Going, Going, Gone 3: Long Gone

Almost all of the autumn flowers here are gone. One or two remain. The hesperantha and gaura (posted here two weeks ago) still have a few flowers, and the dark flowers of Scabious ‘Chile Black’ keep coming well into the winter frosts. Others have only just finished for the year.

Many other flowers are now a more distant memory. The yellow flowers of the rudbeckia (top photo) have been gone for a few weeks, but for a long time they were their own little splash of autumn sunshine.

The red dahlia below is a lovely plant that was grown and given to me by my friend Barbara. It’s Dahlia variabilis ‘Bishop’s Children’. From seed, it can be anything in a range of reds, pinks, oranges and yellows, with deep red/bronze foliage. This one has survived several winters in the garden in its well-drained and sheltered spot. But as soon as the slightest touch of frost gets to it, the flowers stop. So one day you can have several red flowers looking radiant, and the next they’ve gone.

Dahlia 'Bishops Children'

Another splash of bright colour came from the New England aster in the photo below. (OK, I know I should call it Symphyotrichum, but ‘aster’ is so much easier!) I believe this one is ‘September Ruby’ (aka ‘Septemberrubin’). It’s a tall plant, covered in wonderfully pink daisies – usually about 4 ft. tall, but one year nearer 5ft. It’s glorious and one of the cheeriest sights of our garden in autumn.

These plants have finished for the year, but having their photographs gives me a reminder of warm late summer and autumn days. That’s something very welcome while it’s raining and the wind is stripping the leaves from the trees

Even now, though, there is a scattering of colour in the garden as the winter flowers start to appear. The winter jasmine is gleaming with delicate yellow stars and nearby a Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’ is showing its tiny pink flowers. A mahonia bush now has yellow buds promising to open soon. As we approach the darker days of winter, these will give little touches of colour to cheer our hearts.

Aster flowers (Symphyotrichum)

Going, Going, Gone 2: Going Soon

These flowers are likely to be pretty much gone by the time I post this. They’ve done well to last as long, but the next touch of frost will probably be enough to finish off the cosmos (below) and the osteospermum (bottom).

The penstemon (above) can usually flower a little longer than the others. Sometimes it’s still flowering when the heavier frosts arrive, which makes for some attractive photographs. I don’t think it will manage to keep going long enough this year because there are fewer flowers. None of our penstemons have had as many flowers as usual this year, but I don’t know why. They’re pretty drought-tolerant but I suppose it’s possible that they got a bit too wet in winter. Hopefully they’ll have stopped sulking by next year!

Cosmos 'Candy Stripe'
Cosmos ‘Candy Stripe’ has a pretty colouration.

I was glad to get the photograph of the cosmos, even though I’d already taken several others back in August, because at last it had developed the colouring that I had been hoping for. That was my last chance to get a decent photograph too, because although there are still several flowers, they’re now smaller and starting to look a bit ragged as the weather gets rougher.

Next year I will probably plant cosmos again, but I’ll try to find a different cultivar so that I have something new to photograph. (That’s the pleasure of having some annuals in the garden – I must make time to grow more.)

We have several osteospermums tucked into sunny spots in the garden. They don’t usually survive the winter but a local nursery sells them quite cheaply, so we don’t mind buying some more. The flowers are looking a bit ragged as a result of the little bit of frost we’ve had and the rain more recently. However, there’s still a few buds, so maybe they’ll manage to open to give us a last few flowers. (Next summer, I must remember to photograph the pretty daisy-like osteospermum flowers when they’re at their best – not leave it ’til they’re getting roughed up by the weather!)

purple osteospermum flowers
Pink osteospermum flowers – not quite ready to open.

Going, Going, Gone: Still Going

It’s come to the time of year when the garden is starting to feel rather empty. The leaves are falling, there are gaps in the borders where plants have died down for the year, and there are few flowers left.

With the gradual disappearance of the flowers, I have a lot less to photograph. (There’s still the changing colour of the leaves, of course.) By the time the frosts come, I’ll be grateful for whatever photographic opportunities they bring. Meanwhile, the next couple of posts will be the last chance to capture these flowers before they’re gone for the year.

The top photo is of Hesperantha coccinea – the crimson flag lily or river lily. (It used to be called Schizostylis, but plant names are always being messed about with. At least the newer name is a bit easier to spell!) This plant is one of the latest to flower in my garden, usually not until late September, but the flowers will last through the first frosts. I’ve read that it should normally start flowering in August, so I wonder if ours is later because it is not well enough established yet, or whether it’s because it is a bit hot for it here at that time. It will be interesting to see if this changes as it develops.

The plant pictured above is Gaura lindheimeri. (Well, I thought it was – I’ve just discovered that it’s had a name change too. Now it’s Oenothera lindheimeri. Keeping up with plant names is tricky!) This is one that I love for the delicate flowers that sway on long stems. It’s one of those airy plants that (like Verbena bonariensis) take up little space in the garden, but whose flowers combine beautifully with many other plants.

Next year I’ll try the gaura alongside the lacy white and red flowers of wild carrot (Daucus carota) and probably the small dome-shaped flowers of a dark red scabious too. Gaura flowers for ages – right from summertime until the frosts stop it.

My last plant is Zauschneria californica ‘Glasnevin’ (California fuchsia). This was just planted last year, so is still settling in, but it does seem to be happy in its patch of hot dry soil. Its flowers won’t last much longer but it has kept flowering later than I expected it to. The plant is tiny now, but hopefully in future it will be a mass of little orange flowers to brighten dull autumn days.

Now I must get back out there with my camera and see what else I can find…

Zauschneria Glasnevin

Turning Point

Friday morning brought the first of this year’s frosts. Only the grass was frosted. It didn’t cover the flowers and plants in tiny frozen crystals – so no photographs this time. (The photograph above was taken last November.) Little as it may be, the first frost marks a turning point in my garden year.

Soon the last of the flowers will be gone from the garden. The light frost was already enough to finish off the remaining flowers on my one red dahlia. Other flowers may continue for a little while but I could see that many had that translucent look that they get after being touched by frost. The cosmos probably won’t last long now, but the white gaura and geranium ‘Rozanne’ are still looking quite robust. Their flowers seem more able to cope with the earliest frosts.

Tender plants have already been rescued from the garden and tucked up somewhere sheltered for the winter. Inevitably, there are some plants in the garden that may not make it through if the winter is a hard one. This is always a slightly anxious time when I wonder how much of a gamble I can take with those, and try to find ways of protecting them from the cold.

It’s starting to get chilly and the leaves have mostly turned yellow and begun to drop to the ground. Even so, we do still get some bright and sunny days. When those days come along, I’m happy to get all warmly wrapped up so that I can spend a bit of time working in the garden. (There’s always plenty to do!) And I’ll be keeping a lookout for more frosty mornings, in the hope of finding good opportunities for photography.

A Scary Monster!

It’s Halloween, so it’s time to post about my garden monster. It looks innocent enough and the daisy-like flowers are very attractive. But it’s huge and spreading, so likely to smother many of the plants around it.

I bought this some years ago as a small plant labelled only as a perennial sunflower, no other details. For the first years after planting, the sunflower didn’t grow much. It was in an unfavourable position, with very poor soil and several shrubs close by. It reached about 3 ft. tall, with narrow stems and leaves and carried pretty yellow flowers in the autumn.

Last year I decided to move a piece to an area that was intended to have a sort of prairie-style planting with coneflowers, grasses, kniphofias and verbena bonariensis. I waited to see if the plant would survive the move and got a shock – it’s growth habit had changed entirely!

The new position has much better soil and suddenly this plant was shooting up. And it was bulky too. The leaves were no longer narrow and dainty – they instead grew to about 7 or 8 inches long and were wide, more like the annual sunflowers. The stems kept growing, with no sign of flower buds for a long time. Eventually flower buds started to appear and the stems finished growing as they reached the impressive height of 8 ft.

Yikes! I’d made a big mistake. This was no longer the dainty-looking sunflower that had been struggling on the other side of the garden. The improved position had allowed my unnamed plant to reach it’s true size. It was now a massive monster that threatened to engulf the other plants.

Because the original plant was so much smaller than it was supposed to be, I hadn’t been able to identify the variety. Now I think that it is Helianthus tuberosus – the Jerusalem artichoke. Or it could possibly be a Maximilian sunflower, which is available as seed in the UK. Whatever it is, I am going to have to dig it all up before it can spread any further.

So that’s my scary tale for Halloween…but I’m happy to say that my other helianthus – ‘Lemon Queen’ (pictured below) is much better-behaved. It is just under 6 ft. tall and seems to stay in a large clump, rather than trying to spread itself everywhere. The bees seem to prefer this one too!

Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’ is a much smaller and better-behaved perennial sunflower and is welcome here.

Reaching for the Sky: Hollyhocks

I have been waiting for this pink hollyhock to finish flowering and for its seeds to ripen. At last it has, and I’ve cut down the old stems and taken them away to a sunny, sheltered spot where I’m hoping it will seed itself around. (I need to clear the hollyhock’s space so that it can become part of a new bog garden.)

The plant was the offspring of a series of hollyhocks that have self-sown in the area for the last few years. Originally I had planted a few seedlings bought at a community plant sale. I can’t now remember what colour the flowers were. Possibly yellow, because I do remember some very pretty double yellow flowers and it seems likely that they would eventually revert to producing plants with single flowers.

This year there was only the one plant. That’s probably a result of all the disturbance of having the fence renewed last year. But this single plant was much bigger than any of the previous hollyhocks. When I cut the stems, I measured the longest and found that it had reached a height of 10 feet. (Hollyhocks do grow tall, but are more likely to be 6 to 8 ft.) It was lucky that it hasn’t been windy enough to blow the stems over!

There’s a lot of discussion about whether hollyhocks are biennial or perennial. (They don’t flower until their second year.) The RHS says that they are short-lived perennials, so I’m happy to go with that. But I haven’t tried to move the hollyhock to a new position because they have deep tap roots and don’t like to be disturbed.

A reddish-pink hollyhock flower

If there’s time next year, I may grow some new plants from seed. I’d love to have a range of colours, including pale yellow, the really dark purples, and strong pinks like the flower above. This one sadly wasn’t in my garden, but was photographed outside a pretty cottage a few years ago. (I’ve seen a wonderful range of colours outside some of the pretty medieval cottages in the villages around here…the tall flowers and quaint cottages seem to go so well together!)

Whatever colours I might fancy in hollyhocks, the bees seemed happy with this year’s pink. This plant has attracted many bees, so that would be a good reason for keeping some of the same shade – and a good reason for growing varieties with single flowers rather than the doubles. If I manage to grow hollyhocks in a number of different colours, I must take note of which they prefer – could be an interesting little project!

Still Flowering

Things are really quietening down here and there’s a very autumnal feel as the first yellow leaves are starting to appear. But there are still a few flowers in the garden. The plant that really impresses me by still being in flower after months of continuous blooms is Geranium ‘Rozanne’.

There are not very many flowers left on the plant now. But it’s amazing that it has the vigour to keep producing them at all, considering that it has been in flower since early summer. (The earliest photograph of it that I can find in my files was taken on June 10th, but of course, it was probably in flower for a while before that.)

Flowers of Geranium 'Rozanne' with lavender.
‘Rozanne’ flowering alongside lavender in June.

The colour of ‘Rozanne’ can vary between looking very blue or much more violet. I think this may be related to the age of the flower. As you can see in the photo above, the fresh flower at the front is much more blue than the one at the back. The pinker tones seem to creep in as the flower ages and fades. I’ve read the suggestion that the flower colour also varies with the time in the season and temperature. It does make me wonder if bees use the colour change to be able to tell which flowers are newest.

This pretty geranium is one of my favourites in the garden. Like other hardy geraniums, it’s extremely easy to grow here and has managed to cope with the lack of rain well. (I did take care to water it in its first summer, but have rarely done so since.)

The flowers delight me. I love their colour, especially in combination with the pink veins on the petals. The pink is repeated on the filaments of the stamens, and the black of the anthers adds a touch of contrast to the flower. They’re very pleasing to photograph, so it’s fortunate that they are in the garden for such a long time every year!

A close-up shows the pink veining in the petals of this geranium.

Hints of Autumn

Recently I posted photographs of wild carrot (Daucus carota) flowers and seed-heads. A little while later they developed further and started changing to more autumnal colours. (You can see my earlier post here: https://annmackay.blog/2021/09/19/going-to-seed-wild-carrot/ )

The seeds had already begun to turn red when I took my first set of photos, but as time passed, the whole plant began to take on red tints. It has been one of the first plants to show the change to autumn reds here. (Actually, we don’t have many in the garden that do – most of our plants, shrubs and trees develop yellow tones in autumn.)

In the top photograph, you can see that the little sub-bracts (bracteoles) behind the seeds have now become mostly red, with touches of a brownish orange. The stems and lower leaves also turned red. That’s something I hadn’t noticed in the previous couple of years that I’ve grown wild carrot. Maybe it’s because it has been colder at night than usual. It was evidently enough to encourage the bracts and leaves to turn a brilliant colour, rather than just yellowing before they died.

The leaf below just happened to be lit so that the late-afternoon sun was shining through parts of it, making it glow and stand out against the dark background. It gave me an opportunity for a photograph that I hadn’t expected. It seems that my garden is always able to surprise me!

red daucus leaf
Wild carrot leaf with autumn colouring.

Warm Memories

We’ve had some lovely sunny and summery days here in September. There was even the chance to spend a day with friends out on a boat on the Norfolk Broads and another at a beach. After the caution of staying close to home for so long, these outings felt very good.

Now however, the weather has changed and summer is behind us. I can’t say I’m ready to welcome autumn yet, because our summer has been an odd one, with many more cold and grey days than you might expect. So I’m looking back at some images from past summers that might just bring a bit of warmth with them.

Helenium autumnale ‘Ranchera’ (Mariachi series)

The tithonia in the top picture (Tithonia rotundifolia ‘Torch’) was photographed a couple of years ago, after a friend gave me some plants. They made a glorious display – the plants became tall and covered in the dazzling orange flowers and the bees loved them. It’s a plant I will certainly grow again.

The Ipomoea lobata (‘Spanish Flag’) shown below was given to me by the same friend and made a great companion for the tithonia. (I grew it up tripods of canes nearby.) I think I like the leaves of this plant just as much as the flowers – both are very striking shapes.

Left: Ipomoea lobata. Right: zinnia detail.

The red zinnia was from a batch I grew from a seed-packet of mixed colours. The results were a delightful range of pinks and oranges, with just a couple of red-flowered plants. I had a great time photographing these and wished I’d had time to grow them again this year. (Next year, maybe!)

Most of the photographs here were taken in previous years, except for the heleniums (second photo from top). It’s the second summer for this perennial but it has struggled a bit because it’s planted on a slight slope and the ground is a bit on the dry side for it. I’ll probably move it soon and give it a position that suits it better. It’s worth that bit of extra care just to see those delightfully twirly petals every year.

Below is the one photograph that wasn’t taken in my own garden. I’d love to be able to grow gorgeous dahlias like this one, but I know that the soil here needs a fair bit of improvement first. (And I’m glad to say that our main compost heap is at last able to be used for this. I never would have though creating compost would make me so happy!)

I hope these warm-toned flowers have brought back memories of summer warmth if you’re heading into autumn. And there should soon be some autumn reds around to make us smile.

An orange and yellow dahlia flower.

Common Carder Bee: Bee I.D.

In the last few years, I’ve become fascinated by the bees and other insects that visit my garden. Sometimes I like to just sit and watch as they go about their business among the flowers. It feels very relaxing and deeply peaceful.

There are several different species of bee that use the garden. Honeybees come here frequently. There’s usually a good number of buff-tailed bumblebees too, and just occasionally, a red-tailed bumblebee. And there’s the bumblebee pictured above – the common carder bee (Bombus pascuorum).

Common carder bee
Common carder bee on Caryopteris x clandonensis

I’d noticed these bees back in spring, visiting the white deadnettle and other early flowers. They moved about too much for me to get a really good look at them, or a clear photograph that showed their markings. Recently, I saw a couple of them enjoying the freshly-opened flowers of a sedum on a sunny afternoon. It made a good opportunity to photograph them.

Having photographs of the bees made it easier to identify them by comparing them to images on websites about bees. Even then, it can be very hard to be sure about identification, because many bees look very similar.

Honeybee on Sedum
For comparison: honeybee on sedum

To make it easier to see the differences between the commonest bees in my garden, I’ve posted a couple of comparison photos. Above is the honeybee. (The western or European honeybee, Apis mellifera.)

You can see that the honeybee’s colouration is quite like that of the common carder bee. But the carder is much hairier and a stronger ginger colour. (The common carder is also a bit bigger than the honeybee.)

If you look at the tails of the two bees, you’ll notice that the tail of the common carder has hairy stripes in black and white. While the honeybee also has a stripey look to its tail, they are quite different. Here the black areas of the tail look smooth and slightly shiny, with just very short and sparse pale-coloured hairs.

Bumblebee on a blue scabious flower.
For comparison (2): Buff-tailed bumblebee (I think!)

The other comparison (above) is the very common buff-tailed bumblebee. (Which can be distinguished from the white-tailed bumblebee by that very narrow orangey stripe at the top of its tail.) It looks quite different from the common carder bee, having a mostly black thorax with an orangey-yellow stripe just below the head, and another on the abdomen, just below the waist. (Mostly hidden here by the wings.)

One of my reasons for wanting to know which bees use my garden is so that I can try to make sure I have a range of flowers to suit them.

The common carder bees have been busy at the caryopteris flowers, even though the shrub has almost finished flowering for the year. Like a lot of other bees, they’re keen on the flowers of sedums at the moment, as well as the last of the catnip flowers. (When there’s not a cat sleeping in it!)

Now I must go and read up on what other flowers they like and what sorts of habitats suit them. I’m hoping for lots more of them next year!

Common Carder Bee
Common Carder Bee – it has a hairy face!