Winter Clematis: Lansdowne Gem

The weather has made the garden feel distinctly unappealing for most of this week. It has been grey and damp and dark far too early in the day for me to spend much time outside. But I did make a point of going out to look at the flowers of Clematis cirrhosa ‘Lansdowne Gem’.

Unlike the other clematis in the garden, this one flowers during winter. The flowers are a deep wine-red, but in order to see the colour you need to be standing underneath the bell-like flowers. (The outside of the flower is a drab greyish-white.) I’ve chosen to grow this clematis up through the winter-flowering Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’ which has pink flowers at the same time.

The flowers are not all a solid red. Some are quite speckled, especially around the edges of the petals. I was intrigued to notice that one flower was especially spotty (below), making it look very like the flowers of the related variety ‘Freckles’. And seeing how pretty it is, I’m now tempted to look for somewhere that I could grow ‘Freckles’ too.

Having flowers in the garden in winter is something of a treat. It’s also great for any bees that are around at this time. That makes me very interested in growing other winter-flowering clematis.

These clematis come from Mediterranean areas and go dormant in summer. That means they are more likely to survive drought in my hot Suffolk garden than the summer-flowering types. (I’ve lost a few of those through planting them in unsuitably dry places!) These clematis are not so hardy, though, so I’m hoping we won’t get a ‘Beast from the East’ this year.

Clematis cirrhosa 'Lansdowne Gem'

LEFT: The clematis flowers trail through this shrub’s branches like rows of bells.

RIGHT: One of the flowers of ‘Landsdowne Gem’ was spotty rather than the usual almost solid red.

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

It’s all in the Detail

The detail of plant structure has always fascinated me. When you think of the different forms of flowers and plants it’s mind-boggling. Just in the plants you might see in the UK (never mind all those in countries over the rest of the world) there’s an amazing variety, especially in our gardens.

In my own garden, I can, for instance, see the flower of a daisy near a passionflower. Or a rose and the lavender growing by it – such a range of shapes, textures and colours. These differences make for a more appealing garden and they make photography more interesting too.

The individual details of flowers entice me to capture them in a photograph. Here, with these zinnias, it’s the tiny yellow ‘disc florets’ that have opened in a ring around the flower centre (the ‘eye’). If you look at the photo below, you can see, tucked deep among the curving red bracts (‘paleae’ or chaff) there are more yellow disc florets waiting their turn to open. Each red palea is like a tiny flag, with a fine tip and a jagged-looking edge. They add an attractive texture and contrast to the other parts of the flower head.

centre of zinnia flower
The ‘eye’ of the zinnia flower head, showing the ring of disc florets and the red paleae in the centre.

As the zinnia matures, the shape of the centre of the flower head becomes more conical due to the growing seeds within. (As you can see in the top image.) The ring of open disc florets advances towards the tip of the cone as the older disc florets finish and the new ones open. This gives a different look from the flatter head of the immature zinnia and new photographic possibilities.

The photograph below shows a variation I hadn’t expected. This flower head has developed fasciation due to abnormal behaviour of the growing tip (perhaps because of damage, disease, genetics or environmental factors). As a result, there are two conjoined flower heads instead of the normal single. It just shows that you never know what you’ll find when you take a wander around a garden!

Zinnia with fasciation
Zinnia with fasciation

Pink Profusion – or Not!

There are fewer flowers left in our garden than usual this autumn. That’s partly because I didn’t plant any annuals this year. But the main reason is because of the effects of heat and drought on the plants here.

There are still a number of Japanese anemones – even though they too have suffered from the lack of rain. Usually the anemone clumps would be bigger and would have more flowers. Many of the flowers are smaller, presumably because the plants have been able to take fewer nutrients out of the dry soil. So this year this anemone hasn’t been able to live up to its name – ‘Hadspen Abundance’.

In case you’re thinking that these anemones look OK, I need to tell you that the photographs are from last year. I haven’t got much left to photograph in the garden now, so let’s hope they’re a bit more abundant next year!

Japanese anemone 'Hadspen Abundance'
Anemone hupehensis ‘Hadspen Abundance’