Cool Thoughts: Frosty Memories

I’d like to thank tanjabrittonwriter for the idea for this post…we felt that some of my frosty photographs may bring a suggestion of coolness to these over-hot summer days. (The temperatures are still higher than normal in the UK and, I believe, in many areas elsewhere.)

Snow is infrequent in our winter in Suffolk now, so the Japanese anemone seedhead, with its tiny cap of snow, (top photo) is a rare image for me. Frost is much more usual in our winters, so I leave seedheads to see if they will become interesting subjects to photograph. The frost can make something magical out of the most ordinary plant remains, as you can see from the photo below. The honesty seedheads were long past their best and getting very scruffy, but with a bit of frost and some sunshine, they’re suddenly delicate and attractive.

frosted honesty seed pods
The remains of honesty seedheads look much better after the frost.

Bronze fennel tries to take over my garden by spreading its seedlings everywhere but I resist the temptation to clear away the seedheads and I leave it intact for the frost. This plant never disappoints me when it’s frosted, and it can become most decorative, especially when the sun adds some sparkle.

frosted fennel seed head
A frosted fennel seedhead looks decorative in the sun.

If the frost is early, it can catch plants that are still in flower. The echinacea below was a new plant and had come into flower much later than normal. It was an unexpected sight one morning, to see it completely frozen through by the first frost. (It hasn’t happened to any of the echinacea flowers since.)

Echinacea purpurea – frozen through by an early frost!

A few flowers, such as the yellow winter jasmine, the pink-flowered shrub Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’ and this winter-flowering iris (below) have flowers through much of the winter. They look especially appealing with a touch of frost (although that shortens the life of the individual flowers).

winter-flowering iris
Iris unguicularis – a winter-flowering iris that frequently has frosted flowers.

I’m glad that the roses in my garden right now haven’t got any frost on them though! Zepherine Drouhin sometimes has a few flowers left just as the frosts are starting, so I always look to see if they’re in good enough condition for a photograph. Of course, when the frost melts, the flowers are left looking wilted and they won’t survive the damage the frost has done to the petals. But a photograph preserves the memory of them.

Rose 'Zepherine Drouhin', covered in frost.
Rose ‘Zepherine Drouhin’

Cool Whites

To me, white flowers with green foliage have a lovely fresh and cool look…something that would be welcome in all the recent hot weather. (Fortunately the temperatures have dropped a bit, but it’s still hotter than normal.)

The climbing Hydrangea petiolaris in the top picture has recently finished flowering. During June and early July its airy white flowers looked graceful alongside our shady seating area. It’s going to get too big for its space, so I ought to prune it back now the flowers are over. However, I like to leave some of the flowers to dry out so that I can photograph them in the frost. It’s hard to imagine frost right now, but it does look deliciously cool, as you can see below.

Frosted climbing hydrangea
Frosty flowers of climbing hydrangea, photographed in winter 2019.

We have just a few white flowers in our garden. It’s still a little early for the white Japanese anemones. These struggle a bit in the heat and do need watering to keep them going, so I’m not expecting great results from them this year. And I haven’t grown any of the white cosmos this year, so I’m rather missing it.

The white geranium below was originally planted years ago but has now managed to spread itself around the garden by self-seeding. It’s very welcome, so I hope it will continue it’s journey around the garden. Most of my geraniums form spreading clumps but this one seems so far to be much more compact. That’s great, because it means that it doesn’t cause much disruption to other plants and can fit itself into gaps quite easily.

white hardy geranium flowers
A white geranium (name unknown) that seeds itself around.

A plant that I’ve only started to notice recently is Gillenia trifoliata. The plant below was growing at Fullers Mill Garden, and being able to see it close up – rather than in a photo or on TV – made me realise how pretty and delicate the effect of the tiny white flowers is. If I can find space I’d like to grow it, but there’s already a list of plants I’d like to find room for…

Gillenia trifoliata flowers
Gillenia trifoliata (Bowman’s root)

The Gillenia makes me think of the flowers of Gaura lindheimeri, which are just starting to come out in my garden and will last into the late autumn. Gaura is great here because it doesn’t take up a lot of room and the flowers weave themselves through and around the other plants. I’m looking forward to seeing their flowers dancing in the borders like little white butterflies very soon.

Flower of Gaura lindheimeri
The flowers of Gaura lindheimeri are just beginning to open.

Too Hot!

Flowers with bright, hot colours feel particularly appropriate to post after the hottest week I’ve ever experienced. The temperatures have been hotter than I could ever have imagined in the UK, reaching over 40C in a number of places. (Here in Suffolk it was a couple of degrees cooler, but still very difficult to cope with.)

We were lucky. Using fans to keep ourselves and our two cats reasonably cool worked. (Although there were a couple of panicky moments when the electricity went off. Fortunately it came back on both times, after just a few minutes.)

Elsewhere in in England (mostly in the London area) there were those who were desperately unlucky. In several places people have been made homeless as houses and possessions were burned to nothing but ash by wildfires. And I’m sure we’ve all seen the news about the dreadful wildfires that have been causing huge destruction across Europe.

Surely there cannot be any doubt that our climate is changing massively from what we are used to. Now is the time to do everything we can to care for our environment, our world and all that lives upon it. The changes we individually make may be small, but they all count. Together they help.

Daylily (Hemerocallis)
This photo: Daylily (Hemerocallis) Top photo: Leopard Lily

A Walk on the Wild(ish) Side: Gooderstone Water Gardens

In most of the gardens I have recently visited, my attention has been on the planting combinations and flower and leaf colour and form. Usually I’m looking for plants I’d love to try in my own garden, or else I’m simply lost in admiration for flowers and plants I haven’t a hope of being able to grow.

My visit to Gooderstone Water Gardens was different, in that it was the landscape of the garden that impressed me most. Here you can almost lose yourself in a lush green world of man-made watercourses and large ponds, surrounded by trees and naturalistic planting.

Gooderstone Water Gardens
The planting is so full and lush here that you can’t see the waterway.

The gardens are in what was once a very wet meadow beside a river. They were created by a retired farmer, Billy Knights, whose son made the joking suggestion that, since the meadow was too wet for grazing, it should be made into a water garden. That suggestion appealed to Mr. Knights and it wasn’t long before he’d had the waterways and ponds dug out.

Years later his daughter has restored the gardens and opened them to the public. They appear to be very popular with those looking for somewhere that allows them to spend some quiet time in a place that feels very close to nature.

Flowers at Gooderstone Water Gardens
Heleniums, Achillea and Verbena bonariensis brighten this part of the garden.

The planting in the gardens has a relaxed and somewhat wild feel. In fact, there are many native trees and shrubs. There is also a wildlife trail and a bird hide where you can hope to spot a kingfisher. (We didn’t – but we did see a family of swans enjoying the peaceful waterways.)

Despite the natural look to the planting, there are areas where familiar garden plants add colour and texture. On our visit, we noticed vibrant heleniums, daylilies and purple loosestrife in the planting along the waterways. Elsewhere, the dramatic yellow spires of Verbascum olympicum towered over a mix of tall white daisies and the pinkish-purple spikes of Acanthus.

Flowers at Gooderstone Water Gardens
Left: Heleniums with Lysimachia punctata Right: Verbascum olympicum

This was a thoroughly enjoyable garden visit. I know we’ll be back, because it’s one of my husband’s favourite gardens too. We’ve been here a few times and it always makes us feel good. It is a perfect place to just relax and wander, and to allow yourself to be immersed in a world of nature and peace.

Gooderstone Water Gardens

For the Bees

Helping bees is the annual focus of ‘Bees’ Needs Week’ again, starting tomorrow. By helping bees to survive and thrive, we’re really helping ourselves. A large part of agriculture relies on bees (and other pollinators) to pollinate the crops that provide our own food.

It seems deeply ironic to me that while agriculture relies on wild pollinators to pollinate an estimated 85-95% of the UK crops that require it, that agriculture is also a main reason for their decline. The destruction of wild habitats by intensive farming and the use of pesticides and weedkillers is making the survival of insects more difficult. But we can all help to fight the decline in wild bees and other insects in our own gardens, on balconies, allotments, and on any patch of spare ground.

Bumblebee on Eryngium
Bumblebee on Eryngium

Plants with plenty of pollen and nectar are the most obvious thing we can provide. A wide variety of garden plants are attractive to bees, so there’s lots to choose from for the gardener. There is a list of some of the best plants for bumblebees here. And here is an excellent (and longer) list of good pollinator plants from bee expert Dave Goulson. (Scroll down his page for it.)

If you garden, you’ll soon notice which of your plants the bees prefer. I try to be aware of the most popular flowers in my own garden and grow a few more of them if I can squeeze them in. I keep an eye open for the plants that are being visited by bees in other people’s gardens too.

I was very pleased to see the bees on the alstroemeria in the photograph below because it’s one that I’d like to plant here. It looks to me as if the honeybee is impatiently waiting for the bumblebee to get out of that flower! (I wonder why that one – there were plenty of others to choose from.)

Bees on Alstroemeria
Honeybee and Bumblebee on Alstroemeria: ‘Hey wake up in there, it’s my turn!’

Water, obviously, is another essential to life for the bees and you can make their search for it easier and safer by providing some. (It’s easy for bees to drown in deep water.) The recommended method is simply to fill a shallow bowl with pebbles and top it up with water. Then the bees can land on a pebble and stand there safely while drinking. But do remember to change the water occasionally so that you don’t get any mosquitos breeding in there!

Planting for bees brings a lot of satisfaction to my own garden. In late spring the distinct buzzing of bees from our ceanothus bush makes me grin…they sound so busy there! And the catmint attracts not only our cats but lots of bees too. They also love our apple trees, the lavender, thyme, alliums, hardy geraniums, and daisies of all kinds. Best of all here are the different varieties of scabious (top photo), which flower for a long time and always seem to have a bee or other pollinator somewhere. (OK, that is an exaggeration, but they are very popular.)

I hope that this will give you some ideas about a plant or two to add to your own space for the bees. Happy (buzzing) Bees Needs Week!

Honeybee on Astrantia
Honeybee on Astrantia

Fullers Mill Garden Revisited

This week I was lucky enough to be able to visit one of my favourite places – Fullers Mill Garden near Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk. Because of the pandemic, it’s been a long time since we visited any gardens.

This year we’ve enjoyed wandering around the open gardens in some neighbouring villages. Great for getting new ideas for our own garden, but I don’t bring my camera to those because it feels like an invasion of the owner’s privacy. It’s a different thing with the big gardens that are open to the public. These provide lots to keep me and my camera busy!

Fullers Mill Garden
A small part of the upper area of the garden – there’s lots more.

My previous visits to Fullers Mill were both in September, so by then a lot of the most interesting flowers had gone over. This time I saw many of the large collection of lilies in flower. (These will be shown in a later post.)

It was a huge pleasure to be in the gardens when so many of the plants looked their best. There has been some rain recently, which has helped them stay fresh and vibrant. Suffolk can be dry and drought-ridden, so garden-visiting is best done before the summer gets too hot.

Fullers Mill Garden
Bright yellow livens up the borders.

The planting combinations appealed to me and made me think more carefully about those in my own garden. I particularly liked the yellow and blue mix above. The yellow of the ‘red hot pokers’ with that of the broom, but having totally different flower shapes, was something I’d love to plant in my own garden.

Fullers Mill Garden
The clematis with the allium seed heads delighted me.

The combination of herbaceous clematis with the seed heads of the Allium christophii was another combination I’d love to try. It’s the way that the soft purple remaining in the allium flower stems echoes the brownish-purple of the young leaves and the buds of the clematis that pleases me.

Fullers Mill Garden
Gunnera and bamboo on one of the river banks gave a softer, more natural feel.

The garden is beautifully maintained by Perennial (The Gardeners’ Royal Benevolent Society). It was gifted to them by Bernard Tickner, the owner and creator of Fullers Mill Garden. They keep the garden well stocked with plants but allow some areas to feel more relaxed and natural (around the rivers that run through it, for instance). I think this makes it more relaxing for the visitor too.

I plan to visit Fullers Mill again during the summer. I’m sure there will be plenty to see and to photograph too. (There isn’t much that you haven’t already seen in my own small garden, so I’m glad to find something new to share here.) It’s a visit I’m certainly looking forward to. You can read my earlier post about Fullers Mill here.

Fullers Mill Garden

In the Pink

A couple of weeks ago, the garden seemed to be full of blue and purple-blue flowers. Now it’s the turn of pink to come to the fore. The pink flowers growing here range from the softest and palest of shades (like last week’s water lily) to the most vivid of fuchsia-pinks. The shades here are somewhere in the middle.

Clematis ‘Hagley Hybrid’ (above) is one of the softer pinks, especially on a day when the sunlight is not very strong. (I’ve seen it look much brighter than this on a day with very bright sunlight. The age of the flower will make a difference too. The newly-opened flowers are a little brighter.)

Sidalcea 'Party Girl' (prairie mallow)
Sidalcea ‘Party Girl’ (prairie mallow)

Another soft pink is the little prairie mallow above. It is Sidalcea ‘Party Girl’. The flowers are small and delicate – each one measures just 5cm across. They’re like miniature hollyhocks, which makes me wonder what it would be like to have normal large hollyhocks nearby. The difference in scale could be a bit mind-boggling!

The pink of the deutzia below is a deeper and brighter shade than the others. I haven’t yet planted this shrub out, but had been wandering around the garden with it, looking to find it a home. (Like many gardeners, I too often buy a plant and then have to work out where I have room for it!)

Deutzia x hybrida Strawberry Fields
Deutzia x hybrida Strawberry Fields

Wherever I eventually manage to plant the deutzia, I think it would look good with this pink salvia. (It’s ‘Rose Queen’.) The low evening sunlight shining through the pink flowers makes them glow with a rich pink which is very similar to the deutzia.

This low slanting light, whether it’s evening or early morning has a wonderful effect on the colours of plants. I’d love to be able to plant a border just so that it would catch the light at both the start and the end of the day. That’s giving me ideas about where I might plant the deutzia…

Salvia 'Rose Queen'
Salvia ‘Rose Queen’

Pond Progress

If you’ve been reading this blog for a little while, you may have noticed the occasional mention of a pond that I’ve been building in the garden. It has taken me a very long time to get it built – chipping away at rock-hard soil in summer and digging a bit faster in the wetter end of the year.

Now though, the pond is full of water and the edging is mostly built. I’m in the process of building a sloping ‘beach’ of pebbles to allow any visiting wildlife to get in and out safely. This beach area runs along one of the long sides of the pond and was dug in a very gradual slope. (Most of the pond is fairly shallow.)

There are a few plants already in the pond. The waterlily above was a piece given to me from a friend’s pond. I think it must be Nymphaea marliacea ‘Carnea’, which has flowers that become closer to white as they age. (It also can flower white in the first year, as this piece did last year. Somehow it survived being in a big box of water for a long time.) Spot the damselfly!

Veronica beccabunga
Veronica beccabunga

The other plants are much less spectacular but will help to oxygenate the pond and give somewhere for wildlife to live. The Veronica beccabunga is starting to spread and looks like it will provide some good lurking-places for small wildlife.

Wild visitors have already started moving in and making themselves comfortable in the pond. Amongst the first visitors were a pair of mallards who briefly considered setting up home here until I made sure they saw one of my cats watching them.

Next a newt (or possibly two) arrived and apparently ate all the mosquito wrigglers – luckily! There’s a trio of frogs now, and sometimes I’ll find one watching me as I work on finishing the edging. Then there are the birds who enjoy a bath. That’s usually robins and blackbirds, but sometimes a woodpigeon. (A woodpigeon having a bath is an awkward and ungainly sight!) And there are all the tiny creatures in the water too. It’s getting quite busy in there. 🙂

Mallards check out the pond while I’m building it.

A Velvet Touch

Some flowers have a very velvety look to their petals. The two plants in this post (rose ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ and clematis ‘Dark Eyes’) have especially dark and velvety flowers. But, having investigated, I can tell you that the flowers look a lot more like velvet than they actually feel. (They are, though, very soft to the touch.)

There was actually a study into the reasons for the velvety appearance of some petals. As I understand it, it’s all down to the dark colour of the flower, the shape of the cells within the petal and a low angle of light. (If you want to read all about it, you can find the report here.)

The feel of a petal or leaf is something that I tend not to think about very much when I’m planning what to plant. But there’s no doubt that textures add a stimulating element to a garden. The soft hairs on the flowers and leaves of pulsatilla (which you can see in an earlier blog post) are a great example of texture adding interest. While some plants are hairy, other plants are smooth – like the star-shaped flowers of Allium christophii, which have an almost metallic-looking sheen.

There’s lots of choice amongst the flowers that have a velvety lustre to their petals. The most obvious may be the classic red rose. Then, for instance, there are deep blue delphiniums, dark-flowered pelargoniums and purple, crimson or almost black petunias. Or, in mid and late summer, there are the rich, dark purples and reds of dahlias and the bright orange of tithonia (Mexican sunflower), which you can see here. All of them contribute something extra to the garden. They give that feeling of luxury, a suggestion of the opulence of rich fabrics, and the engagement of the sometimes-neglected sense of touch.

Dark red clematis
Clematis ‘Dark Eyes’

Beautiful Blues

As summer begins, there are a number of blue flowers appearing in the garden. My favourite colours are blues and purples, so it feels like a bit of a treat for me. The flowers I like best are those where the blue shades into a different blue or into a purple. There’s something about a colour being slightly mixed, rather than a solid shade, that makes it more interesting to see.

The plant above is Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens’, aka Honeywort (or the ‘Blue Shrimp Plant’ in the USA). It’s normally an annual, but if the winter is mild enough it can survive into the next year. That’s what has happened here, so this year we have a much larger plant than we usually would.

This plant is one I particularly like for the deep blue bracts that surround the small purple flowers. The blue bracts are made more attractive by the way they are tinted with purple or green – here even the stem has a blush of purple. The colouring is more intense when it’s cold, so this has been at its best over the cool spring months. I’ll be interested to see if the colours become paler as the summer weather heats up.

Baptisia australis

A simpler colouring is that of the Baptisia australis or ‘False Indigo’ (above). Less complex than the Cerinthe maybe, but it is a lovely shade of deep violet-purple that I find quite irresistible. It’s an easy plant to grow here because it copes well with drought and it is often suggested as an alternative to lupins. For me, the Baptisia is certainly the easier choice, as lupins struggle very unhappily here and I’ve managed to lose a few.

Clematis ‘Arabella’ (below) has flowers that are a mauve shade when they first open, gradually becoming more blue as they age. So the one plant can have a wide variety of flowers at the same time. (In fact, when I looked at it today, for a moment I thought there was a purple clematis growing beside it, so dark were the newest flowers.) The soft blending of mauve and blue shades in Arabella’s petals delights me. That means there’s good chance that I’ll be trying to grow this small clematis elsewhere in the garden too.

Soon, these beauties will be joined by different shades of blue, as the flowers of campanulas, scabious, geraniums and catanache start to open. I’m looking forward to some summer blues!

Clematis Arabella