can really recommend it.

Have you any tips for keeping a garden going through drought conditions? Any ideas, suggestions for good plants etc. would be very welcome in the comments…

Blue agapanthus flowers
Agapanthus has done well despite the drought.

 

 

 

Sunny Yellows

Rudbekia 'Goldsturm'
Rudbekia glowing in the heat of a summer’s day.

I don’t have a lot of yellow in my garden.

There’s some – we have a winter-flowering jasmine and following that there are the spring bulbs. (A few crocuses, lots more daffodils and some bright yellow tulips that have probably been in the garden for many years.)

Later, as different flowers open, the garden turns largely lilac, pink, and blue. There are also lots of deep reds, bronzes and browns. These darker shades could seem a bit sombre, so a touch of yellow in summer enlivens the whole garden.

The richest and most intense of the yellows in the garden here is the rudbekia. It’s a plant that I’ve lost in the past because it prefers a moist soil and our rainfall in this part of the UK (Suffolk) is very low. During the drought this year, I’m having to keep it well-watered. Fingers crossed that this one will survive!

Easier yellows have included a potentilla and the little daisy flowers of Anthemis tinctoria ‘E. C. Buxton’, both of which have produced a mass of flowers over a long period. Easier still is the evening primrose, because it self-seeds generously and just pops up wherever it feels like it. It’s a delight to come across the unexpected pale gleam of its flowers as night begins to fall.

Another easy way to add some yellow is to simply buy a few plants in pots. I’ve done this when I’ve spotted something I want to photograph. (Oh, that happens a lot!)

yellow chrysanthemum with water drops
Chrysanthemum grown in a pot to photograph

The daisy flowers of chrysanthemums and the elegant flowers of calla lilies are inviting subjects to photograph. And the yellow of the flowers here makes a change from the pinks, blues and purples that I more often have available for my photography.

yellow calla lilies
I enjoy photographing calla lilies

For the future, there’s a yellow flower that I’d like to grow here that will be the cause of a lot more work than any of the others. A waterlily. (Of course, I like to photograph waterlilies in other colours too.)

First, I’m going to have to build a pond….but that’s a project for the autumn and early winter because the ground is now rock hard. (We haven’t had a drop of rain in many weeks and there’s none forecast for the next couple of weeks either.)

I think the work will be well worth it, though. (But my back will probably disagree!) For I do love pond plants, especially waterlilies.

yellow waterlily
I saved my favourite for last!

I hope you enjoyed this little bit of sunshine!

 

 

 

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.

A Photographer’s Garden

passionflower white lightning
I couldn’t resist buying this passionflower to photograph it.

As both a photographer and a gardener, obviously I tend to choose plants that I think will make a good photograph. The flowers I choose are often fairly large with a complex structure or interesting markings – something to hold the interest of the viewer.

It probably won’t take you long to spot my favourites on this blog. Passionflowers, hellebores, clematis, tulips and alliums are just a few of the flowers that give me the urge to grab my camera. (And, um, a strong urge to visit garden centres too!)

Buying plants to photograph means that I’ll have plenty of subjects for pictures. But buying one each of these plants won’t add up to good garden design. Instead, if I don’t restrain my plant-hunting, I’ll end up with a very bitty-looking garden.

Of course, the remedy is simple. We’re told to plant in groups of three or five, or in drifts if we’re lucky enough to have the space. Yeah, fine! That just gets a bit expensive at the garden centre….

Luckily, lots of the plants I’ve chosen are easy to propagate or else like to spread or seed themselves about. These plants are gradually becoming the backbone of my garden and they make it look a bit more cohesive.

There’s a snag here though. (There would be!) Some plants are getting just a bit too enthusiastic. Tall red scabious are getting absolutely everywhere, the geraniums are ruthlessly trying to smother the young astrantia plants nearby, and Japanese anemones are doing their best to take over the entire garden.

It appears that this photographer’s garden is going to be a constant balancing act. (And some of the more thuggish plants will have to be forced to mind their manners. That may take quite a bit of effort on my part.)

I hope you have the chance to enjoy a garden in this wonderful weather.