Going to Seed!

Although the phrase ‘going to seed’ suggests going into a decline, I’m usually happy to see seed heads in the garden. (Not all, mind you – weeds may not be so welcome!) For a garden photographer they are another opportunity to create an image. That’s especially welcome at a time of year when there are fewer flowers and plants to photograph.

Seed heads are, of course, very valuable for wildlife too. The seeds are a good source of food for birds in winter and, before that stage, the flowers are a great source of pollen for insects.

The seed heads here are bronze fennel (Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’). In the top picture, there are still many of the tiny yellow flowers but you can also see the brownish/orange ridged shapes of the newly-formed seeds. I was attracted to it by the neat drops of melted frost encasing them. (This was a young plant that had flowered very late and got caught by the first of the frosts last year.)

In winter, the seed heads of fennel provide a very graceful shape for frost to decorate. The frost in the second photo was especially hard and covered the whole garden with its delicate filigree. The air was so cold that the frost had time to glitter in the sun for a little while before it melted. We haven’t had any frost yet this year, but I’ll be checking the fennel plants when it arrives! Hopefully it will last long enough for me to take some more sparkly photographs.

Frosted fennel seed head
Frost makes this fennel seed head glisten.

Autumn Days

Autumn brings a restrained feel to my garden. There is nothing showy here at the moment and the remaining touches of colour are easy to miss. But if the sun shines, there might be a sudden brief glow as it brings the leaves alive like small flames.

Mostly this is a time of rain (needed after the summer’s drought) and winds that tear the remaining leaves from the trees. Not so nice for gardening, until a dry and mild day comes along. Then I can get some digging done in the loosened soil. (It gets so dried out in summer that digging then is very hard work. Adding more compost will help, but it will take a lot to make a difference.)

As the autumn colours begin to fade or get blown away, new winter colour is starting to arrive. Bright yellow flowers are ready to open on both a mahonia and winter jasmine. Near the jasmine, a viburnum bush has the dark red bells of a winter-flowering clematis to accompany its own pink buds. And, at last, I can see buds of hesperantha (see this post) which should open soon. So I will still have one or two things to photograph while the winter draws closer.

Autumn leaves and berries

The Golden Touch of Autumn

Often the leaves don’t change colour very much here in autumn. This year though, they were much more golden than usual.

Our autumns are usually mild, with rain and stiff breezes that carry away a lot of the leaves. This October, however, was much warmer and sunnier than usual during the day and the clear skies allowed the temperature to drop a lot at night. The result has been good displays of golden leaves in gardens and the countryside around us. (Happy timing for us, because a good friend had come to stay, so we were keen to show off the beauties of Suffolk.)

The leaves above belong to our smoke bush (Cotinus), which is the most reliable producer of autumn colour in the garden. It also provides me with leaves that are low enough down for me to be able to photograph them close up. A large Himalayan birch and a rowan tree have both coloured well, as has a wisteria. There are not many red leaves though. A cherry tree and a crab apple both produce some red but the leaves have already blown off. (And had to be fished out of the pond! Luckily that’s a job I find quite satisfying.)

Waiting in Hope

Will I see a flower or two on my hesperanthas before winter comes? I must admit that it’s just a small hope by now, because I haven’t even noticed any buds. (But I’ve been busy elsewhere in the garden so I could have missed those.)

Hesperanthas flower a bit later in my garden than they’re said to – often October into November here. So if they flower they add a splash of colour before the frosts. Last year I had lots of red in a border and this white one in a pot. Nothing this year.

This year has been so extremely hot and dry that I think these plants have really suffered. I did try to keep them watered, but with so many plants gasping for more moisture, it was hard to keep up. These plants like moist or damp soils, so I may try relocating them to the bog garden that I’m building near the pond. Winter may be a problem there though. We do get long rainy spells at that time of year and I worry that the ‘bog’ area may get too waterlogged. I guess I will just have to try it and see. If it works, I may get some flowers like these next year… 🙂

Autumn Elegance

This white Japanese anemone (‘Honorine Jobert’) has just finished flowering in the last week. I’m impressed that the flowers have lasted so well, despite it getting very little extra watering in summer.

Many of the other plants in the garden appeared to finish flowering earlier than usual due to the stress of the hotter than usual weather and lack of rainfall. (Some plants, like the red echinacea have loved the sunshine and produced masses of flowers.)

The pink Japanese anemones here (‘Hadspen Abundance’ and ‘September Charm’, which always flowers much earlier than September) have struggled this year. Both have produced far fewer flowers than usual and much less leaf growth too. Perhaps drought and heat will help to keep these thuggish plants in check in future!

It’s a relief to see that this anemone hasn’t spread as much as the pink ones. So far it hasn’t caused any problems by crowding the plants around it. (But it has only been in the ground for around three years. Maybe it will start a takeover bid when it has had more time to get thoroughly established. I will have to wait and see.) Originally I had thought of keeping this plant and a second one in pots to limit their spread but eventually decided that they would be better off in the ground.

Japanese anemones may be inclined to swamp their neighbours, but so far ‘Honorine Jobert’ has been much better behaved than her pink cousins. Even if that does happen, I will have to forgive the plant because the white flowers with their touch of glowing yellow are delightful, especially when the other flowers are fading away.

Brief Glories

My title isn’t entirely true! Annuals, like the cosmos in this post, can flower for months. But here I’m thinking of the difference between annuals and perennials.

Most of my garden is made up of perennials because I rely on them coming back year after year and gradually spreading. I wouldn’t have time to grow much from seed every year, so I need plants that are long-lived and can pretty much do their own thing once they are planted.

That makes lots of sense for building up the planting of the garden. But annuals have the advantage of providing me with something new to photograph. These – such as the zinnias, cosmos and nigella I’ve grown in past years – add some variety to the images I can create. This year I’ve missed having that variety because I didn’t grow any annuals at all.

There are sometimes a few annuals and biennials that reappear from self-sown seed. The love-in-a-mist (nigella) manages to spread itself around, as do evening primroses, wild carrot (daucus) and borage (which gets everywhere if it gets a chance). This year I’ve noticed that there is a small self-sown cosmos in a border. I’ve never had them do this before, so it’s an unexpected surprise and I’ll have to wait to see what the flower will be. (Probably a pink and white ‘Candy Stripe’, since they were the most recent. You can see them here.)

Waiting for that little cosmos bud to open is making me feel that I must make time to sow some annuals next year. I’ve missed the added interest and excitement that growing something new and unfamiliar from seed brings. Hmm, now I need to look at some seed catalogues… 🙂

Flower of Cosmos 'Seashells'
Flower of Cosmos ‘Seashells’

Absent Friends

A look through my photo files shows me that I have taken very few images of bees this year and none at all of butterflies. That may be partly due to me being busy finishing off the pond, rather than paying so much attention to the flower borders. But the relative absence of these garden friends has been very noticeable over the last few months.

Spring wasn’t so bad. There were Buff-tailed bumblebees and Common carder bees keeping busy in the spring flowers as usual. A little later, lots of honeybees made the most of the flowers of the Ceanothus bush. It fairly buzzed at times! But when the temperatures began to climb, there certainly appeared to be less activity in the garden.

Red Admiral, Peacock and Comma butterflies
Butterflies clockwise from top left: Red Admiral, Peacock, Comma

Keeping myself out of the heat probably means that I was less aware of any bees that were around. Normally, though, I would see quite a lot of them – hoverflies too. I’m more sure about the drop in butterfly numbers here. There are warm, sheltered spots in the garden that frequently attract butterflies but this year there were rarely any there.

I’ve read that this year’s ‘Big Butterfly Count’ had lower numbers recorded, despite an expected increase because of the warm weather. It is feared that environmental changes and habitat loss account for the drop. For many bees, though, the heat of this summer is suggested to have been a disadvantage. A study by US scientists has found that the larger, heavier bodied bees (including bumblebees) declined as temperatures increased, while smaller bees increased in numbers.

Does this explain why I’ve seen fewer bumblebees this year? I don’t know. All I can really do is to try to provide as much as I can in the way of useful plants and habitats in the hope that it will help both bees and butterflies.

Common Carder Bee on Sedum
Common Carder Bee on Sedum

Low-Growing Beauties: Herbaceous Clematis

Tall, climbing clematis are amongst my favourite plants. I love the different flower forms, as well as their wonderfully rich colours and the velvety look of their petals. But I can struggle to keep them going here, in the dry and baking soil of my East-Anglian garden.

The short-growing herbaceous varieties of clematis may be a dependable alternative here. I have two at the moment: ‘Sapphire Indigo’ ( just opening in the top photograph) and the popular ‘Arabella’ below. They have been in the garden for a number of years and have managed to come through the drought and unusually high temperatures of this summer without any extra watering. Both are still in flower now, at the beginning of October and have been in flower on and off from June. (They would probably be more constantly in flower if they had more moisture.)

Clematis Arabella
Clematis Arabella

Reading up on these clematis tells me that they don’t suffer from clematis wilt and that they are long-lived. They have no tendrils to help them climb and are only 30 to 60 cm tall, so are good where they can grow through another plant for some support. I have ‘Arabella’ growing through a shrubby sage that gets to over 60 cm and provides a useful home where the clematis can lean against its twiggy framework.

The only problem that I’ve found so far is that slugs and snails like snacking on the flowers. So I’ll need to find something gritty or prickly (we have a holly and mahonia bushes, so perhaps some of their leaves) to sprinkle around the stems in the hope of keeping these marauders away.

The flowers on these two plants start off with a lot of purple in their colour when they first open and then gradually become more blue as they age. (You can see the newly-opened flowers of ‘Arabella’ here.) My last photograph is another purply-blue short-growing clematis, probably a clematis integrifolia. This one was photographed on a visit to Fullers Mill Garden and is one that I would like to try here. These lovely purple-blues are my favourites, but I’m sure I’ll be tempted by pink and white varieties too. For now though, I’m going back outside with my camera to take some more pictures of ‘Sapphire Indigo’…

Clematis integrifolia
Clematis integrifolia

Glowing Embers

Here we’ve gone from unusually high temperatures to autumnal chills in a very short time. I’m still wondering how the summer disappeared so quickly. (And hoping for some more gentle sunshine that we can enjoy rather than be baked by.)

Late summer flowers have become a memory too. These heleniums (aka sneezeweed) are in colours that remind me of that summer heat. They are fiery and glowing and demanded to be gazed at and photographed.

The heleniums in the top image were in a garden I visited. I wouldn’t plant this particular helenium in my own garden because I’m not keen on its combination of colours. However, the flowers made a good picture anyway, so I was pleased to be able to photograph them.

The flowers in the bottom photograph were in my own garden. (Unfortunately the plant didn’t come back this spring – but I think it would have struggled to survive this dry summer, even if it had.) The colour here is much redder than the other plant and makes me think of the hot embers of a fire. Maybe I’ll try to grow it again in the future.

helenium flowers