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!

Nigella damascena bud
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!

Clematis: Squeezing Extra Colour into a Small Space

Clematis Hagley Hybrid 1476
This ‘Hagley Hybrid’ flower seems to be enjoying the evening sunshine.

Gardeners are always wishing for more room to grow plants. Inevitably there will be another flower, a shrub – even a tree – that we’d like to be able to find space for.

Since we don’t have gardens with elastic sides, we just have to squeeze things in as best we can. Or be extremely disciplined about the plants we buy. Nope, that’s not happening here! But then, I have the ‘excuse’ of needing new plants to photograph…

Clematis Arabella 2302
The mauve flowers of Clematis ‘Arabella’ are carried on short scrambling stems.

A sneaky way of cramming some extra flowers into the garden is to grow climbers. I have several clematis plants growing through shrubs where they take very little extra space. Roses and clematis are a classic combination, but I tend to use any shrub as a potential climbing frame.

I love clematis. I think it’s pretty much my favourite plant, so I face terrible temptation at my local nurseries. (One of them has usually got a good selection at very reasonable prices – very difficult to ignore!) So, as you may guess, I’m now trying to find extra spaces in the garden for more clematis…eventually I may run out of space for them too!

Clematis Mrs N Thompson
‘Mrs N Thompson’ is bright and bold.

It’s a moment of pure delight to see the first flowers on a young clematis. They’re always more beautiful in their richness of colour and the graceful way that they hold their flowers, than any picture on their label. Sometimes I forget where I have planted a clematis, and then have a happy surprise when I spot the colour peeping out here and there on the host shrub.

I must admit, I’ve lost a few clematis plants over the years. Some were planted in areas that were just too dry and others may have been struggling with too much heat at their roots. Now I try to pay a bit more attention to putting them in more suitable places, but it does take them a while to get established here. It’s worth a bit of care and patience though, because the flowers are simply lovely.

Next week’s blog post could be a bit late, or have fewer photos. That’s because my trusty old PC is dying, so I will have to move on from Photoshop CS3 at last. (I’ve been resisting that change for a long time.) We do have a new PC, but there will be a lot for me to learn in the way of photo-processing – argh! (Wish me luck!!)

Clematis Victoria 2398
‘Victoria’ has brought some delicate beauty to the variegated euonymus that it’s weaving through.

Blue (and Violet and Purple) for Bees

Cerinthe major 'Purpurascens' (Honeywort)
The common name of Cerinthe is ‘Honeywort’ and bees love it.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ve probably noticed that blues and purples are my favourite colours in the garden.

Some of the darker flowers have a lovely velvety look – petunias and the deep purple morning glory ‘Grandpa Otts’ spring to mind. They just ask you to stroke them! And at the lighter end of the range, soft violets and lilac-blues are delicately beautiful.

So I’m delighted to read that bees share my attraction to these colours and often prefer blue and violet flowers.

Scientists studying bees’ vision have discovered that, unlike us, bees can see ultraviolet light. This allows bees to see the ultraviolet patterns that flowers use to show them where to find nectar.

(There’s even a colour named ‘bee’s purple’, which is a mixture of yellow and ultraviolet light and is visible to bees but not to us.)

Blue Olearia-1064
This blue daisy bush (Olearia) looks like an aster but flowers in spring and early summer.

A German scientific study  of bumblebees also found that (in an area where violet flowers produced the most nectar), they preferred violet over blue. This allowed the bees to collect more nectar than bees that didn’t show a preference.

Apparently the world bees see is a mixture of mostly blue, green and ultraviolet, also yellow and some orange, but no red. Red just looks like a black to bees, but bees have an excellent sense of smell, so that flowers in the red colour range can attract them by scent.

There are already a number of bee-friendly plants in blues and purples in my garden.

Cerinthe (top photo) is a marvelous plant for pollinators because it is especially rich in nectar, giving it the common name of ‘Honeywort’. (This cerinthe was photographed in a garden I was visiting in the spring. The cooler temperatures at that time gave it a much darker colouring than my own plants had in the warmth of summer.)

Flowers of Geranium 'Rozanne' with lavender.
Flowers of Geranium ‘Rozanne’ with lavender – a combination sure to attract bees!

The geranium ‘Rozanne’ is now lazily flopping into the lavender bushes beside it, creating a partnership that pleases both me and the bees. This geranium flowers over a long period, so it really earns its place in a bee-border.

Another flower that is popular with bees and that self-sows around my garden is Centaurea montana – the perennial cornflower. It also attracts butterflies and moths, which means it works well as a pollinator magnet. The unusual flower shape and the combination of blue and magenta make it a lovely garden plant.

The daisy bush (Olearia) was photographed in a garden I visited in spring. Apparently it attracts both bees and butterflies – and I’m wondering if I can find a suitable space for one in my own garden…

As you might expect, I’m looking forward to checking out what violet, purple and blue flowers are best for bees. There will, of course, be plenty of other colours too. But, hey, I’m really pleased that my buzzy little friends share my colour preferences!

Flower of Centaurea montana
Centaurea montana is a very easy-to-grow plant that attracts bees, butterflies and moths.

Daisies: Simple but Pretty

Anthemis tinctoria-2299
The flowers of Anthemis tinctoria ‘E C Buxton’ glow in the evening sunshine.

Daisies – the kind you find in your lawn – are the first flowers that I remember being aware of as a child. (Though I was a few years older by the time I tried the fiddly task of making a daisy chain.)

Now, as an adult, I’m aware of the tremendous range of daisies – the different colours, sizes and growth habits that give each their own character.

That character can vary greatly because the daisy family (asteraceae) includes plants you would expect, e.g. asters, coneflowers, dahlias, marigolds – and a lot that are a surprise, for instance cornflowers, and, believe it or not, lettuce!

Echinacea 2486
The large flowers of echinacea give a naturalistic look to the garden.

The bold shape of the bigger daisies, such as echinacea, makes them a great plant to mix with more delicate plant forms for contrast. (I have lots of fennel and verbena bonariensis which create an airy feel, and wispy grasses give a softness too.) Add in other plant shapes – spires (veronica and veronicastrum maybe) and some bold leaves – and you have a border full of textural and architectural interest.

Aster-2466
This tall aster has flowers of a very attention-grabbing colour!

My own garden is in a state of constant change at the moment. (I think that most gardens probably are.) The main border that I’ve created over the last couple of years has filled out so much that the plants no longer have enough space. Some plants are busily setting seed everywhere while others have grown more than I expected. So there will be a lot of shifting plants around!

As I re-organize borders and create new planting areas, I hope to add lots more daisies, especially some of the late-flowering ones like heleniums and dahlias. (My plan is to create a garden that allows me the opportunity to take photographs over as long a period as possible.)

There will certainly be plenty of choice for me because the daisy family is vast, so there will be a colour, size and shape to suit any planting plan I come up with.

Doronicum-flm-645
Doronicum (leopard’s bane) flowers are a cheerful sight in spring and early summer.

A Rediscovery: Triteleia Laxa

The blue flowers of Tritelia laxa 'Queen Fabiola'
Tritelia laxa ‘Queen Fabiola’ has blue flowers that are reminiscent of agapanthus.

Occasionally I come across something in the garden that I had pretty much forgotten about.

That happened last year when I was starting to clear an area of the garden that had become overgrown with too-rampant plants. (I have quite a few of these!)

I was delighted to discover these pretty little blue flowers – Tritelia laxa – still managing to survive, despite the tide of geraniums, Japanese anemonies, ivy and assorted weeds that was threatening to engulf them.

I haven’t seen them very often in the UK. Perhaps that’s because they are not thoroughly hardy and don’t like getting very wet in winter. Luckily for them, my soil is very well-drained and I guess that the weeds etc. have been protecting them from the winter cold.

Triteliea growing in a garden.
These triteliea flowers have managed to survive and multiply in a rather neglected corner of my garden.

The flowers used to be known as Brodiaea and you can still find the corms for sale under that name. They have several other names too, but the one that intrigued me is ‘Ithuriel’s Spear’. So I had to Google it…

Apparently, Ithuriel was the name of an angel who had a spear that could unmask any disguise by its touch. According to the poet Milton, he was sent to the Garden of Eden, where he used the spear to discover Satan, who was hiding in the disguise of a toad. (You can see that this must come from the sharp-looking tip of the flower bud somewhat resembling a spear.)

So now, as a result of that strange association I’m imagining myself wandering around the garden, trying to touch the frogs (haven’t seen any toads here) with a tiny blue flower. Somehow I don’t think they’d be too impressed! (Nor would the neighbours!)

Plant names seem to belong in a strange world of imagination and fantasy – but they can be amusing. And now I must go and take some more photographs of my rediscovered little beauties…

Triteleia laxa (also known as Brodiaea) 'Queen Fabiola'
Tritelia (aka Brodiaea) makes a great cut flower.

 

Summer Scents: Philadelphus

Philadelphus Coronarius flowers
Our neighbours’ beautiful philadelphus leans over the fence into our garden.

As a photographer, it would be easy for me to forget that being in a garden is not just a visual experience.

Scent is something that I tend not to think about until I am greeted by an unexpected waft of perfume from some nearby flowers.

For the past few weeks, a shrub in my neighbours’ garden has been flowering magnificently and leaning right over the fence into my garden. It has been a most welcome sight, but, beautiful as the flowers were, their scent was even more impressive. Strong and sweet, this scent has been filling the air near our back door and has made it a pleasure to step outside.

The shrub is a philadelphus or ‘mock orange’. I’m guessing, from its strong perfume and height (about 9-10 ft.) that it is likely to be Philadelphus coronarious. (You can see it in the top photo.) It has just finished flowering and now the two philadelphus shrubs in my own garden have taken over.

White philadelphus (mock orange) flowers
This Philadelphus was in the garden when we came here – I think it’s probably ‘Virginal’.

In the photograph above, you can see the older of these. I think it has been in the garden for a very long time and it was terribly overgrown and straggly when we arrived. I cut it back a lot and it has grown back strongly.

Despite now having quite a lot of shade from nearby trees, this philadelphus is heavily covered with flowers but their scent is not as strong as those on the neighbours’ shrub. By the look of it, I think that this one must be the cultivar ‘Virginal’ – it was one of the commonest ones. (Nowadays, there seems to be a very large number of cultivars available.)

In contrast, I do know the name of the philadelphus in the bottom photograph. It is ‘Belle Etoile’  – I’m sure, because I planted that one!

(Not knowing the full names of plants that you’ve ‘inherited’ or else photographed in other people’s gardens makes titling photographs accurately very difficult.)

Belle Etoile seems to have less scent than the others, however, it makes it up for that with the pretty purplish colouration at the centre. This makes it attractive to photograph, as well as blending it nicely with its dark pink and purple flowered neighbours in that border.

I’m enjoying the company of these lovely shrubs at the moment – what more could a flower photographer ask, than a beautiful subject that also happens to smell good while you’re working up close to it. Sweet!

Flowers of Philadelphus 'Belle Etoile'
Philadelphus ‘Belle Etoile’ has a magenta blush at the centre of the flower.

Little Stars

The star-shaped flowers of Allium christophii.
The star-shaped flowers of Allium christophii.

The shape of flowers is one of the main elements that draws me to photograph them. If it is a plant with a distinctive shape, especially when it’s graceful, then (as I’m sure you’ll expect) I’m keen to create images of it.

Allium christophii is one of the more spectacular early-summer flowers, with it’s firework-burst head of delicate purple stars. Each little star reflects light, giving it the appearance of being metallic. They remind me of the rich colour and sheen of anodised aluminium.

Flowers of Ornithogalum nutans
Ornithogalum nutans has a spike of starry flowers.

While the allium has a very sculptural look, there is something softer and more subtle about Ornithogalum nutans (AKA ‘Nodding Star of Bethlehem’). I hadn’t seen it until a recent garden visit and I was immediately attracted by the elegant white flowers with their green markings. They would look lovely mixed in a border with ferns and and something with bold leaves – hostas, maybe. (I think they’d be a great choice for the rather more ‘natural’ pond-side border that I’m currently planning.)

Flowers of Scilla peruviana
The little stars of Scilla peruviana orbit the still-unopened flower buds

Scilla peruviana is another plant that I’d like to grow so that I can photograph it. The purple and blue stars look as if they’re in an orbit around the darker buds that are still waiting to open. There are lots of possibilities for interesting compositions here, but it helps if you have the plants in your own garden so that you can spend some time experimenting. (I’m always wishing I could spend longer with the interesting plants I find in the gardens I visit. The only solution is to do a bit of plant-shopping!)

The last plant is one that I do have in my own garden. You may have come across the edible blue flowers of borage (also appropriately known as ‘starflower’) as a pretty addition to summer salads or frozen in ice cubes for drinks. Here, I let it seed around an area of the garden so that the bees can enjoy it. Borage is also an excellent companion plant for anything growing around it because it adds trace elements to the soil. (So it’s not just a pretty face!) Pimms, anyone?

 

Flowers of borage (starflower)
Borage is also known as ‘starflower’, a very apt name!

Rhododendrons: Woodland Beauty

Orange rhododendron flowers
I loved the warm glow of these rhododendron flowers.

I was lucky enough to be able to get out and do some garden-visiting last weekend. It was incredibly hot, so I was happy to get out of the brilliant sunshine and into the garden’s wooded depths. Once there, I was delighted to find myself surrounded by the jewel-bright colours of rhododendrons in full flower.

It was difficult to get close to many of the flowers, but I was able to get near enough some of the prettiest to photograph them. (If you’re visiting a garden, that can be surprisingly difficult because it’s easy to get in the way of other visitors, especially if paths are narrow or you’re there at a busy time.)

White rhododendron flowers with red/orange markings.
Spectacular red and orange markings drew my eye to this white rhododendron.

Having got close enough to a flower that’s still in good condition, the next problem is coping with the light. On a day with dazzling sunshine and trees overhead, it’s difficult for the camera to capture detail in both the highlight and shadow areas. If I was taking the photograph at home, I’d use a diffuser (basically a fine fabric stretched over a rigid frame) to soften the light falling on the flower.

Alternatively, if I hadn’t been in too much of a rush that morning, I should have remembered to bring a small fold-up reflector (or even just a piece of white paper or card) that I could use to bounce some of the bright light back into the shadows. I won’t make the mistake of being so unprepared next time!

Hoping that I could still get a reasonable photograph, I tried to find flowers that were more shaded. However, that wasn’t possible for many, including the white flowers above. So I decided to take the photograph anyway, bracketing the exposure a bit so that I could choose the best one.

White rhododendron flowers tinted with pink
A slight pink blush to the white petals and deeper pink buds make these rhododendron flowers look especially delicate.

It’s at times like this, that shooting with the camera set to create RAW files really comes in useful. Once I was home, I was able to use the RAW development software to both darken the highlights, pulling back some of the detail into them, and lighten the shadows. There’s a limit to what software can do for you, but it shows that it’s always worth having a try at a photograph, even if the conditions aren’t ideal.

The photograph below was taken on a different day, when the light was more overcast. You can see that the effect is generally softer and that there are no harsh highlights or shadows to distract from the detail. A slightly grey day may not be what most day-trippers would wish for, but it certainly makes life easier for photographers!

Pink rhododendron flowers with dark red markings
The dark markings provide a bold contrast to the pretty pink of the petals.

Bud-Burst: Nectaroscordums

Nectaroscordum 3
A newly-opened head of nectaroscordum flowers, with some of the buds still pointing upwards.

As spring becomes summer, there are new flowers opening every day. I wander round my garden, eyeing up the fresh buds with great anticipation – just waiting for the first glimpse of colour as the petals begin to unfold and burst out of their casings.

Nectaroscordum siculum (Sicilian honey garlic) is one of the plants I like to watch develop from bud to flower. It starts off with its buds all wrapped up in a papery covering, which you can see in the photo below. The buds look almost like a bunch of miniature tulips in a florists’ wrap as they peep out from behind their thin cover.

Nectaroscordum Buds 2
Buds emerging from their paper-like covering.

Gradually the individual flower buds manage to wriggle free of their protection. They then begin to move from sitting upright to hanging downwards as the bell-shaped flowers get ready to open. It takes a little while for the buds to get from being upright to hanging down, so that the flower head goes through a stage of having some of its buds still sticking upwards – making it look a bit like it has an unruly hair-do! (Top photo.)

Nectaroscordum Buds 3
And they’re out! The first buds emerge.

Eventually, all the flowers hang down, in a graceful umbel at the top of a tall stem. (And it sways in the slightest breeze, making it a little tricky to photograph if the air isn’t still!) Later, after the flowers have been pollinated, the seed pods will all turn upright again. Those little flower stems are extraordinarily mobile!

The flowers are a lovely sight, coloured with a soft blend of purply-pinks and cream that rather reminds me of mother-of-pearl.

Nectaroscordums are very easy to grow in a well-drained soil in sun and seem drought-tolerant in my garden. They multiply well too, though it will take a few years before the seedlings flower. If I’m lucky, maybe I’ll end up with a sea of them – that would certainly keep me happily taking photographs!

Nectaroscordum Flower 1
The top buds are starting to point downwards before opening.