A Splash of Late Sunshine

I managed to photograph these rudbeckias (coneflowers) before they got too weather-beaten to use. (They’re actually gone now – only the brown seed-heads remain – so I was just in time.)

The rudbeckia below (and at bottom) is ‘Goldsturm’ and it has given a rich touch of gold to the main border for weeks. I’d though of moving it to a position that would give it a little more moisture but it seems settled where it is. (Moving it might be risky too, I’ve lost them a few times, both back in Scotland and here. I think they got too dry.)

Rudbekia 'Goldsturm' flower

The rudbeckia at the top of this post is, I think, an annual. Hubby grew it from seed as part of his collection of potted plants in the front garden. (That part is his domain!) Sitting in its big pot, it has added a welcoming glow by our front door. It must have been in constant flower for a couple of months and now that it has gone over, I miss it!

There’s a new yellow tint seeping into the garden now as the leaves gradually change colour. Somehow at this time of year, we always seem to have a week or two of very rough, windy weather. So the leaves get blown off before there’s time to fully appreciate that yellow. If the wind does let up for a little while, I might get the chance to nip outside with my camera. (But I suspect I’ll end up collecting fallen leaves instead and photographing those.)

Rudbekia 'Goldsturm' flower

Small but Beautiful

The flowers in the garden are getting fewer as autumn progresses. Finding something to photograph is more difficult now, but there are a few flowers left and some are still looking good.

Amongst these is this very long-flowering Scabious atropurpurea. It’s a lovely little thing, but you do need to look at it closely to see the detail. I’ve also had to use plenty of light because the flowers are very dark. Here it’s a tricky balance between being able to see anything in the centre of the flowers and keeping the colour as true to life as possible.

And talking about the true colour – this is one of the supposedly ‘black’ flowered scabious varieties. (I’m not sure which. I’ve had both ‘Ace of Spades’ and ‘Chile Black’ and they look very similar to me.) As you can see, the flowers really aren’t black at all, but a very deep burgundy red, as are many other flowers that have black in their name. (Like Black Parrot tulips, photographed here: https://annmackay.blog/2020/05/03/tulips-flamboyant-and-fun/ )

I love having the deep, dark purplish-reds of these flowers in the garden. They look dramatic as they sway on their tall, delicate stems and can take the overly sweet edge off a bed that has a lot of softer pinks. Because they also self-seed freely around our garden, they help to give a more cohesive look to the borders.

(A problem of growing flowers to photograph is that it’s easy to end up with lots of ‘one-offs’ that give a very bitty effect. Repetition helps to hold the garden together. It’s good to have plants that are easy to propagate and can be sprinkled through the borders or grown in massed groups. )

Like other scabious flowers, these are great for bees and other pollinators. That gives me another reason for growing them and makes me want try other varieties of scabious too. (I do already have a small blue scabious – no idea of the name – and the related Knautia macedonica which is an absolute magnet for bees and hoverflies.)

It’s great that these flowers are happy to sow themselves everywhere because they are short-lived as perennials. (They’re often treated as annuals.) These have been in flower for a very long time and look set to flower for a few weeks yet. I do dead-head them but always leave the last seed heads, so there are usually lots of new seedlings the next year.

Hopefully I’ll never be without a few of these pretty little flowers around the garden – it will make the bees happy too!

Scabiosa atropurpurea flowers (scabious 'Chile Black')

Rainy Day in the Studio

It’s very wet and windy here and has been for a few days. So no chance of close-up photography in the garden. (Although, if I feel up to getting rather wet, I may go out in search of drip-covered spider’s webs later.)

For now, I have opted to stay warm and dry indoors. But what to photograph? Luckily, I don’t even need to go outside to pick some flowers. That’s because I tend to gather up odd bits of dried plant material and other natural bits and pieces that catch my interest, like these dried bougainvillea bracts.

I am fascinated by the structure of plants. There is such a variety of shapes and of ways that the parts of the plant are constructed. Looking at them from close-up allows you to see all the little details – sometimes much more than you would have expected from a passing glance.

Photographing these bougainvillea heads under studio lights gives the lace-like veins of the bracts a clarity and crispness. The strong light enhances the translucent bracts and also helps them to stand out against their plain white background.

These are very simple photographs to take but the results please me. It shows how worthwhile it is to gather up things like these – nature’s tiny creations – and to take a close look at them. Next, I really ought to go and photograph the flowers that are still on the bougainvillea plant. Luckily, that’s in the nice dry conservatory!

Dried bracts of bouganvillea flower

Flowering at Last: Cosmos

This year I decided to grow cosmos ‘Seashells’ (above), but it has taken a long time to come into flower. For a while, I didn’t think there would be any flowers at all. Now, however, the first few flowers have opened and there are plenty more buds for flowers to come.

I was worried that I had sown the seeds too late. (Sometimes there are just too many things wanting to be done at the same time in spring.) Even so, I hoped for a late show of flowers from them and they haven’t let me down.

I belong to a gardeners’ group on Facebook, and some of the members had been discussing the lateness in flowering of their cosmos plants. One of the group came up with the information that it’s simply because the plant is sensitive to day-length and needs a short day (long night) to be able to produce flowers.

That’s something that I would never have thought of before. Living in the UK, I tend to assume that flowers will want the longer days of summer. (I imagine that people who live in areas where cosmos are native or naturalised will be much more aware of the effect of the day-length.)

Apparently there are new varieties which don’t need the short days and can flower earlier in the summer. So next year I can either buy these seeds, or relax, take my time, and sow the older varieties a bit later. Or maybe try both – you can never have too many pretty flowers!

Dark pink cosmos flower
A dark pink cosmos photographed in a garden I visited last year.

Pure Elegance

The white flowers of passionflower ‘Constance Elliot’ have been gradually appearing over recent weeks. There are never many at a time, but the sprinkling of delicate blooms feels like something very special to me.

This climber has only been in the garden for a couple of years, so it will no doubt spread and have a greater number of flowers in time. That’s if it can come through the cold of the winter!

There’s something about growing plants that are not really hardy or are only borderline hardy in your area that makes it all the more exciting and satisfying when they survive and flower.

Having lived most of my life in Scotland, it was a surprise to find that we could grow such things as passionflowers and grapevines here in Suffolk – and a tempting novelty! (Of course, there are things we could grow in Scotland that won’t grow here – rhododendrons particularly.)

Right now I’m trying to work faster in the garden to get as much as I can done before the weather turns wet and windy and winter arrives. Autumn can be a busy time, with plants to be split and moved, but this year there is plenty more to do on the new pond border. I’ll probably find myself working outside through the better weather of winter too – there’s so much to do! But for the moment, I must remember to take the time to enjoy the beautiful flowers that appear so briefly in the garden, especially these passionflowers.

Softer Colours

From my recent posts of zinnias, heleniums and echinaceas, you might be thinking that my garden is a blaze of bright colours at the moment.

But, in fact, it isn’t. There are areas of softer colours too, mainly because there are so many Japanese anemones. (They spread and get everywhere if they get the chance.) There are two pink ones – ‘September Charm’, which is the paler of the two, and ‘Hadspen Abundance’. (That’s the one in the top photo, complete with a little ladybird.)

Pink delphinium close-up

The third anemone is ‘Honorine Jobert’, a white one that doesn’t seem to spread as aggressively as the other two.

Despite their desire to take over the garden, I’m happy to see the mass of soft pink anemone flowers. It’s a restful, relaxing colour. Next year, I’m thinking of moving some of them beside our main sitting area and combining them with pale purples, such as perovskia (Russian sage) and silver foliage. This should help to create a laid-back area where we can allow our cares and stresses to float away…hopefully!

Another soft pink, this time unexpected, has been a second flowering of one of the delphiniums. To be honest, I don’t expect these delphinium plants to last long here, but I couldn’t resist them when I saw the pink that also has tones of mauve. These plants really like to be well-fed and don’t like too much heat and drought, so our garden is very unsuitable. I shall just have to try to remember to water them with tomato food and enjoy them for as long as they survive.

Blue geranium flower

A soft blue with a slight blush of magenta pink is a colouring I especially love and can be seen in the geranium pictured here. I’ve no idea what the variety is. (It was already in the garden when we arrived.) It manages to produce flowers over a long period and grows in the dry soil beneath several shrubs. Really, I ought to move a piece to somewhere where it would have more space and moisture, just to see what it can do.

The last of the more delicately-coloured flowers for this week is the blue scabious below. I find that scabious loves the sun and well-drained soil here. They flower over a long period and attract bees and butterflies, so there’s more than the pretty colour to enjoy. They’re almost finished for this year, but can produce the occasional late flower when you’re not expecting it.

It feels great to find a plant that is both delightful and happy in the conditions that you can give it, so next year I’ll be planning to plant more scabious varieties. And I’ll hope that there will be part of the garden that is full of gentle colours that bring rest and relaxation. (And, of course, bees and butterflies too!)

Bee on scabious flower.

Growing Flowers for Photography: Zinnias

Every year I try to have something new to photograph in the garden. So it’s useful to plant a few annuals to give me the chance to try something different. This year a packet of mixed-colour Zinnia seed has produced a nice crop of willing photographic subjects.

I haven’t grown Zinnias for a long time – years ago in Scotland – but not since we moved here. Why I’ve allowed myself to miss out on them I can’t say. (Probably too busy weeding in springtime to grow much from seed!)

Intriguing shapes in the centre of this zinnia flower

The reward for taking a little time to grow these plants is a border full of colourful flowers that gleam like jewels. They include magenta-pink, a good strong red, an orange that vies with tithonia (Mexican sunflower) for sheer vibrance, and (perhaps the one I like best) a much softer orange that is blushed with magenta. It’s like the floral equivalent of a big bag of mixed sweeties (candy) for a photographer!

The shapes of the flowers are interesting too. I’ve always been attracted to the ring of tiny yellow flowers around the centre of the flower head. (These are the ‘disk flowers’ that make up the centre of a composite flower.) As these disk flowers gradually open closer to the very centre of the flower, the central disc can go from being flat to being conical, as in the top photograph. This gives an interesting variation in shape and more opportunities for different pictures.

There’s a fiery glow from this orange zinnia flower.

Zinnias are not just attractive to photographers, though. Bees love them too. The bee in the bottom photo seemed to have its face stuck right into one of the little disk florets. It was in no hurry to leave, so gave me another photographic opportunity. Thanks, little bee!

Late summer and autumn is a time when the garden here can start to run out of flowers, so the zinnias are especially welcome. And as a late-season bee plant, they are even more valuable. Next year I intend to find space to grow some more zinnias – so the bees and I will both be happy, and there will be lots more photographs. 🙂

Pink zinnia flower with a bumblebee

Didn’t Do My Homework: Heleniums

Last year I bought a couple of helenium plants because I wanted to have as many late-season flowers as possible. (I’m always keen to prolong summer and keep the bees fed too.)

One plant was put into a border straight away, while the other has been in a large pot until recently. It is now in my ‘hot’ border. Both plants have been kept well-watered through the dry summer and are growing happily.

But that may be more by luck than any gardening skill on my part. Normally I make a point of checking the needs of any new plant on Google – sometimes even before I buy it. (I’m at my most impulsive in garden centres!) Not this time…I’ve only just discovered that heleniums like a much wetter soil than I’d thought. Luckily, it’s raining at the moment, so the plants are happy for now.

Soon, though, I will have to move the plants because they’re in the driest part of the garden and probably won’t survive there long. Later this year I want to build a bog garden and now this is making me think of having two ‘bog’ areas. One would be drier than the other, i.e. damp rather than truly boggy. Hopefully this would make it possible for me to give a good home to plants with a range of moisture needs. Will it work? I guess we’ll find out next year!

Incidentally, when I did get round to Googling heleniums, I discovered two facts that (together) intrigued me: that the common name ‘sneezeweed’ was given to the plant because the leaves used to be made into snuff and that all parts of the plant are poisonous to humans. Makes me wonder if anyone was ever poisoned with the snuff – maybe it’s better to just enjoy heleniums in our gardens and let them keep their leaves!

Yellow helenium flowers
These yellow helenium flowers look like little pom-poms!

A Ray of Sunshine: Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’

At this stage of the summer, there are fewer flowers around for me to photograph. So I’m grateful that the perennial sunflower, Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’, has done well this year.

In previous years this plant has struggled to survive. It would really prefer to be growing in a more fertile soil with a bit more moisture. Instead, it’s in a rather impoverished area that was close to where the roots of the neighbours’ conifers must have been.

Those huge trees were taken out a couple of years ago and the border on this side has been slowly recovering ever since. I thought the heat and drought of this summer would make the helianthus suffer badly, so I remembered to give it an occasional thorough watering. And I’ve been well rewarded with a healthy plant that’s just a little taller than me and covered in radiant yellow flowers.

The bees seem happy with the result too, and have been busily visiting the flowers. (That pleases me especially, because I want to keep up the supply of flowers for the bees and other pollinators for as long as possible in the year.)

Maybe next year I’ll try growing some of the bigger annual sunflowers too, if I can find the space. Talking of space, I’m waiting to see how far this sunflower will spread – some say that it can be invasive. But for now, I’m very happy to see these sunny little flowers brightening up my garden and feeding the bees.

Honeybee on a flower of Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’

Hungry Critters 2: Butterflies

Recently I’ve been chasing around after butterflies to take part in the ‘Big Butterfly Count’. This is a UK survey where people from all over the country count the numbers of butterflies and some day-flying moths that they see in a 15-minute period.

(Actually counting the butterflies was quite tricky – some had to be ignored because they were too fast moving for me. A sudden flash of something brownish could be one of many butterflies. How frustrating!)

Small tortoiseshell butterfly
Small Tortoiseshell butterfly photographed in early summer.

Butterflies were being counted from the middle of July to the end of the first week in August. Anyone can take part in the butterfly count (the more the better) and from anywhere – gardens, parks, fields or forests.

The butterfly count was set up because butterflies are important as both pollinators and as part of the natural food chain, and because they react quickly to changes in their environment. A decline in butterfly numbers is a strong indication that other wildlife species are also struggling.

Comma butterfly
Comma butterfly on a blackberry

Unfortunately, because I was so busy with preparations for the fence being renewed, I only managed the one count right at the end of the survey. By then, there were only a few butterflies left in the garden – several Red Admirals, a couple of Commas and lots of Large Whites (which were probably taking advantage of the neighbours’ veggie patch).

Just a couple of weeks before I did my count, there had been around ten to a dozen Peacock butterflies sunning themselves on our brick path. I had hoped to be able to include them in my count but when the time came, they had all disappeared.

red admiral butterfly
A Red Admiral butterfly enjoying sedum flowers.

Nor were there any Painted Ladies or Essex Skippers, both of which I often see here. And I think that the Small Tortoiseshell that I photographed in May or June was part of an early brood. I haven’t seen any recently, so maybe there won’t be any from a later brood to overwinter here.

The variability of butterfly numbers here (and those that are scarce or just not seen in my garden) makes me feel that I need to do more to help. Like making sure I don’t weed out the food plants needed for caterpillars! (Nettles and other invasives may have to go in large tubs though.) And I need to do a bit of research to discover more plants that I can grow for butterflies. I hope that next year I’ll be able to count more butterflies in my garden.

Peacock butterfly
A Peacock butterfly suns itself on a brick path.