Little Stars

The star-shaped flowers of Allium christophii.
The star-shaped flowers of Allium christophii.

The shape of flowers is one of the main elements that draws me to photograph them. If it is a plant with a distinctive shape, especially when it’s graceful, then (as I’m sure you’ll expect) I’m keen to create images of it.

Allium christophii is one of the more spectacular early-summer flowers, with it’s firework-burst head of delicate purple stars. Each little star reflects light, giving it the appearance of being metallic. They remind me of the rich colour and sheen of anodised aluminium.

Flowers of Ornithogalum nutans
Ornithogalum nutans has a spike of starry flowers.

While the allium has a very sculptural look, there is something softer and more subtle about Ornithogalum nutans (AKA ‘Nodding Star of Bethlehem’). I hadn’t seen it until a recent garden visit and I was immediately attracted by the elegant white flowers with their green markings. They would look lovely mixed in a border with ferns and and something with bold leaves – hostas, maybe. (I think they’d be a great choice for the rather more ‘natural’ pond-side border that I’m currently planning.)

Flowers of Scilla peruviana
The little stars of Scilla peruviana orbit the still-unopened flower buds

Scilla peruviana is another plant that I’d like to grow so that I can photograph it. The purple and blue stars look as if they’re in an orbit around the darker buds that are still waiting to open. There are lots of possibilities for interesting compositions here, but it helps if you have the plants in your own garden so that you can spend some time experimenting. (I’m always wishing I could spend longer with the interesting plants I find in the gardens I visit. The only solution is to do a bit of plant-shopping!)

The last plant is one that I do have in my own garden. You may have come across the edible blue flowers of borage (also appropriately known as ‘starflower’) as a pretty addition to summer salads or frozen in ice cubes for drinks. Here, I let it seed around an area of the garden so that the bees can enjoy it. Borage is also an excellent companion plant for anything growing around it because it adds trace elements to the soil. (So it’s not just a pretty face!) Pimms, anyone?

 

Flowers of borage (starflower)
Borage is also known as ‘starflower’, a very apt name!

Rhododendrons: Woodland Beauty

Orange rhododendron flowers
I loved the warm glow of these rhododendron flowers.

I was lucky enough to be able to get out and do some garden-visiting last weekend. It was incredibly hot, so I was happy to get out of the brilliant sunshine and into the garden’s wooded depths. Once there, I was delighted to find myself surrounded by the jewel-bright colours of rhododendrons in full flower.

It was difficult to get close to many of the flowers, but I was able to get near enough some of the prettiest to photograph them. (If you’re visiting a garden, that can be surprisingly difficult because it’s easy to get in the way of other visitors, especially if paths are narrow or you’re there at a busy time.)

White rhododendron flowers with red/orange markings.
Spectacular red and orange markings drew my eye to this white rhododendron.

Having got close enough to a flower that’s still in good condition, the next problem is coping with the light. On a day with dazzling sunshine and trees overhead, it’s difficult for the camera to capture detail in both the highlight and shadow areas. If I was taking the photograph at home, I’d use a diffuser (basically a fine fabric stretched over a rigid frame) to soften the light falling on the flower.

Alternatively, if I hadn’t been in too much of a rush that morning, I should have remembered to bring a small fold-up reflector (or even just a piece of white paper or card) that I could use to bounce some of the bright light back into the shadows. I won’t make the mistake of being so unprepared next time!

Hoping that I could still get a reasonable photograph, I tried to find flowers that were more shaded. However, that wasn’t possible for many, including the white flowers above. So I decided to take the photograph anyway, bracketing the exposure a bit so that I could choose the best one.

White rhododendron flowers tinted with pink
A slight pink blush to the white petals and deeper pink buds make these rhododendron flowers look especially delicate.

It’s at times like this, that shooting with the camera set to create RAW files really comes in useful. Once I was home, I was able to use the RAW development software to both darken the highlights, pulling back some of the detail into them, and lighten the shadows. There’s a limit to what software can do for you, but it shows that it’s always worth having a try at a photograph, even if the conditions aren’t ideal.

The photograph below was taken on a different day, when the light was more overcast. You can see that the effect is generally softer and that there are no harsh highlights or shadows to distract from the detail. A slightly grey day may not be what most day-trippers would wish for, but it certainly makes life easier for photographers!

Pink rhododendron flowers with dark red markings
The dark markings provide a bold contrast to the pretty pink of the petals.

Bud-Burst: Nectaroscordums

Nectaroscordum 3
A newly-opened head of nectaroscordum flowers, with some of the buds still pointing upwards.

As spring becomes summer, there are new flowers opening every day. I wander round my garden, eyeing up the fresh buds with great anticipation – just waiting for the first glimpse of colour as the petals begin to unfold and burst out of their casings.

Nectaroscordum siculum (Sicilian honey garlic) is one of the plants I like to watch develop from bud to flower. It starts off with its buds all wrapped up in a papery covering, which you can see in the photo below. The buds look almost like a bunch of miniature tulips in a florists’ wrap as they peep out from behind their thin cover.

Nectaroscordum Buds 2
Buds emerging from their paper-like covering.

Gradually the individual flower buds manage to wriggle free of their protection. They then begin to move from sitting upright to hanging downwards as the bell-shaped flowers get ready to open. It takes a little while for the buds to get from being upright to hanging down, so that the flower head goes through a stage of having some of its buds still sticking upwards – making it look a bit like it has an unruly hair-do! (Top photo.)

Nectaroscordum Buds 3
And they’re out! The first buds emerge.

Eventually, all the flowers hang down, in a graceful umbel at the top of a tall stem. (And it sways in the slightest breeze, making it a little tricky to photograph if the air isn’t still!) Later, after the flowers have been pollinated, the seed pods will all turn upright again. Those little flower stems are extraordinarily mobile!

The flowers are a lovely sight, coloured with a soft blend of purply-pinks and cream that rather reminds me of mother-of-pearl.

Nectaroscordums are very easy to grow in a well-drained soil in sun and seem drought-tolerant in my garden. They multiply well too, though it will take a few years before the seedlings flower. If I’m lucky, maybe I’ll end up with a sea of them – that would certainly keep me happily taking photographs!

Nectaroscordum Flower 1
The top buds are starting to point downwards before opening.

Oranges and Peaches (Colours, not fruit!)

The flowers of Geum 'Rijnstroom'
The semi-double flowers of Geum ‘Rijnstroom’

It’s a Bank Holiday weekend here in the UK and that means that we have an extra day off for a bit of garden visiting or wandering around nurseries in search of whatever new plants might take our fancy. (Dangerous to the wallet – Hubby and I can always find something!)

Up until recently, I haven’t thought of planting many orange or peach/apricot-coloured flowers in the garden. That’s because there’s a lot of lilac-pink in the existing borders, which looks great with other blue-ish pinks, or crimson, purple or blue flowers, but really wouldn’t look good with the more yellowy pinks or oranges.

Now, though, I have a new opportunity to play with some different colours. For the past couple of months, I’ve been digging out a pond and clearing out the area around it. Previously, there had been massive conifers just on the other side of the fence in the neighbours’ garden and these had gradually starved almost anything I tried to plant along that side of the garden. So when the new neighbours came and promptly had these trees removed, it was time to plan a new border.

Viburnum plicatum flowers
I like the peachy-pink flowers and copper-coloured leaves of this viburnum.

Visiting other people’s gardens is always enjoyable and intriguing, but becomes even more fun when you’re on the hunt for ideas and inspiration. (And it makes the ‘plants to buy’ list a lot longer!)

I saw the geum in the top photo while on a garden visit and decided that I’d like to grow it so that I could photograph it. (The swirly shape of the petals and the mottled yellow and orange colouring makes it a really appealing subject.) At first I thought it might be ‘Totally Tangerine’, but that, it turns out, is a single-flowered plant, while this one is ‘Rijnstroom’ and has semi-double flowers. By a lucky chance, I came across it in a nursery that we visited for the first time. Plant hunting is fun…but can be addictive too!

Another plant that caught my eye while I was garden-visiting is the viburnum above. While it wouldn’t have suited the lilac-pink areas, it could look good in the new border. Hmm, well, sadly I don’t think I’ll have space for many shrubs around the pond, so I’ll have to give that one a miss.

But that doesn’t mean that we’ve missed out on orange here. The clivia in the photo below lives in our conservatory and has been making it feel quite tropical recently! Now that is what I call a bold colour, hehe!

Clivia miniata flowers
The vibrant orange of this clivia has brightened up my conservatory in recent weeks.

Aquilegia: Eagles, Doves and Bonnets!

Pink Aquilegia vulgaris
The resemblance of the flower’s petals to doves with outstretched wings has given it the name ‘columbine’.

Aquilegias are popping up all over UK gardens at the moment and they are especially popular for informal and cottage gardens.

In this garden, and my previous garden in Scotland, I’ve had lots of aquilegias. Almost all have been the common Aquilegia vulgaris. They’ve interbred and self seeded all over the place and every year there have been surprises as new colours have appeared. (There have been new shapes  too, as double-flowered variants started to appear.)

Some years it has felt as if the aquilegias have almost taken over parts of the garden and they’ve filled it with delicate pinks, blues and dark purples. Having started with mostly pink or reddish-purple flowers, the blues seemed to arrive from nowhere. (A very welcome addition!) More recently, bi-coloured flowers started to appear – dark purple with white inner petals (similar to the strain ‘Magpie’) and red and pink mixtures.

The flower has a fair old variety of names too. ‘Aquilegia’ comes from the Latin for eagle, but there seems to be disagreement about whether it’s due to parts of the flower looking like an eagle’s talons, or because the petals look like wings. Personally, I think that the flowers look more like doves, so ‘columbine’ is a pretty good name for them. But then there’s the other common names – granny’s bonnet or granny’s nightcap – both of these suit the flower shape well too. So take your pick, the choice is yours! (Maybe you know the flower by an entirely different name…)

Aquilegia flowers
I wish these were in my garden – in the future maybe?

Whatever name you know this flower by, it makes a delightful subject to photograph. I love the graceful shapes created by the outstretched petals and the delicate (or sometimes quite bold) colours of the flowers.

Unfortunately, this year I don’t have as many aquilegias as I’ve had in previous years. Actually, as I’ve looked around, there seem to be very few now. I think that’s because there has been a lot of re-development of areas of the garden and many young plants have been lost during some serious weeding. And sometimes they will insist on getting themselves right up tight to weeds that have to come out – or else they unwisely entangle themselves with more precious plants and have to be removed.

(There is a disease – a new downy mildew of aquilegias – that has spread around the UK in recent years. However, I don’t think that’s likely because our climate is so dry. This mildew thrives in mild, damp conditions – you can read about it here .)

I will probably treat the aquilegia seedlings that do come up in the same way as I did the first ones that appeared in my previous garden. I was still very new to gardening then, and absolutely delighted that the aquilegias I’d planted had managed to self-sow around a border. I very carefully transplanted them into favourable positions and nurtured them as if they were something delicate – little did I know how easily they would spread themselves around the garden! Now, if I show them a little bit of that care again, perhaps I can build up a new population of aquilegias. Wish me luck!

Blue Aquilegia vulgaris (columbine)
Blue is one of the commoner columbine colours.

Beauty in the Woods: Bluebells

 

Flowers of British bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta)
British bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) with the flowers all hanging on the same side of the stem.

Right now, in the UK, you can see swathes of blue among groups of trees and along the bottoms of hedges. If you’re lucky, you might find yourself in a bluebell wood. It’s one of the special sights of springtime and a precious part of the British countryside.

But not all bluebells are the same…and it’s not always easy to tell which are the true native British bluebells. The bluebell below is a Spanish bluebell, which you will find growing in many gardens. (These bluebells came from my own garden – I had to crop the picture quite tightly to remove some of the rather chewed-looking bells. I wonder what has been eating them…)

Spanish bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica)
A close-up of a Spanish bluebell, showing the arrangement of flowers on the stem.

So how do you tell the difference between the two types of bluebell? There are a few clues that should help. The Spanish bluebells hold their flowers on all sides of the stem and stand very upright, whereas the British bluebell’s flowers hang in an arch, mostly on just the one side of the stem. (However, the photograph below shows what appears to be an immature flower at the left-hand side of the picture. I’m assuming that it has yet to develop the characteristic arch.)

The flowers of the British bluebell are a darker colour and the bells are a slimmer and longer shape. The leaves are also slimmer (about 1.5cm or half an inch wide), while the leaves of the Spanish bluebell are twice that width. Additionally, our native bluebells have a sweet scent but there is none or little from the Spanish flowers.

Just to make identification difficult, the two plants hybridise very readily and the hybrids are becoming very common. There is a fear that these hybrids may take over from the less vigorous British bluebell and that over time the genes of the native flower will become diluted by the incomer. It would be a pity if that happens. Our native bluebell is a sign of ancient woodlands and a sea of these deep blue, scented flowers is a wonderful sight.

Bluebells growing among birch trees.
Bluebells growing among birch trees.

So Quickly Gone: Spring Blossom

Pink spring blossom
I think these flowers are probably from a crab apple tree.

I nearly wrote ‘Cherry Blossom’ in the title rather than ‘Spring Blossom’, but then I realised that I’m starting the post with flowers that aren’t cherry blossom. (Cherry tree flowers have a little slit at the tip of each petal, as you can see in the photograph below.)

What the blossom actually is, is something I can only make a guess at. Though I’m fairly sure I remember seeing tiny crab apples on the tree (which is on a green near my house). I do have a crab apple in my own garden, but it has far fewer and smaller flowers. The fruits that it produces look very attractive though – they’re a rich deep red and make up for the less impressive flowers.

Cherry blossom on tree
Early spring blossom – it flowered a couple of weeks ago and has gone now.

On the same green, which runs along the other side of the road just opposite us, there are several trees that blossom in the spring. I’m always happy to see the first flowers on the cherry trees there, and this year I made a point of photographing them. They flower earlier than the double-flowered cherry in my garden and they’re a joyful signal that spring has arrived. But they seem to disappear again so quickly! Now the trees that were covered in blossom just a few weeks ago have not a trace of blossom left.

Double-flowered cherry blossom
Candy-floss pink blossom from the tree in my garden.

While those trees have finished, others are just now in bloom. The cherry tree in my front garden flowers in the last week or two of April. When we moved into this house, the tree was in full flower and felt like a generous welcome to our new home. So seeing it back in flower every year is like a little celebration of the happy years we’ve lived here.

However, as soon as the tree has managed to come completely into flower, the wind is busy tearing the petals off. (Sometimes we’re lucky and the weather stays calm for longer.) This weekend has been a bit rough on the unfortunate little flowers with strong winds scattering their petals all over the grass. They look like giant pink snowflakes! I managed to bring some flowers inside to photograph before they got blown away but they won’t last long.

Perhaps its fragility and short-lived beauty is an important part of the attraction of spring blossom…I know I’ll enjoy seeing it again when it returns next year. And, as usual, I’ll try to photograph it before it escapes me!

Cherry blossom in a vase.
The flowers look lovely in a vase for a little while, but the petals will soon start to fall.

Gleaming White

Spring snowflake (Leucojum vernum)
The snowflake (Leucojum) looks like a snowdrop on steroids!

Last week I mentioned my friend Judy’s beautiful garden and that I’d been able to spend a morning taking photographs in it. While I was there, I noticed that there were a good number of white flowers sprinkled around the garden and I really liked the effect they created.

There’s something very fresh and delicate about the appearance of white flowers. If they were pure white, they could seem a little harsh. But many have yellow stamens or perhaps a touch of another colour on their petals, and this softens the effect greatly. Seen growing in great numbers, perhaps spreading their way amongst other flowers, the look they create can be  quite dreamy or fairytale.

White flowers of Anemone blanda.
Anemone blanda soon builds up to a healthy colony if it’s in the right spot.

In combination with the blues and yellows of other spring flowers, white is truly beautiful. It brings a lively sparkle and gleam to the garden and chases away the memory of winter greys.

The most enchantingly impressive sight in Judy’s garden that morning was a Clematis armandii which had become a great mass of flowers along a section of fence. Not only are the flowers beautiful to look at – they’re scented too. That’s a pretty good bonus!

White flowers of Clematis armandi.
Clematis armandii flowers practically sparkle in the spring sunshine!

I enjoyed the effect of these white flowers so much that I’m thinking about ways of bringing a bit more white into my own garden. A background of green foliage makes white flowers look especially fresh and lively, so that is something I’d like to try.

There are a few white flowers in my garden. The best are Gaura lindheimeri, which has flowers that look like a flock of tiny white butterflies, and the white pulsatilla that I photographed last month. There’s also a big old white lilac (Madam Lemoine) which has very scented double white flowers and is a joy to be near…except that it has one problem. When its flowers die, they turn brown but don’t fall and because this lilac has become very tall now, it’s difficult to prune them off. The dead flowers really spoil the look of this lilac, so I will have to get out my telescopic lopper on a pole thingy to remove them. That will most likely be exhausting but worth it!

Magnolia stellata flower.
Magnolia stellata brings a touch of the exotic to the garden.

Snake’s Heads and Crowns of Leaves: Fritillaries

Three Snake's Head fritillary flowers.
This group shows the variations of colour in snake’s head fritillaries.

Snake’s head  fritillaries and crown imperial fritillaries are strange-sounding names for very unusual plants. For a photographer, the flowers make an enticing subject and I was lucky enough to be able to take some pictures of them in my friend Judy’s beautiful garden. (Thanks, Judy – I had a lovely time!)

The snake’s head fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris) gets its name from the shape of the unopened flower bud – long and pointy at the tip – a bit like a viper’s head. It has other folk-names, according to Richard Mabey’s ‘Flora Britannica’ (a fascinating book, worth dipping into if you happen to get the chance). These include crowcups, leper’s bells, sulky ladies, and frawcups (possibly derived from a place-name).

These fritillaries were recorded to be growing in gardens in the UK in 1578 but not recorded in the wild until 1736. Some say that this suggests they may not be native to the UK but, even so, they used to be seen in their thousands growing in damp meadows.  Sadly, as agriculture developed over time and land was drained and ‘improved’, they lost these habitats. There are still a few places where they can be found growing wild and, thankfully, they’re popular with gardeners, so they are still able to create a magical sight every spring.

Close-up of Fritillaria meleagris flower.
The markings on this fritillary look as if someone painted them on!

The tiny chequered markings on the snake’s head flowers are irresistible. They make me want to get as close as I can to photograph the flower, in an attempt to show how much they look as if they’ve been carefully painted on by hand. The graceful shape of the flower, with those almost umbrella-like ribs at the top adds to the attraction. (Doesn’t it look just as if the petals are fabric, stretching over the ribs that are holding it in shape? Umbrellas for the ‘wee folk’!) The way the bell of the flower hangs from its curving stem, with one or two long and slender leaves soaring up from it, completes a very elegant flower.

Yellow 'Crown Imperial' flowers. (Fritillaria imperialis.)
The crown imperial has an extraordinary top-knot of leaves!

The crown imperial fritillary is very different from its serpent-like sister. A dramatically long stem holds the bold cluster of flowers up high. Instead of the one or two leaves rising above the flowers, there is a generous top-knot of leaves, giving a very distinctive appearance. This ‘crown’ of arching leaves is said to have given the plant its name, due to its resemblance to the shape of an imperial crown. However, a competing claim suggests that the name derives from the plant having been grown in the Imperial Botanic Garden in Vienna after the plant was brought there from Persia in 1576.

Like the snake’s head fritillary, I wanted to be able to get close enough to the flower of the orange crown imperial to show the markings on its petals. (The veins on the petals of the yellow version are barely visible by comparison.) These darker veins create a strong pattern of lines that make the flower even more pleasing to photograph. These flowers are such star performers when you come to take their photograph, that I think I will need to try growing some fritillaries in my own garden.

Orange 'Crown Imperial' fritillaries. (Fritillaria imperialis.)
The prominent veins of these orange crown imperial flowers make them all the more striking.

 

 

 

 

Tulips – Glowing with Glorious Colour.

Purple and white striped tulip.
Stripes in tulips were originally the result of a virus.

As March comes to an end, gardens are filled with plants coming back to life. New flowers are opening every day, providing an exciting array of  possible photographs. You can imagine, I’m sure, what a happy and busy time of year this is for me!

Among my favourite spring flowers to photograph are tulips.  The variety of colours and the amazing markings that some of the flowers have make them an obvious subject for a picture. When you also take into account the different flower shapes and the sinuous way that the tulip stems bend, then you have all sorts of possibilities for different images, whether bold, graceful, or full-on pretty.

Striped flowers of tulipa orphanidea 'Flava'
Tulip orphanidea ‘Flava’ has delicate coloured veins on its petals.

Tulips with coloured markings – the ‘feathered’ stripes, as in the top photo, or the more delicate veining of  ‘orphanidea’ (above), can be especially lovely. These are the flowers that I look out for because they add a lot of extra interest to the photograph.

But the single-hued flowers are great too. These tulips, with their brilliant, saturated, colours and simple shapes help the photographer to make very bold, eye-catching images.

For next year, I’m planning to create a small bed for cut flowers that can be used for photography and tulips will be an essential addition to it. And for now, there are tulips in the garden that haven’t opened yet…I’m waiting!

Tulip 'Prinses Irene'
There’s a flame-like glow from this tulip flower.